Tag Archives: parenting

The Tooth Fairy

Main piece: Every tooth you got a note from the tooth fairy, who was a woman – a Ms. Tooth Fairy. And she had a wand and a costume. And there was a rate for it. One tooth was $1, molars were $5, and the last tooth was a big deal, like 20 bucks. The fairy is magic. She’s real. She sent me a letter. But, you know, my children loved those notes. One of them kept all of them.

Background:  My informant is a fifty-three year old woman from Los Angeles, California. She is the mother of three children, aged twenty, sixteen, and fourteen. Whenever one of them would lose a tooth, they would receive some money (rates stated above), and a letter from the tooth fairy inquiring after their general well-being, and complimenting how big they’ve grown. To this day, whenever her children ask about the tooth fairy (including her eldest for the purposes of a folklore project), she adamantly says “she” is real. 

Context: The tooth fairy is a common folk character. The Western variation of this folklore states that if a child loses their tooth and leaves it under a pillow, the tooth fairy will come, take the tooth, and bring them money. In the case of my informant’s children, a note would accompany the typical tradition, and my informant continues to tell her children of its existence, even if they are old enough now to no longer believe in her. 

My informant told this story when I brought up Santa Claus as an example of a character rooted in folklore. 

Analysis: The folklore of being given money by the tooth fairy comes from the fear of losing one’s teeth- an otherwise horrific and scary occurrence for any young child to deal with. By rewarding or giving the child a present in exchange for the lost tooth, they are able to take something that would otherwise be seen as strange and scary and make it seem exciting or something to look forward to. The notes as an accompaniment to the money made the experiences of the children of my informant more personal, and having a stock character that wrote to them and comforted them made that experience even easier to handle. Additionally, my informant’s refusal to deny the existence of the tooth fairy to this day has more to do with her perspective than that of the kids’, as having a tooth fairy is part of childhood, and as the children grow up, they no longer need her and stop believing in her. My informant’s insistence of her continued existence in reality is her way of connecting the character with the childhood innocence of her children, even now that they are mostly grown up.  (For another version, see Stuurman, May 18, 2020, “The Tooth Fairy”, USC Folklore Archives)

Hudavaoff kinder

Context: This is a Jewish proverb (spoken in Yiddish). It was said to my father (a fifty-six year old man) growing up, and when he began raising children, he started saying it to us. It is used to treat an otherwise tense situation comedically, a way to blow off steam, and promise their children that one day they will be saying it to their own kids (more as a warning than as actual advice). It is almost always said to the child when they are misbehaving or generally being a nuisance. Children never use the saying, and it is not spoken by people who are not parents or guardians of those children. 

  • Hudavaoff kinder 
    • Transliterated proverb. 
      • Hudavaoff: go raise
      • Kinder: children

Full translation: Go raise children. 

Explanation: When a child is being annoying, disrespectful, or irritating their parents, the parents tell them “go raise children”. Part of the proverb works as an incredulous “Why am I raising these brats?” and the other is “Wait until you have your own children. See how much you like it.” 

Analysis: Hudavaoff kinder works to both let the parents laugh off a situation where their kids are being annoying (this proverb is never spoken in full anger, but rather have annoyance/half incredulity) and lets them tell their children it is time to stop misbehaving before they have to get truly upset with them. On occasions, the parents use the saying to acknowledge that the children are being irritating, but don’t want/need to punish them, and instead use it to laugh along with them. Hudavaoff kinder almost works as a form of delayed revenge; the threat that one day the child is going to become the parent, and they will be the one using the saying on them. As someone who has been on the receiving end of this proverb often, I know it means that I need to dial down whatever I am doing before I get myself in real trouble. However, the threat that one day I will be equally irritated by children of my own has little to no emotional impact. 

Dirty Rotten Devil

Background:

My informant for this piece is my grandmother, who learned this song from her father and passed it on to her children and grandchildren. She grew up up in North Central Wisconsin and suspects that it came from one of the men’s groups, likely a fraternity, that her father was a part of there.

Context:

My grandma sings this tune quite often in times of relaxation when joking around is warranted. I specifically remember her performing it down by the water on our family vacations to Lake Kathrine, Wisconsin, during summers when I was growing up.

Main Piece:

“I’m a devil, a dirty rotten devil, put poison in my mother’s cream of wheat! I put a blotch on, the family escutcheon, and I eat *slurp noise 2x* raw meat!”

Analysis:

While this piece of lore could be looked at as great example of how dark comedy can play an important role in the relationships between an individual and their loved ones, I want to consider it through the lens of a parent who’s child is mad at them. Given that a the rhyme uses the word “escutcheon” (the spelling of which I had to Google), I think it’s unlikely that it was written by a child. With that in mind, the parent in this situation is able to satirize the childs anger at them by joking that the child wishes to poison them–while that may not be completely true, it’s possible that the parent feels there’s some truth in the statement. Nonetheless, in noting the amount of chaos that children can cause at times, this rhyme shows the wisdom of a parent accepting that fact in their ability to make light of it.

There Was a Little Girl

Background:

My informant in this case is my grandmother, who learned this rhyme from her mother and believes it was learned from her mother before. From what I know, that side of my family hails from Ireland which is likely where the rhyme originated.

Context:

This piece was usually used as a nursery rhyme and as a way for my informant to poke fun at her children in a humorous way. My grandma sings this tune quite often in times of relaxation when joking around is warranted. I specifically remember her performing it to myself and my cousins at family gatherings when we were growing up.

Main Piece:

“There was a little girl that had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad she was horrid!”

Analysis:

This nursery rhyme is an obvious reflection of the extremes of parenting. While parents often claim that bringing a life into the world is the greatest joy that can ever happen to a person, raising children can, at times, seem like a nightmare. In this rhyme, the two sides of that dichotomy are presented in a couplet in order to show that neither can exist without the other.

Watermelon Seeds Make You Pregnant

Text:

Informant (C): Remember at Walton’s when we used to have watermelon and I refused to eat it and said I was allergic?

Collector (J): Yeah

C: I was never actually allergic and I actually really liked watermelon, but when I was at school some other dumbass kid told me that people got pregnant from eating watermelon seeds so I was crazy paranoid about like, being a child mother, and so I just avoided it like the plague because I didn’t want a kid.

J: Really?

C: Yeah, because, like, my mom was pregnant like my sister and the kid said “oh she probably ate watermelon” and I was like “what?” and they were like “well, like, she has a watermelon in her tummy” or whatever and my dumbass just fell for it. I thought that, like, if you swallowed the seed, you would grow a watermelon in your stomach and then the baby would form in the watermelon. Like now I know that’s ridiculous, but like it was believable as a kid because I didn’t know about sex. I guess that kid’s parents or someone told them that because they didn’t want to explain the whole “your mom and dad had sex” thing. But yeah, after I learned about sex I started eating watermelon again.

Context: C and J met at a summer camp (Walton’s). At the end of each camp session, there was a camp-wide barbeque where watermelon was served.

Analysis: Like the informant said, this belief likely started as a way to wholesomely tell kids how their mothers got pregnant. Instead of explaining puberty and sex, the narrative of having a woman swallow a watermelon seed is easier to explain to a child. It also makes physical sense, because a pregnancy belly does approximate the size of a small watermelon. The inside flesh of the watermelon also arguably could resemble human flesh, which is why it is so believable that a baby can be formed in it. There is also something to be said about the association of fruits and fertility, with the human and plant lifecycle often being associated with each other. The cyclical nature of life as both human and watermelon allow a further association to be made with the human gestation period. Overall, the idea that pregnant women are carrying watermelons and are pregnant because of watermelon seeds isn’t that far-fetched from the eyes of a child who has no knowledge of sex.