We had this thing we’d do as kids… Like, young kids though like maybe 10 years old! So, you’d find a dandelion and pick it, then pressure one of your friends into doing this thing where you look at someone you have a crush on – then you bury your nose in the dandelion.
If it comes away yellow, we’d ooh and ahh and say that it meant you guys’d get married some day or somethin’. And the person’d look over, of course, and see someone looking at them completely embarrassed with yellow all over their nose. Then they know and the… middle school tension grows?!
I don’t know. It seems so weird now but I can remember so many times when we did this!! And dandelions are so gross too, but it was fun. And it didn’t always come away yellow.
Ritual described by Bree Tschosik, born and raised in Decatur, IL.
This ritual continues today among schoolchildren in the rural Midwest, of course with some variation. At an age where male/female relationships are still somewhat awkward, it provides an expressive and entertaining ritual for participants.
The chance element of dandelion rubs is what makes it so entertaining! Because it doesn’t always leave a yellow mark. And of course, the social relationships of participants is the main factor in entertainment value of this ritual.
Madeleine Hall was raised in New York City. In a hyper urban city like that, I wondered if she had any experiences with cooties. For me, cooties were associated with playgrounds and fields and wide open spaces–my memories being children chasing each other around.
Owen: Do you have any memories of cooties as a kid in New York?
Madeleine: Oh yeah. I’m so bad with ages, but yeah when I was really young you always knew who had cooties. It was like a thing, like he had it or she had it. But being a girl we mostly knew which guys had it.
Basically, this speaks to the ubiquity of cooties in American children’s culture. It speaks to how children are hyper aware of gender at a very young age. At schools, children are quickly split up by gender, explaining how the idea of cooties could take hold. For those unaware, cooties are a gendered “disease” of sort that boys can catch from girls, and vice versa. Of course, there are no actual medical symptoms.
“We had this ridiculous thing in elementary school… where we had cootie… well we had cooties in elementary school… but we had this ridiculous thing called a cootie shot… did you have cootie shots”
“yeah sort of”
“It wasn’t even like… it wasn’t even like distributed or anything. it was literally… it was literally…just that we would mime…. we would just mime and that would instantly cure cooties so… I mean cooties still had the same amount of seriousness as any other disease it’s just that cure was really really easy to get I mean anybody can just mime a cootie shot, there was no effort in making it or anything we just had to mime it and yet no one picked up on how plentiful this cure to what was the…ummmm… worse disease in elementary school was”
This is an interesting way that people cured the cooties in the informant’s elementary school. In my experiences with the cootie epidemic, people had to be able to fold some sort of origami to be able to cure cooties and only the people in my class talented enough to fold origami were blessed with the gift of being able to cure such a horrible disease. I wonder if this mime like policy was instituted because a teacher didn’t want to waste paper of if nobody in the school knew how to fold origami?
Collector: Talk to me about cooties.
Informant: Like, it’s what younger kids, well like, boys and girls think each other have cooties because they don’t like to interact with other children of the opposite sex.
Informant is a freshman at the University of Southern California. She is studying Theater Arts in the School of Dramatic Arts here. She is from Austin Texas. I spoke to her while we were eating lunch at my sorority house. Much of what she told me was learned from her sister or her own experiences.
This is a part of folklore we discussed in class, and we can see here that it has spread to this area of Texas. While the informant doesn’t go into huge detail about the piece of folklore, we get the main part of it: that it separates the genders. In my experience, cooties were passed by touching the opposite gender and could be passed along and gotten rid of. Many people have different versions of how cooties spreads and how to get rid of it like the cooties shot. This seems to be specific to a young age.
For a more in depth look at cooties and its variations, visit: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1499801?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Sara is a very gossipy, religious, fun girl. Sophomore at USC, she’s in the Helene’s and a sorority. She’s from Anaheim, California. And she has an incredibly interesting memory and past.
We all know and remember this one from grade school. Boys and girls at their toddler age played with each other like it was nothing. Being a boy or being a girl did not impact the way they played with each other. They may have played with their given toys (dolls versus the fire truck), but overall gender had no role in a child’s fun. Once children get to that age where they start getting curious about what’s different between me and him, it’s time to scheme up some evil plan that will keep them from playing too much with each other. There is an appropriate time in society for boys and girls to start messing around with each other physically or sexually. Society isn’t ready to see their 5 year old girls sexualized. The idea of cooties makes it seem gross and almost wrong to touch the other sex. All in playful fun, it works in a way that doesn’t damage or influence there hormonal nature at about 8th grade.
I remember when I was little, my parents freaked out. Me and my brother…[laugh], we were playing house in our little…house kitchen play thing. And at some point, my little brother pretended to get sick. So I played doctor. But my parents didn’t really like how I was trying to heal him.” Out of context that sounds awful. But she goes to explain that she was holding a magnifying glass looking at her siblings buttox. But nothing out of the ordinary. We all get curious to understand why we were made. It’s that time in the child’s life where all they can manage to do is get in their father’s ear and pester them with millions and millions of “why’s”.