Residence: Seattle, Washington
Date of Performance/Collection: March 2007
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Italian
My informant first heard this superstition during recess when she was in the first grade. She happened to walk on the seams in a sidewalk and the girls she was playing with began to chant the superstition. My informant had never heard the superstition before and, in the moment, she thought she had actually hurt her mother. She started sobbing, because she knew how devastation a broken back could be. Her friends found her crying and they came to comfort her until she stopped crying. They explained that the connection between cracks and backs was just a superstition.
The whole experience was so traumatic for my informant that she can remember the day nearly perfectly and still thinks about it frequently. She believes that the superstition was made by a mother who wanted their child to watch their step. My informant said her daughter is always stepping in gum or dog droppings, and she would love for her daughter to be more cautious of her step. So, instead of getting her to be careful for the sake of her shoes, it’d be a lot easier to get her to be careful for the sake of her mother. She also said that this superstition is mainly used by kids because only kids would believe in a connection between cracks in the sidewalk and their mother’s wellbeing. My informant said that later in her childhood, even though she didn’t believe the superstition, she used to step on the cracks depending on her feelings about her mother at the time. This gave her a way to vent some of her anger without actually causing harm to her mom.
I believe the superstition was started by a bored child who had to walk home from school everyday. Personally, I only had to walk to my mother’s car, and even with this short distance, I know I stared at the sidewalk much longer than I ever should have. After staring at the concrete for so long, it’s likely that such a rhyming superstition would be thought of. Also, a popular variant suggests that stepping on a crack is bad luck in general, which puts both you and your mother at risk. I believe the meaning behind the superstition is to watch your step, because if you don’t, you’re likely to trip or trod on something gross.