For those of us born in a certain era, there were warnings tossed out by our parents or elders that elevated our fear level to that of panic. At least, some of us lived in fear. Some of us handily took matters into our own hands.
The first and most overplayed cautionary tale was, of course, wait until your father gets home.
Now, I didn’t personally grow up with that particular threat because my parents divorced when I was young enough that, even if my mom used it, I don’t remember. The days when my parents were still together are somewhat blurry but I can’t recall those words flying out of my mom’s mouth.
My dad didn’t “get home” after work to (apparently) lay down the law that my mom couldn’t (or didn’t want to) enforce.
I always wondered about that warning. Who were those dads? What kind of people were they when us kids weren’t playing in their back yard? When they were left alone with their family after getting a recap of the day? And what, exactly, would dad do when he got home? Yikes.
I actually heard it used with friends or other kids who still had two parents under the same roof. As far as I was concerned, having dad come home after going off all day to do some job nobody tried to understand, didn’t seem scary at all.
Why was that a believable threat? Like, the guy who is never there is suddenly going to take on the role of enforcer and that frightened kids? Why? Wasn’t dad the “fun” one? The parent who got to relax and take you out back to play catch? He wasn’t the heavy. That was mom.
The one who actually made the rules all day.
At least, that’s what I assumed because television taught me what it was like to have still-married parents. And it always went down the same way. Mom, home raising the kids, dad off to work, mom doing everything else but dad being the one who got a foot rub and a beer at the end of the day. He falls asleep in the recliner in front of the TV while mom finishes her chores.
So, when the warning was doled out, I just couldn’t wrap my head around why it frightened anyone. You mean to tell me that the guy who puts his ass in an overstuffed chair for five hours every night and makes a cursory attempt to teach his kids how to play ball on the weekends is suddenly going to become a growling bear of a man who lives to put you in your place? Because mom told him what you did hours earlier?
Mom would have kicked your butt long before dad even got home, right?
On the other hand, I’ll wash your mouth out with soap, holds a certain special place in my heart.
Did my mom/family ever wash my mouth out with soap? God no! But was I threatened with the possibility? Yes. Just once. But not by my family.
I distinctly remember the entire experience. Truly, it’s one of those days that I can recall just about everything about it – temperature, where I was, who I was with, who threatened me. Because the follow-up moments were insane.
Well, I was insane.
The youngest daughter of my babysitter at the time, a girl in my sister’s class, and I were headed to the park. My after school sitter lived on the same street we moved to when I was in grammar school. We had a small park with a slide and a few swings right at the bottom of our street. I spent a good amount of time there and enjoyed walking the top of the chain link fence, trying to see if I could make it all the way from one end to the other without falling.
I have no idea if we were off to meet friends, just that we were walking down the street in that direction. Also, I have no idea what we were talking about but I do remember the word that came out of my mouth.
Just a word. One I still use in conversation to this day. Some things never change, I guess, despite the shocked look on her face and the following words out of her mouth:
“That’s a bad word! I’m telling my mom and she will tell your mom and you’ll be in trouble!”
For a split second, I actually felt like maybe I would be in trouble. But I went off to the park to enjoy my afternoon anyway. When I got back to my sitter’s house, I was greeted by the fact her daughter made good on her promise. She did, in fact, tell her mom.
And that’s when I actually felt the grip of fear.
For the first time in my life I heard the words, “I’m going to have to tell your mom and, if I was your mother, I’d wash your mouth out with soap.”
It was hours before my mom would get home from work. I had to live with the knowledge that my mother would take this horrible step the minute we got home. I paced. I panicked.
Soap? Like, real actual soap? In my mouth?
And what the fuck good would that do? It wasn’t like soap could actually wash a word out of my vocabulary.
But I digress…
I went to pee and that’s when I saw it. A smooth bar of off-white soap sitting innocently in the dusty rose, built-in, porcelain soap dish on the wall. I stood at the sink, an eleven year old girl. Always in trouble for something.
How bad could it be, I wondered?
Before I could stop myself to really consider what I was doing, the soap went from dish, to hand, to mouth. I pulled my teeth in and just used my lips, she didn’t say she’d make me eat the soap so I took a chance.
I let my tongue flick across the slick finish of the bar. I didn’t get another chance. My stomach lurched and I spit the bar into the sink, gagging at the taste.
Thankfully, I must have wiped that part of this memory because I can’t seem to pull up a single adjective to explain how bad it was. But I definitely remember that I stuck my face under the faucet and proceeded to wash my mouth soap away.
Pretty sure I muttered what the fuck under my breath.
And then, the time went by. At least I knew what to expect when I got home. It wouldn’t be pleasant but I knew, once it was removed, I could wash the taste away. And I’d never curse in front of that girl again.
The sitter, me, and my sister met my mom at the front of their foyer at the top of the stairs, as usual. I looked down at the maroon pile carpet. Steeled myself for the inevitable. Ready to face being in trouble for saying a word.
And then, to my incredible shock and awe, we all said goodbye without another word about the word.
For days after I assumed she would call my mother and tell her. That the bar of soap was sure to find a way back into my mouth any day. But it never came.
I don’t know if my mom ever learned of my horrible transgression or if, somehow, my sitter found out I’d punished myself. Or maybe she just wanted to instill the fear into me so I’d never curse again but didn’t ever intend on telling my mom.
Either way, I learned one thing that day. Don’t eat soap, kids.
Soap tastes like shit.
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In addition to this drivel I also write books, both fiction and non-fiction.
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