I’ve mentioned before that my teenage rebellion manifested itself in sharing toothbrushes and sitting on public toilet seats. As an adult, my defiance comes out in equally brazen acts, such as feeding my three-year-old watermelon. Because surely everyone knows that watermelon consumed by anyone under the age of four is poison. Well, it is according to my family.
Like most Italian families, my brother, cousins, and I shared a childhood steeped in tradition, which, along with a strong sense of family values and a killer meatball recipe, came with a list of insane rules we were forced to follow in order to maintain our health and well-being. My brother and I recently compiled a list of the deranged rules that were ingrained in us as children – rules that we refuse to instill in our own kids, though the strength to do so sometimes takes every fiber of our beings. These rules are constantly looming in the backs of our minds, haunting us, and making us wonder, “what if?” more often than we’d like. Surely, they will only be fully erased from our psyches after years of intensive therapy.
1. Never dive or jump into a pool or body of water. You must wet the neck, ankles, wrists, and all other pulse-points before slowly wading in. The process, when done correctly, should take a minimum of fifteen minutes. Otherwise, you’ll surely die of shock. Like most of these rules, this one came with anecdotal “evidence.” A woman from my grandparents’ church marched in a parade on a hot day, jumped in a lake to cool off, and died of a heart attack. Or was it a woman from another town? Another country? Whatever. Details were few. With the benefit of hindsight and 75 years of collective wisdom, my brother and I now know that this story is nonsense. Did the parade route end at a lake? Was she marching in her bathing suit or did she just rend her garments before taking her fatal plunge? Did she have a preexisting medical condition? But here’s the thing – this hindsight and wisdom does nothing for us now. The damage has been done, and we both wince every time we see people jump in a pool without cooling their core temps.
2. Speaking of pools, most people are aware of the “no swimming within 20 minutes of eating” rule. For safety’s sake, my family extended that rule to baths. That’s right – no eating within 20 minutes of taking a bath. The death rate of bathtub drownings due to eating-induced cramping being so prevalent and all.
3. Don’t assume that, following a large meal, you can safely choose to take a shower. Showers are discouraged until well into the teenage years, as, surely you’ve heard, slipping in the shower and breaking one’s neck is an epidemic.
4. Never sit in direct line of a breeze, whether natural or produced by a fan or air conditioner. A stiff neck and respiratory virus will most definitely ensue. Furthermore, don’t refer to anything as a “breeze”. Regardless of temperature, knots, or barometric pressure, all air flow shall be referred to as “wind” or “draft”.
5. No going to bed with wet hair. Like a breeze, this practice ultimately leads to severe illness. I once casually mentioned to my mother that I did not dry my girls’ hair before bed and, based on her reaction, I spent the remainder of the evening waiting for her to show up at my door with a hair dryer and social worker.
6. Digestive systems of children under the age of ten are unable to tolerate untoasted bread. Serve your toddler a piece of bread and you’ll find a 60-something-year-old woman snatching it from their plate to throw it in the toaster.
7. Don’t ever look into a microwave. Oh I’m sorry, I suppose you want to develop cataracts.
8. Never wear sunglasses indoors. Cataracts aren’t bad enough for you? “Slur” your vision by wearing sunglasses in the living room – I dare you.
9. A hotdog at a baseball game will – more likely than not – cause sickness or death. Spend your childhood watching hundreds (thousands?) of people eating hotdogs and wondering why mankind is so reckless and depraved.
10. Nothing but ginger ale and saltines for 2 days after throwing up. Because the only thing worse than a norovirus is being systematically starved by your loved ones.
11. No writing on yourself with pen, because that would lead to blood poisoning. We were warned that coloring on our arms with a Bic was perilous, so it was safe to assume that getting an actual tattoo would be akin to freebasing heroin.
12. Always drink a lukewarm glass of water after eating ice cream in order to prevent the shock to your digestive system. Because what kid wants the taste of mint chocolate chip lingering in their mouth?
13. No taking an outdoor nap on rock/stone/marble during the summer. The cool stone would cool half of your body while the other half would be hot from the air. The result? Permanent paralysis and/or nerve damage. Can we just take a minute to mull over the fact that this is an actual rule that someone thought up, believed, and taught to their children?
14. And finally, thanks to my cousin Cathy for reminding us of the cardinal rule – never do anything that makes you sweat.
Try as we might to argue the outrageousness of these rules, my grandmother and grandfather lived to 102 and 101 respectively. While the Mediterranean diet they strictly adhered to has been studied and touted immensely, I can’t help but wonder how much of their longevity they would have attributed to the avoidance of drafts. I’m suspecting 80%.
Please comment below with any crazy rules your family had, if only to provide me and my brother with some sense of normalcy. Check back for a link to a GoFundMe page we will use to pay for our sessions with a psychoanalyst. Just kidding – Rule #15: those guys are quacks!