I didn’t even have to think about it. The words rolled off my tongue as if on auto pilot.
“You’ll get worms,” I said, and as soon as the words left my lips another thought leapt to mind. Where in the world did I first hear that and why was it ingrained in my brain for all eternity?
It quite possibly was my mother who first put the fear of worms in me. While my friends were being threatened with picking a switch and the boogeyman coming to get them, I was being told I’d get worms. I was eating too much candy?. I’d get worms and have no teeth. I was running around barefoot? I was going to get worms. I was biting my fingernails? Worms for sure.
I didn’t want to get worms, so I listened. Well… sometimes. At least when mama was looking. But I never remember looking at my mother and shaking my head, which is what my daughter did when I told her she’d get worms from eating raw chocolate chip cookie dough. Never mind I did so while I, myself, was about to put a pinch of said cookie dough in my own mouth. Mama wasn’t around.
There were quite a few things I remember being told as a child that I didn’t question, just automatically took as truth. Would my face freeze like that? Quite possibly. Would my eyes stay permanently crossed? I didn’t want to tempt it. Would I go blind if I constantly sat a foot from the television while watching Tom and Jerry? I might. I just might.
One of my friends revealed in elementary school that her mama told her if she shaved her legs before she was old enough the hair would grow back like a gorilla. Another told us in confidence that his mother told him he was going to get curvy — a horrible, horrible disease — if he didn’t eat his vegetables. He hated vegetables, so he was sure he had curvy already. It sounded horrible. I ate my vegetables. I didn’t want curvy. Only later did I learn it was scurvy his mama was threatening him with. I didn’t want that either.
Recently I overhead a young woman telling a small girl to chew with her mouth closed. “If you eat with your mouth open, a wild dog will come and grab food right out of it.” That, in my humble opinion, was a bit harsh. There we were in the middle of a crowded restaurant, no dogs in sight. That I could see, at least. Then again, I didn’t know this woman. Maybe she had some sort of experience in this area. Maybe there was a dog in the back somewhere or under a table...waiting...
I made sure I chewed with my mouth closed, just in case.
Still, I’m most afraid of worms. In later life I learned that you really can get worms. It’s not as typical as mama would have had us believe, but it can happen.
Swallow bubblegum? You might possibly get worms and it will stay in your stomach for seven years. Seven years? Did somebody time it? And does it depend on what kind of bubble gum it is? So many unanswered questions.
I still don’t think my daughter believes me about the cookie dough. I have done my duty as a mother, though, in warning her. Her father agrees. His mother told him he’d get worms, too.
“You should write about that,” he said. “I bet a lot of people’s mothers told them the same thing.” A column is born. About worms.
“What else will give you worms?” I contemplated aloud. And then she said it.
“Reading your column,” our dough eating daughter proclaimed. Did she just say what I think she said?
The boogeyman will get her for that. I should make her go pick a switch.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.