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On a less serious note: I told this story to a friend this morning who thought it would make for a good thread.One of my cousins remembered as a child overhearing a conversation between her mother and mine about what it is that determines the sex of a child. My mothers view was that it was determined by the sex of the person who had initiated the act by which the child was conceived. My cousin said that it gave her a whole other view of my mother since of her twelve children, ten were female.I suppose we cant call these kinds of things "old wives tales" any more, but are there others, on this or any other subject, that were handed down in your family?

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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There is a whole theory, which I've never fully grasped, regarding how one can determine the sex of the baby based on how much it has "dropped" in the late stages of pregnancy.

More than one person told me that my wicked bad heartburn that lasted like 4 months meant my baby would be born with a lot of hair. My baby wasn't born with a lot of hair, but she was born with kind of strange hair: sort of half a frizzy mohawk. I think she got that from her Dad's side. Her hair is just fine now. though.My mom once mentioned that, when she was pregnant with me (her first), my Dad was insistent that I would be a boy, because boys "ran in his family". Out of 9 children, my parents have 7 daughters.

I heard that one too. Six boys and one girl in my family!! I am far away from being a teenager but I still get a weird feeling thinking about my parents in that way. Yuck! as my daughter would say.

I was told that my first child would be a girl because my belly was "pointy" and because the energetic baby liked to exercise, as much as that is possible in the confined of a uterus. Then the birth revealed a girl.

My Mother didn't seem to have any theory. Nine boys and then two girls. But among the grandchildren, far more girls than boys.

George D: but the interesting question is, did you hear it from your parents? Joe, I have to wonder what your parents would think of your recounting this private conversation in public! Will they scold you when you meet them again after you die, I wonder? John: I note that you're not telling us your own theory...

That people have the power to inflict effective curses runs deep in some cultures. A woman once confessed to me that she had cursed her husband. When I didn't take this seriously enough, she said, "But, Father, my curses work!" OK, how did you curse your husband? "I said, 'I hope you die!'" Did he die? "No, but he fell down the stairs and broke his leg."

My mother and grandmothers considered themselves highly progressive. No old wives tales for them. I did find, though, in one of my grandmothers' extensive scrapbooks, tips for home birth in the 1920s and '30s. Fascinating reading about how newspapers and sheets were sterilized with steam pans and flat irons, and the birthing room was cleaned and readied. Amazing to think that my grandmother performed these extensive preparations many, many times for neighbors and herself. At least three times when she was eight months pregnant. No wonder she lived to be 95.

I just thought of another one: that bad things come in threes...

Raber's mother always said that. She believed cats would suck a baby's breath away. Also if your baby couldn't sleep at night, he had his days and nights mixed up, so you should turn him head over heels to fix it.

This is only vaguely related, but it's something interesting, and, to me after all these years, still mystifying.When my wife was pregnant with our first child, my wife developed a severe aversion to bananas, a fruit which she had previously loved and consumed in abundance. Once the child (a daughter) was delivered, the banana aversion disappeared entirely, and my wife went back to happily consuming them. As the baby progressed to solid foods, we soon discovered that the daughter wouldn't eat bananas. To this day, 29 years later, the daughter has avoided them as if they were poison. Said daughter is otherwise by no means a finicky eater and has no other food aversions.I find this rather fascinating. I can only hypothesize that the daughter produces some sort of unique molecule which crossed the placental barrier during my wife's first pregnancy, giving my wife the banana aversion only during the pregnancy, but continuing on during my daughter's life. Perhaps this is some sort of a spontaneous mutation which would give her a survival advantage, should bananas start to accumulate some sort of toxin produced by errant genetically modified food engineering, or whatever.- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

"Fascinating reading about how newspapers and sheets were sterilized with steam pans and flat irons, and the birthing room was cleaned and readied. Amazing to think that my grandmother performed these extensive preparations many, many times for neighbors and herself. At least three times when she was eight months pregnant. No wonder she lived to be 95."The second season of "Call the Midwife" starts on PBS this Sunday night. You'll feel right at home with newspapers and home births. A mixture of lay and religious midwifes who work out of an Anglican convent in the East End of London in the 1950's.

John H - thanks for calling out "Call the Midwife". The workhouse episode last season was extremely moving. Very positive and sensitive treatment of women's religious, too.

My mother always swore that milk was bad for an upset stomach, whereas my wife's mother always swore that milk was just the thing for an upset stomach.My mother also believed that swimming within an hour after eating would cause one to cramp up and drown.I'm referring to my mother in the past tense, but she's still alive and kicking, and for all I know, still clings to these beliefs. (We don't necessarily consult her on these topics anymore).

My old neighbor also believed that eating within an hour before Mass would cause one to go to hell.

The second season of Call the Midwife starts on PBS this Sunday night.I'm off by a week. It starts on Sunday March 31 (here, anyway).Here's an article on the Sisters of the Anglican Community of St. John the Divine:

"My mother also believed that swimming within an hour after eating would cause one to cramp up and drown."That's not true, about not eating right before swimming?

The Internet declares that it is not true: also declares that eating bananas for breakfast is correlated with having boys

My whole family believed that one about not swimming within an hour after eating. I find myself surprised it isn't so, and regretting the time we wasted, sitting under a beach umbrella while those hours slowly passed.Our German housekeeper firmly believed that if you kept your rubbers on in the house, it would damage your eyesight. And she claimed that faithfully eating the crusts of your bread would eventually make your hair curl. The bread story I doubted , even at six, but I wasn't sure for a while about the rubbers.

Swimming after eating won't kill you, drinking alcohol before swimming may:"While eating is OK before a swim, drinking is not advisable. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found one-quarter of teenagers who drowned were intoxicated. A similar study on adults found 41 per cent of drowning deaths involved alcohol"

Then there's the story about another woman who had ten girls and wanted a boy. "Why don't you do what I tell you!" urged her mother-in-law. "Eat broccol! Eat broccoli! Eat broccoli!" So the woman ate broccoli, ate broccoli, ate broccoli, and had a green girl.

Then there's the story of my grandmother who believed that if you wore a hat with wild-flowers as decoration, somebody would die. Her daughter, a science teacher, bought a hat with wild-flowers, wore it, and my grandmother's sister up and died.My grandmother's maid said that if a child had colic, you should put straw in its hair to cure it.As children we believed that if you had a little cut, putting part of a spider's web across it would help it heal. Of course, you had to risk getting bitten by a spider.

And there's the old one about not stepping on the lines of in sidewalk. In last night's episode of "Monk", Monk almost tripped over his own feet trying to avoid stepping on the lines between the flagstones of a sidewalk.

After my aunt died (the last of her generation), something I learned about my Irish grandmother on my mother's side from St. John NB:Family photos from the first decade of the 20th century showed my uncles with shoulder length curly hair up to about 5-7 years. One would swear they were girls. I heard rumor about the uncles being very anxious to get their hair cut.The reason for this was my grandmother's fear that some malevolent spirit was jealous of someone having a son. To avoid harm to the child, the mother made the son resemble a girl as a means of fooling this spirit. It was a way not to provoke harm to a son. Anyone ever heard of this in Irish culture? Strange echo of the slaughter of the innocents?

We have a photo of my Uncle Bert with very long hair, like what you describe, but I've never heard that explanation. The family was 3/4 Irish, 1/4 New England puritan.Speaking of malevolent spirits: my mother said that when my oldest sister as an infant had a bad case of colic, my Slovak grandmother interpreted this to mean that she had been "overlooked," that is, that someone had looked at her with the "evil eye," put her under a curse. My grandmother's antidote: "So she took a piece of wood, burned it, and put it in a glass of water and then made me bathe the baby's head with it. But that didn't help."

Virtually every single bit of lore handed down in my family concerns the evil eye.

Evil Eye: There was a great aunt on our family tree who, on the day of her wedding, right on the Church steps, had " a curse put on her marriage" by the mother of an ex-girlfriend of the groom. The groom fathered a child with the ex, and then didn't marry her, hence the curse. I don't know what happened with the curse. Maybe the curse was that the marriage went through and now our ancestress was married to a bum.I'm sympathetic to all of the injured parties, but it sounds like the best wedding ever and I wish I could have been there.

That is hardcore.

My mother could give the evil eye, but only when we weren't home. If my brothers or I even started to misbehave in public she would look at us with those huge brown eyes and give us such a look that we were immediately immobilized. Worked every time.

New Orleans still has voodoo. There's a voodoo shop in walking distance of my house whee you can buy all sorts of necessary paraphernalia. The fact seems to be that sometimes it does work. As I understand it, the psychologists say that if you believe that a curse will work, then the curse becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy -- you do yourself in. Moral: don't mess with that stuff.

We have all boys; no further comment.

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