Do-Bees and Don't-Bees: Rules Our Parents Made Up

EttaRose's Humor Bloggers comedy carnival
had asked posters to talk about two topics, one of which was "Rules Our Parents Made Up."

While I've already entered a different post for the Carnival, I thought I'd also try to more directly address the topic here. For one, because I'm the kind of giant nerd who actually enjoys playing by the rules...

And also because I couldn't think of anything else to post for today.

My parents liked rules. With the amount of rules I had growing up in the 70s and early 80s, you'd think there were unruly tribes of Saxons, Celts, Huns and Goths duking it out in our livingroom on a regular basis....

Sweeping in wearing blue face paint... brandishing broadswords... and slinging morning stars... with only the "Don't" list to keep them from wiping out the home furnishings.

Alas, it was just me, and I rarely wore the face paint.

But, yes, the rules were what kept my home separated from chaos. Or, like, a social life. But the rules during this time took two forms. Spoken Rules, and Unspoken Rules. I'll go with the spoken ones first.


The Two Bite Rule.
New foods were automatically given the two-bite rule. You dish yourself a very small amount of it, you take two bites of it, see how you like it. And if you don't like it, you don't have to eat any more of it.

Until, of course, Mom tries to sneak it into your meals in some other way later, to trick you into eating it. Because you might just only think you don't like it, but you probably do. Yes, you do. Really. You do. No, really. Just eat it.

Bedtime is Not Subject to Advanced Inter-party Negotiation. I learned this straight off. Bedtime was bedtime. Try as I might, amendments to policy were not to be made "Just for this one Magnum P.I. episode which ran late because Jimmy Carter got chatty in his State of the Union address."

Or "Only to see how Ricardo Montalban cracks down the Lei-trimmed hammer of poetic justice on Fantasy Island this week."

Bedtime was bedtime. Period. No sneaky glasses of water as a stall tactic, either. Go to sleep.

Homework First. Godzilla After. Ah, I think I can attribute my good grades largely to this rule. See, Godzilla was often on the "4 o'clock Movie" on WWOR-TV. And if it wasn't Godzilla, it was Planet of the Apes. Or giant ants stomping a city. Or War of the Worlds.

Basically I was guaranteed something large and scaly would be trying to crush Life as We Know It. Which any kid knows, is seriously cool. So, this was well-worth investing time in stupid things like homework, and studying, in order to see.

I bet much of the New Jersey educational system had a strong foundation in Godzilla. I don't think studies have been done, but perhaps they should have.

Children Are to be Seen and Not Heard. Yes, Dad was kickin' it Old School. It was a favorite phrase.

But what I've come to learn as an adult is, that Dad just really likes to talk, and gets a runaway train-like momentum going. You don't even have to really interact with him, as long as you're physically in the room and you nod sometimes.

In fact, he's been known to lecture on a topic for up to 3 hours straight without real input from the other parties in the room. Or water. Or oxygen. (I use this time to catch up on magazines.) So this is less of an ageist thing than I'd ever realized. The Pop just really enjoys an audience.

Thou Shalt Practice Piano a Half Hour Every Day. Now, to the adult brain, a half hour is nothing. It's a quick lunch break. A conference call. How long it takes to figure out how Entrecard works.

But to a kid brain? A half hour could hold... oh, a fist full of jellybeans, three Underdog cartoons, jigsaw puzzle sorting, jump-roping, a game of jacks, a costume change for Barbie, destruction of the Death Star, and two elaborate blueprints for a Secret Clubhouse. That's a LOT of fun things that don't involve Beethoven.

My parents also had a lot of unspoken rules, that became more apparent to me the longer I hung out with them. I thought I might share just a few of them here today.

Don't Ever Not Know Where You Are. My dad had this habit of, if we were out somewhere in the car, announcing:
"I don't know where we are, Jenn. We're lost! Do you know where we are? You have to get us home!"

Of course, I was, like, seven at the time, and could get lost playing "Pin the Tail on the Donkey."

I didn't know geography. Because I lived in a town called Dover, I thought the mountain across the street was the White Cliffs. (No really, I did.)

Dad, of course- in the perverse way of teasing family members-- thought my panic about logistics to be huge blockbuster entertainment.

He'd say, "Jenn, we're counting on you to navigate us home!" And there'd be me crying and thinking I was never going to see my stuffed animals, again because I'd failed to be the family Magellan.

Family can be a riot sometimes, can't they?

Nowadays, of course, a kid in the same position could just say, "What-- you don't know how to work the GPS, Pop?" But it was a tougher existence in the 70s and 80s. Let's call it character-building.

So now, when Dad visits me and I'm driving him around obscure sections of Pittsburgh, I enjoy asking him, "Dad, where are we? Do YOU know where we are? You have to get us home."

I've since received an apology for my childhood, by the way. You can't buy that sort of therapy.

Never Lie About Anything You Can't 100% Get Away With. Somewhere along the way, my mother had convinced me she could read my mind. Though, mostly, it was just because whatever I was thinking was written in scented-markers all over my face.

My cousin Sauce has the same issue. Maybe it's hereditary. But anything we think, you can pretty much read in our expressions. This is what makes us a hazard in poker games and client meetings...

This is why neither of us will be starting a career in politics.

Anyway, Mom could always tell whenever I was lying, so eventually, I gave it up entirely unless under extreme circumstances. Like grades.

My mother also belonged to the Inter-District Mom Grapevine Network. It was an early form of an online chatroom, only Real World and involving things like PTA meetings, parent teacher conferences and giving the Spanish Inquisition to my friends' mothers.

Through this Network, rumor, theory and information were collected and distributed amongst the parents. Nowadays, it'd be in database format with password protection.

So tell me, folks-- did you have any similar rules? What were the big "Beware, All Ye Who Enter Here" topics in your household growing up?



Da Old Man said...

Oh, no. I'm guilty of the chatting thing. My Spawn, when she was little, one time said, "Dad, why can't you just beat me like other parents do to their kids. Not another lecture! Just beat me and get it over with"

That bed time thing was a drag. When I was little, I had to go to bed when Clownie said good night, and when I got older, it was when the dog was tired. It will take a blog post to explain.

Unknown said...

Da Old Man- I do believe I would enjoy reading that blog post. Sometimes the piqued curiosity and the resulting follow-up tales are what makes this whole blog thing so darned fun. :)

I might try your daughter's line about the beating, the next time Pop gets on the lecture circuit. He's hard to communicate with, though, once he gets really going. There doesn't seem any sort of program override button or anything. It's usually better to just let the program roll through.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes we had so many rules that I felt like we were at boot-camp:
- Eat what is served and do not complain
- Don't tell other's what's cooking at home
- Don't open the door when the door-bell rings wait for further instructions from mommy or daddy.
- Always greet the house when entering. If mom didn't hear "Salaam Alaykum" I would be thrown outside and made to come in again !
- When wearing shoes - the right one goes on first and the left one comes off first. If we forgot we had to do it again !
- Do not tell a soul when/where we are going on a vacation.

That's all I can remember for now but I'll pop in the rest of the day if I remember something.

Unknown said...

Jaffer- What is the tradition behind greeting the house? (I rather like the idea! My house might appreciate that.) Also, is the shoe process related to good luck or something else?

I can see your mother was good at controlling local gossip from spreading. :) In some communities that can be a serious feat!

Anonymous said...

My mom used to say that greeting the house actually meant greeting everyone who lives there including animals, bugs, reptiles and spirits like angels and genies !
I don't know how far this is true according to the Islamic tradition but she said that they even reply to the greeting. Creepy eh ?

It's become a habit that is so rooted and even now when I enter my empty apartment, I find myself saying "Salaam Alaykum"

Unknown said...

Jaffer- Just promise me that if you get a very LOUD, non-ethereal answer back, that you'll call the cops first to investigate. I'd hate for you to get injured during a burglary. :)

Anonymous said...

My mum insisted that my school lunchbox came home empty every day. I had to eat whatever she made for me, no excuses and no waste.

I spent my whole childhood forcing down soggy sandwiches and sour apples, lest my mother got upset.

The thought never crossed my mind that I could just throw it away. Ever. What an idiot!

Unknown said...

Tiggy- Or traded with some other kid who had something you liked better. But hey, I can see where the tossing it out never occurred to you.

You had your orders. We were like small Manchurian Candidates when we were kids. We did what we were told. Critical thinking didn't really come into it....

Can I offer you a sour apple? :)

Anonymous said...

all thses rules sound vaguely familiar..:))) I think I broke a few along the way..

thankyou as well for the kind comments on my poetry

Unknown said...

Confused- I enjoyed seeing what you were up to!

Melanie said...

All those rules sound horribly familiar, especially the one about bed-time being non-negotiable- no matter what!

Oh and there was the "you WILL wear your overshoes when it rains or snows" How embarassing! We were the only kids in our school who had overshoes!

Melanie said...

I forgot, there was also the one about sticking together. I wasn't allowed to pick on my brother at school. At home I could beat the hell out of him and vice versa, but at school we must stick together and stick up for each other. Is it any wonder I hated the little brother till he was about 16 or so?

Anonymous said...

Dad picks the TV channels - even if he falls asleep watching. (and the kids are the remote for all 4 channels)

Unspoken - you never ever miss Sunday School unless you are puking or have the runs. A fever didn't cut it.

When your neighbor had the measles (or any other deadly communicable disease) you go for a visit.

Unknown said...

Melanie- How'd that work out for you, having to stick together at school? Did some kid ever pick on your brother and you had to defend him, against your better, sisterly judgment?

Barry- Your dad and the TV was my grandpa and the TV. The amount of times that man would fall asleep with the baseball game on, but I couldn't touch that channel changer! :)

I, too, had to go to school regardless of illness. Well, Mom would say, "It's up to you," which unspokenly translated to, "You should go. You're still not comatose."

I'm sure your sick neighbors just LOVED all that company, too. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I think the family Magellan thing was downright cruel! LOL! Funnily enough, our younger boy WAS the family Magellan. It was just a gift he had from a very young age. Useful really, since my sense of direction is not that good. ;)

Our family rules? Oh just the usual. Don't talk back. Don't argue with your brother (or, actually, anyone). Don't touch things in shops or other people's houses. No dessert if you don't eat your first course. My brothers had more rules, like 'don't tease your sister' but they pretty much ignored them.

Jenn Thorson said...

Jay- Heh- Sounds like your son has talent!

My sense of direction isn't actually too bad now, and I think it was the fear of being lost and having to get everyone home that ended up making it better.

PS- Brothers wouldn't be brothers unless they ignored the don't tease your sister rule. :)

Anonymous said...

We had the usual ones too. However my dad had this charming threat about kicking a lung out of us if we didn't comply. Took me until I was in my 30's to realize that you can live with only one lung. LOL

Since my dd is my little shadow and we go everywhere I've implemented the "Look with your eyes and not your hands" rule. At least now I can go to antique stores with her or garage sales. ;)

Unknown said...

Chyna- Somehow I think if you'd tried the ol' rational, "Well, Dad, you know, humans can live with only one lung," that might not have gone over so well. :)

Aussie said...

I was 100% convinced my mother was a witch. Not only could she tell a lie before it was half out of my mouth she knew exactly when I was raiding the cookie jar even when she was upstairs!

Years later and now a mother myself I know she isn't - its just nothing a child can come up with is original, chances are you have told that lie or used that excuse yourself!

My hubby and kids all have their own "lie faces" - they still can't work out how I know every single time!

Jaffer your life sounds interesting, I went to check out your blog, hurry up and get it up again!