I grew up hearing a lot of superstitions:
- “It’s bad luck to sew on Sunday.”
- “It’s bad luck to watch a person out of sight.”
- “It’s bad luck if a black cat crosses your path if you’re heading away from home, but not if you’re heading home.”
- “It’s bad luck to double back for anything.”
- “If you tell a bad dream before breakfast, it’ll come true.”
- “It’s bad luck to sing at the table or in bed.”
- “It’s bad luck to walk under a ladder.”
I don’t know if my mom, who taught me all of these, actually believed in them or if she figured she didn’t know what would happen in these circumstances, so she obeyed the old wisdoms “just in case”. My dad once told me that he knew how much my mom loved him when she sewed a button back on his pants on a Sunday (because they were in a hotel out-of-town and he didn’t have another pair to wear). Under normal circumstances there was never any sewing on Sunday.
As an adult, I ignore most of these superstitions. My kids and I often sing in bed and also at the table. In fact, both of my kids have been taught blessings that you sing before you eat.
I don’t worry about black cats. I love all cats and delight in seeing them. I also often double back and go back in the house for forgotten items. I’d rather take my chances with “bad luck” than take my little one on a trip without her beloved stuffed friend or a snack or entertainment or the right shoes . . . or whatever it is we forgot that time.
But there are some of these long-drilled-into-my-brain superstitions that I just can’t bring myself to ignore. I don’t walk under ladders (and teach my children not to as well) for obvious reasons. Others are not so logical.
I will not watch someone out of sight. I’ll say goodbye, wave, throw kisses, and then turn around and go into the house while the person is still leaving. It’s not that I really believe that person will crash if I watch him or her out of sight, but it’s not a chance I’m willing to take. If I might be able to prevent an accident just by not watching, that’s a small price to pay.
The same thing with not telling bad dreams until after breakfast. This one might have a more deep-seeded fear, as well. Before my mom was born, when her sister Verna was little, her grandfather stopped by their house on his way to work in the coal mines and told her mother (my grandmother) to keep little Verna away from the nearby river that day because he had a dream that she drowned. My grandmother did as instructed. That day, my great-grandfather (the one who had the dream) was hit in the back when a large rock fell in the mine. His back was broken and he eventually died from his injuries.
Of course, I have no idea whether he told the dream before or after he had breakfast and it wasn’t even the dream that came true. My Aunt Verna didn’t drown. My great-grandfather got hurt. In my rational brain, I know that the timing was just coincidental. But dreams now have a certain power in my mind. And if breakfast could possibly keep a bad one from coming true, I’ll have breakfast before I tell any bad dream. That’s easy.
This morning I learned the downside of my “being safe rather than sorry” approach. Sapphire woke up early screaming. I ran to her room to find out what was wrong. I found her in tears, saying she’d had a bad dream. She clearly wanted to tell me about her dream, but was frightened that it would come true, which she just couldn’t let happen. She told me that when she tells me her dreams after breakfast she doesn’t have them anymore. I wanted to tell her that she could go ahead and tell me the dream, but a part of me was afraid.
After a few seconds of reflection on what really was needed here and the minimal risk, I asked her if she wanted to go ahead and tell me. Her reply: “What if it comes true?” I wanted to tell her with certainty that it wouldn’t, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it, because I really don’t know if it will or not (especially not knowing what it was) and I make it a point not to lie to my girls. So I told her it wasn’t likely to come true.
She’s a smart girl. This wasn’t good enough.
Somehow we got off the subject of the dream and clowned around with each other for a while. But inevitably, her mind returned to the bad, scary dream and she wanted to know again, “What if it comes true?”
Obviously, she needed to tell it to me, so I did the only thing I could do that freed both of us: I suggested we go downstairs and have breakfast and then she could tell me her dream. Better safe than sorry.
Are you superstitious? Are there particular superstitions you heed and others that you ignore?