It began when I called my mom a “scumbag.” I was 12 and was now sitting in my bedroom in total fear, waiting for my dad to get home. My mom rarely told my dad when we did “bad” things, because she didn’t want to deal with his anger and just found it easier to handle us on her own. But my use of the word “scumbag” (spoken in the sassiest of tones and with utter disdain for my mom while I stomped up our stairs) was such a grave offense that full backup was required, and I knew the consequence was going to be hard to swallow. I just didn’t know it would be that difficult!
I heard the custom 1979 Chevy van pull up outside. I could then smell my dad’s Kent cigarette wafting through the house while my mom told him the horrible story. They were standing in their bedroom down the hallway from me. My dad shouted, “Michelle, get in here now!” in that deep, harsh “dad” voice that could strike terror into anyone around him. He was standing at their vanity near their bathroom, and he said, “Go get that soap” and pointed toward the shower.
Now I was truly horrified — not because of his anger, but because of the disgusting used soap he was pointing at, which was a birthday gift I had given him four months earlier. It was Aramis soap on a rope! The irony was tragic, yet it fit the crime for sure! It was hanging there halfway used, gummy in a way that even now makes me sick to my stomach. I grabbed the rope as he turned on the sink water to get the soap nice and wet. Then he said, in that same scary voice, “Put it in your mouth, and never — and I mean NEVER — talk to your mother that way again.”
Two things changed that day. One, I never ever did speak to my mom that way again. And two, to this day I can’t eat ginger, because it tastes just like Aramis soap on a rope! Seriously, I will vomit if one tiny pink leafy piece is on my sushi.
What prompted me to recount this personal story, you may ask? Well, researchers recently found that people who lie have the urge to wash out their “dirty” mouths afterward! Apparently, parents who — like my father — punish their kids for fibbing or saying “bad” things by washing their mouths out with soap may be on to something!
Researchers at the University of Michigan asked 87 students to pretend that they were either lying or telling the truth to a coworker, either by phone or e-mail. The subjects then had to rate how much they wanted certain products (either mouthwash or hand sanitizer), and say what they would be willing to pay for those particular items. Turns out, the students who had lied by phone felt a stronger urge to buy mouthwash, whereas those who’d lied via e-mail had a stronger desire for hand sanitizer. Students who were truthful had a lower desire for both products. The researchers concluded that the references for “dirty hands” or “dirty mouths” in our everyday language suggest that people think about abstract issues of moral purity in terms of more concrete experiences with physical purity.
As a parent, I would never do what my father did to me with the soap on a rope. But it was very effective! Moms, was your mouth ever “washed out” when you were a child? Would you ever do it to your own kid?