Thursday, June 02, 2016

Mother May I?

Mother May I?

I wonder what ever happened to those childhood lawn games I used to play in the 50's? It seems like yesterday that all the kids on my block would get together on someone's front lawn and play games like "Simon Says" or "Mother May I?"

I always thought "Simon Says" was a bit idiotic. Some smart ass kid would get to be Simon and have you doing all kinds of ludicrous things, by insisting, "Simon says pick your nose" or "Simon says jump in the air!" followed by "Come down!" Of course, since the command to come down was not prefaced by the words, "Simon says," then you were O-U-T, out of the game. Even as a wee lad, I wasn't so stupid that I believed I could resist the force of gravity. I had no choice but to come down.

"Mother May I?" was a much more intriguing game. No one realised it at the time, but the game taught us how to differentiate between asking for permission and asking if one has the ability to do something. Using "May I ...?" seeks permission to do something. Using "Can I ...?" references one's ability to do something. "May I walk you home?" is asking for your permission to walk you home. "Can I walk you home?" is questioning whether you have the ability to walk.

Get it? Now, forget it. These days, the two verb forms are generally considered interchangeable.

However, back in the day, the difference between using "may" and "can" was seen as a standard of your ability to speak correctly. Moreover, "may" was known to be the darling of polite society, whereas "can" was reserved for the white trash that lived on the other side of the tracks.

So, we played this game called, "Mother May I?" One kid would play the role of "Mother" and stand across the lawn near the house. That kid didn't have to be a girl, by the way, since a boy or a transgender-in-waiting could also play the role of "Mother." The rest of the kids, known as the "Mother's little children," would line up along the sidewalk farthest away from the house. The goal of the game was to creep and sneak up to the "Mother's" position and take over "her" role as leader of the game. "Mother" had to have her back to the rest of the kids, so that she couldn't see the progress made by any one of her "children."

"Mother" would entertain requests from her each "child," one at a time. You could ask such things as, "Mother, may I take a giant step forward?" The "Mother" had the right to say, "Yes, you may," or "No, you may not." A standard trick would be for the "Mother" to say, "Yes, you can." If you then committed the action, the giant step, you would have to return to your starting place on the sidewalk. The trick word is "can," and your punishment resulted from the fact that you were not given permission to take that giant step.

Well, all the odds were obviously stacked in the "Mother's" favour. I mean, she could pretty much decide who would move forward and who would not, and yes, favouritism was rampant. Nevertheless, it was a fun game that killed some time before "Howdy Dowdy" or "The Roy Rogers Show" came on that new invention called the television.

These days, I suspect the games of my childhood are long gone. After all, times have changed, and I guess language has changed as well. I mean if there were a comparable game among today's kids, it would probably be called "S'up, Motherfucker?"

So it goes ...




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