This morning, I saw an example of what may be the most universally applied and versatile parental answer to childhood stupidity in all its forms. My neighbor caught her eight-year-old son and his friend skateboarding without a helmet. When she yelled at her boy to put one on, he responded with classic child logic, explaining that his friend Jessica doesn’t wear a helmet. His mother in turn applied a version of the standard response to such an assertion: “If Jessica jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?”
Listening to that exchange made me wonder how mothers in different parts of the world reply to their kids in similar situations. I’ll bet moms in France say something along the lines of: “If Pierre leapt off the Eiffel Tower, would you?” And I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear a Sherpa’s wife in Nepal questioning: “If Bina took a header off the peak of Mt. Everest …?” Whatever the particular phrasing, the underlying absurdity of each participant’s lines remains the same.
I can personally attest to the versatility of a mother’s cliff jumping (or similar) response to end a debate in even the most absurd scenarios. For example, take the time when I was six or seven playing at resurrection. On a rainy Saturday morning, I’d headed through the kitchen toward the back porch, intending to restore life to a deceased caterpillar ala Dr. Frankenstein. My mother, who was sitting at the kitchen table drinking her coffee and reading the morning paper, didn’t bother looking up as she interrupted my progress.
“Where do you think you’re going, Richard?”
“Just going out back to raise the dead, mom.”
“Not without your raincoat you’re not.”
“C’mon mom. Dr. Frankenstein’s mother didn’t make him wear a raincoat when he created the Monster. And the weather was way worse that night.”
“In case you haven’t noticed Richard, my name isn’t ‘Mrs. Frankenstein’; it’s ‘Mrs. Stern.’ And Mrs. Stern doesn’t want her son catching a cold. Mrs. Frankenstein should’ve known better too.”
“But mohhmmmm. Dr. Frankenstein didn’t catch a cold.”
“And I suppose if Dr. Frankenstein jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, you’d jump too?”
Yep; a flexible weapon in a parent’s arsenal, indeed.
The venerable Brooklyn Bridge