Superstition: Don’t Play With Matches, ‘Cause You’ll Pee the Bed

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 48
Occupation: Singing Instructor
Residence: Staunton, VA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 19, 2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece: 

“Don’t play with matches, cause you’ll pee the bed. Yeah, that was a major way of disciplining me when I was a kid. So that I wouldn’t play with matches when I was a kid.”

Background:

My informant experienced this almost as a threat that his parents would make in order to make sure that he didn’t burn himself. He grew up in rural Virginia, the youngest of many much older siblings, so the potential to embarrass him was higher than if he had only younger peers. My informant describes his interpretation as follows:

Collector: “Was there ever any explanation of, like, why you’d pee the bed or…”

Informant: “No, I think it’s one of those things where, you know, it’s really embarrassing for young children to pee the bed. So, basically they’re saying don’t play with fire, but if you personalize it- attach this embarrassing situation to it, the child will be like ‘Oh, I’m not gonna do it because I’ll pee the bed.”

Thoughts:

This rides a blurry line between folklore and fakelore. My informant didn’t know where his parents picked it up from, meaning it could well be something they come up with as a personal solution for their son playing with matches. Regardless, the nonsensicality of it makes it an interesting case-study, because it’s clearly something aimed for kids that would only work on kids. However, it’s not something that kids would really be tempted to spread between each other. As such, it’s something of a targeted message that emulates the nonsensicality of children’s folklore that Jay Mechling observed, as well his statement that children’s folklore is preoccupied with “gross-out” effects such as peeing, but cannot actually fall into the category of children’s folklore.