Author Archives: Claire Birnbaum

Children’s Rhyme/Superstition – Los Angeles, California

“Step on a crack break, your mother’s back”

Eric is a 23-year-old USC graduate. He grew up in Beverly Hills and now continues to work in Los Angeles as an accountant. Eric and I were discussing childhood riddles and superstitions when he remembered, “step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” Eric first remembers learning this superstition from his parents. His parents, who are also born and raised in Los Angeles, remember learning the saying when they were kids themselves. Eric explained, “well I think it made walking more interesting, especially on my family trips when we would do a lot of walking.” He continued on to say that “it made no sense at all, but I used to wonder if I did step on a crack by accident would something really happen?” Eric shared this childhood superstition/riddle with me when we were out to lunch at Mulberry Street Pizza. The restaurant was crowded so we had to talk loudly. Eric was animated when he shared this superstition with me, and he was also laughing because of how seriously he took it when he was very young. There was a woman, probably in her 30s, at the table next to us that overheard our conversation and chimed in about how she used to avoid all cracks because she was convinced that it was true.

For Eric, learning the superstition was only part of it, but then actually practicing it was what made it important. He avoided cracks since he was about 4-years-old and continuing for about 5 years, but he says that sometimes even now if something reminds him of it, then he’ll avoid big cracks in the ground if he can. There is something about childhood superstitions that is extremely convincing and exciting. With this particular superstition, it is almost that little kids are given some power because it is up to them to protect their mothers’ backs. I am sure Eric was compelled to share the item with me because it was such a huge part of his upbringing and because for him, it was something passed down from his parents. I also remember this superstition and how my friends and I would skip and still try to avoid the cracks, we made it as complicated as possible so that it was more of a game and more challenging.


“Money doesn’t grow on trees”

Eric is a 23-year-old USC graduate. He grew up in Beverly Hills and attended Beverly Hills High before continuing on at USC. He continues to live and work in Los Angeles. Eric and I were discussing proverbs, and he remembered “Grams” (his grandmother) first teaching him this lesson. “She always used to give me the “money doesn’t grow on tress shpeal.” Eric grew up in a Jewish family and he explained that he heard this proverb so many times throughout his childhood. Although he thought it annoying when he was younger, “its now something I say and use when its appropriate.” Ironically, Eric is now an accountant at a big firm in Downtown, Los Angeles and truly understands the meaning of “money doesn’t grow on trees.” Eric and I were at his parents’ house when he told me this familiar proverb and his dad was laughing because he first heard it from his mother (Eric’s grandmother).

While growing up, Eric would most frequently hear the proverb when his grandmother and grandfather used to pick him and his brother up from school every Monday and usually they would all go to an arcade. For Eric, it was the day he most looked forward to and him and his brother would always beg to stay longer. The response would usually be, “money doesn’t grow on trees boys so you’ll have to wait until next week!” Eric probably chose to share this proverb because it reminded him of his grandmother and grandfather and his childhood. Being an accountant, especially as Tax Season approaches, is stressful and I think it was a relief for him to laugh a little and remember what used to be so important to him.

The proverb “money doesn’t grow on trees” means that money isn’t indispensable and that it has to be earned. I found the proverb in an article for The Cornell Daily Sun:

Levy, Julia. “Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees: One Year Out.” The Cornell Daily Sun Online. April 20 2007.

I also found the saying on many websites including… (3.18.07). and’t+grow+on+trees (3.18.07).

Tradition – Beverly Hills, California

“The Snatch Breakfast- Well it was when I was younger, on my birthdays before any of my friends could drive so my mom would drive… to pick up all my friends. Then um they would all come back to my house and wake me up and then we would all go to breakfast…”

“In theory it’s a really fun thing but in reality it was awful because I wasn’t a morning person, and I wouldn’t continue the tradition on with my kids if they weren’t morning people either because I hated it, but it is a family ritual that I went though, then my brother, and now my sister” After recounting the family ritual of Snatch Breakfasts, Eric asked his parents where they had the idea of Snatch Breakfast and his mom explained that her parents had Snatch Breakfasts for my her when she was young. Eric is a 23-year-old USC graduate. He grew up in Beverly Hills and now continues to work in Los Angeles as an accountant. Eric and I were discussing childhood traditions and family rituals at my house with my roommate when we got stuck on the cycle of birthday rituals because every family has their own and they are always fun to share. Eric and I met his senior year of high-school so I was too late to be a part of the Snatch Breakfast but I have attended a few for his younger sister.

The Snatch Breakfast is synonymous with the their family so it was obvious that Eric would share this ritual with my roommate and I. It really is a part of their family and although he doesn’t like being woken up by a room full of his friends, Eric does like idea of it being a generational thing and no matter how crazy everyone gets, there is no doubt that on a birthday morning there will be a Snatch Breakfast.

The Snatch Breakfast is the perfect example of a family tradition. It has been done for many years and I’m sure it will continue to be done for many years. It provides a great story to share with friends and its fun to partake in.

Ritual – Beverly Hills, California

“I never got dollars from the tooth fairy- I always got coins… special coins though, like silver dollars. It was always a surprise to see what coin I would get… they were always coins that are never used though, so I had a box that I saved them in… As I got older, I learned that my mom actually saved my teeth…”

The tooth fairy comes to almost everyone I know, and as a kid it was an honor to loose a tooth, it was a prize to be able to show off a gap in your smile and then on top of that you got a present from the tooth fairy. Eric is a 23-year-old USC graduate. He grew up in Beverly Hills and now continues to work in Los Angeles as an accountant. We were talking about teeth one day at my house because I had a dentist appointment over spring break. As we were on the topic of teeth, I remembered that when I was little I opened a drawer in my mom’s dresser and found my teeth. Of course I was devastated because I thought the tooth fairy had my teeth, but my mom calmed me down by explaining that what the tooth fairy actually does is take the teeth from under my pillow and replace it with money and then put my teeth under my mom’s pillow. Apparently, the tooth fairy did the same for Eric when he discovered that his mom also had a collection of his teeth. However, there was difference between Eric and I, I got some money, usually a $2 bill and a little stuffed animal while Eric usually got some collectable coin. Eric first heard about the tooth fairy from his parents who had to explain to him about loosing a tooth and then how to put it under his pillow and wait for the tooth fairy’s surprise.

Eric and I were laughing about how seriously we took the tooth fairy and how other kids we knew also cherished her. Loosing teeth is a natural stage in life but making it into something magical and mystical because of the fairy makes loosing teeth monumental. Almost everyone has a tooth fairy story but each one is unique which is why I think people love to share their own version.


“Doorknob… I think this was mostly a boys game… maybe not… so basically if someone farted then they had to call safety immediately, and if they didn’t and someone called out doorknob first, then that meant that everyone was allowed to punch the farter until he touched a doorknob. It was so stupid, but we all took it so seriously, and we thought it was so funny”

Eric is a 23-year-old USC graduate. He grew up in Beverly Hills and now continues to work in Los Angeles as an accountant. He is from a modest Jewish family and is the oldest of three children. Eric and his friends have been close since they were in elementary school and used to make anything and everything into a game. So of course when the boys were at the summer camp Hess Kramer in Malibu, California and they learned about the Doorknob game they were instantly hooked. Eric thinks that the game was significant because it reminds him of summer camp and of course all the other games they played. I had a bunch of friends over, including many of Eric’s friends and we were all hanging out when I asked out childhood games and instantly Eric and his friends burst out laughing because they all remembered Doorknob. This was the first time that I had ever heard of the game and so they had to explain the rules to me but none of them could give me a purpose for the game. I guess when they were all in 6th grade they were so amused by the game and that was the purpose of it.

The game is apparently well known and Wikipedia even has a page designated for it… (3.24.07).

10727 Wilshire Blvd., #201 Los Angeles, CA, 90024


“On the first of the month I always say Rabbit Rabbit- without fail… I usually try to say it before my feet touch the ground… as I’m getting out of bed… but sometimes I forget until later on in the morning, but I always say it at some point”

Lindsay is my 22-year-old best friend and roommate. She grew up in Encino, California also known as “The Valley” but after graduating from USC last year, she lives with me in Westwood, California. Lindsay is superstitious about a few things, she religiously says “Rabbit Rabbit” on the first of the every month “because its good luck and I feel uncomfortable if I don’t.” Lindsay and I discussed her superstition on the 1st of March, when I heard her say “Rabbit Rabbit” while making breakfast. I had heard of it before and occasionally said it myself, when I remembered, but I wasn’t a true believer like Lindsay.

She learned about this superstition and ritual from the kids’ network Nickelodeon when she was young, probably when she was about 8-years-old. Since she learned about it she has always performed the ritual. She doesn’t have a reminder, it is all instinctually ingrained. She actually taught her brother and sister about the superstition, and now all three of them say “Rabbit Rabbit” on the first of every month.

The superstition is really a ritual for Lindsay, she always performs, “without fail” like she explained. It is part of her identity, and what is important to her, so it makes sense that she would want to share it with me. Though Lindsay did share it with me and her siblings, it is also a private ritual of hers that she doesn’t usually advertise. To her, it is of the utmost importance and very significant in her own life. From her relentless practicing of the ritual its value and significance is obvious. Lindsay probably shared this item with me because it is part of her identity, both the belief and the practice. She firmly supports the notion that saying “Rabbit Rabbit” is good luck for the month. Wikipedia has a page dedicated to the superstition and investigates its origins, its uses, and its variations like “Being the first to say “rabbit rabbit” to a person on the first of the month will bring good luck. Once someone says rabbit rabbit to you, you are no longer allowed to repeat it to anyone, thus having bad luck for the next month” (3.20.07).

Rhyme/Game – Encino, California

“No cuts, no butts, no coconuts!”

Lindsay is my 22-year-old best friend and roommate. She grew up in Encino, California also known as “The Valley” but after graduating from USC last year, she lives with me in Westwood, California. Lindsay is a fair and practical person, which extends back to when she was a little girl and the notion of cutting in line. As a little kid, Lindsay was taught about the rules of cutting in line: the correct way to “cutsies” was to ask, but of course with asking came anger from the back of the line which is when it is appropriate to use the rhythm “No cuts, no butts, no coconuts!” Lindsay learned the saying from her friends at school, who in turn learned it from their peers or possibly even older peers. “It was playground rules, all kids knew them, but no one knew where they came from.” Lindsay’s contribution to this collection of folklore was shared with me at Starbucks, as she sang the rhyme, she also pointed her finger in beat with the syllabus. “If you yelled out ‘no cuts, no butts, no coconuts’ you meant business,” Lindsay recalled. “There were rules and a general understanding about ‘cutsies’ and if you abused the rules then there was a consequence.”

I also used the saying when in elementary school and I don’t recall from whom in particular I learned it from, it was general schoolyard rhetoric. Lindsay and I both agreed that the saying was powerful, yes teachers could say no cutting in line but if you heard that rhythm coming from your peers it was serious. Lindsay explained that the singsong rhythm was significant because although it was a schoolyard song, it also provided a foundation for following rules later on in life.

Lindsay’s performance of the rhythm shows how ingrained and mesmerizing children’s rhymes can be. She probably hadn’t recited the rhythm in 15 years but it didn’t matter, she didn’t waiver in her performance.


“Personal Jinx… I think the saying was ‘personal jinx, you owe me a coke.’ If I said the same word at the same time as one of my friends said the same word, then whoever called out jinx first was the winner and the other person owed the winner a coke and couldn’t talk until the winner said her name 3 times”

Lindsay is my 22-year-old best friend and roommate. She grew up in Encino, California also known as “The Valley” but after graduating from USC last year, she lives with me in Westwood, California. She is the middle child, having one older sister and a younger brother. Lindsay and I spend a lot of time talking to one another but it was fun for her to think back on childhood memories for this collection project. Lindsay remembered how enthusiastic her friends and her would be about the game and how seriously they took it, “sometimes the person who was silenced by the jinx wouldn’t be allowed to talk for 15 minutes… and when you’re a 13-year-old girl, that’s very difficult… but we did it.” The Game itself is widely spread, almost everyone I know, has participated in jinx or knows about it. Lindsay even admitted that even now sometimes if her and a friend say the same word at the same time then she says personal jinx and everyone laughs because everyone has those memories back in grade school. There is something very universal about children’s games and that universality unites our generation. Lindsay said she learned about the jinx from her friends at school, that “one day I observed a jinx and that’s how I learned it… but its also been in television shows but I’m pretty sure I knew about it before I saw it on TV.”

To Lindsay, this game embodies childish antics. Lindsay, like most other kids, learned most of her social interaction skills while at school and this game was just another way of socializing and learning to be part of a group. The game was also an equalizer, you didn’t have to be the smartest or the most athletic to win, you just had to talk to your friends to participate.

The amazing thing about this game is that even in examining the rules, there is something quintessentially American about it because to lift the jinx, the winner must say the losers name 3 times. The number three seems random, but it’s a comfortable number just like the 3 Little Pigs and others. Even Axel Olrik’s Epic Laws describe the use of 3.

Folk Craft/Superstition

“The Worry Doll, well I actually have multiple dolls, probably about 40 in total. They were a gift, brought back for me from El Salvador. The tradition is that the dolls are supposed to be carried by their owners at all times… so I have one in my car, one in my purse, and the rest at home. I tell the dolls my worries, and they serve as protectors and are believed to bring good luck.”

Pamela is a native Californian, though she has traveled throughout the world, and even lived for short periods in other countries like Germany and Japan, she could never leave California. Her mother was born in Arkansas and her father in Minnesota, they raised Pamela and her two brothers in the Hollywood Hills. Because she is my mom, I also have worry dolls and follow the same practice as her. My mother has passed many things on to me but the dolls are definitely a favorite treasure that we both value. Our housekeeper, Gladys, who is originally from El Salvador brings us home Worry Dolls each time she visits. The tradition according to Gladys is that the dolls are handmaid and then given as gifts by their creator, “El regalo… es muy muy importante porque la muñeca es una extensión de la persona.” Although my mom and I don’t make our own dolls, we have still given dolls to close friends to carry on the tradition of the worry dolls.

My mom admits that she occasionally shares her worries with the dolls, but rather she relies on them for protection. She keeps the dolls by her bed at home to also ward off bad dreams. Though the dolls have an intended meaning for Gladys, my mom has adopted many of those uses but has also enacted her own superstitions onto the dolls, like the protection from bad dreams. The dolls are supposed to make life more enjoyable and safer and I suppose their purposes depend on the particular person.

For my mom and I, the doll is a constant, there isn’t a day that we don’t carry dolls with us so I was certain that she would want to be interviewed about them, “They are now a part of my existence, and I have passed them on to friends that I feel need a little extra support in life.” My mom and I discussed the dolls at her home in Beverly Hills. After further investigation of Worry Dolls on the Internet, I mostly found Worry Dolls from Guatemala and have yet to find more information about Dolls from El Salvador.

Worcester News reported on Worry Dolls…

“Worry Dolls Help Neal in His Quest for the Title.” Worcester News 19 Apr. 2007. 24 Apr. 2007.


“My mom always told me, if you sweep at night… then you’re sweeping money out the door”

Joe is a friend of mine who works in my dad’s office. He is 20-years-old and was born and continues to live in Los Angeles. His mom, who was raised in the Tongan Islands, raised him with many superstitions, which he still follows today. Joe’s grandfather is French and his grandmother is Tongan. I went to visit the office, which is when Joe told me about this Tongan superstition. No sweeping, vacuuming or any other sort of cleaning where dirt is removed from the household should be done at night because it is bad luck. Joe follows this rule when taking care of his own apartment here in the city but was also raised with this notion.

When Joe told me this superstition, it was the first time I had heard of anything like that. Because we were in the office, many other employees heard Joe and I talking about this superstition and a few other people had heard of something similar, except the saying said “if you sweep at night you will sweep away all your luck.”  Though the language is slightly altered, it’s the same idea. Joe believes that this is true and so he never cleans at night, which is another reason he shared it with me because I recently moved into a new apartment and he wanted to pass along this superstition to me so that I don’t sweep money or luck out the door.

This superstition was passed down from generation to generation in Joe’s family so it has a lot of value to him. The superstition also tells a lot about how he was raised and about his Tongan heritage. Besides sharing the superstition with me, he also inspired me to research the saying. I found that it is a superstition in many parts of the world. and