Put A Rag In It

(Tokoni, 5/8/2009)

“Put a rag in it.” This was a family phrase which I never really understood until my daughter was born. And even then, I didn’t know what it meant until I was twenty-nine and my mom came to visit us one summer.

They had been living eight-hundred miles away – safe for me, up until they decided to ‘move back home’, that being a new house about four miles away from me. Man, I hated that!

And this one day my mom comes over – we’re having a ‘family dinner’ (my wife was raised much different than I) – and my daughter is at the dinner table, crying her little head off. She’s only two, maybe three at the most, and having one of those little hissy-fits that it seems only little girls can have – aggravating, but cute to me. And we’re sitting there trying to eat supper while my wife tends to my daughter (usually my job, because I love her), when my mom says:

“Put a rag in it.”

Now this phrase had been repeated in our family household ever since I could remember. Not in MY household, mind you – I didn’t know what it meant. But in our family household – the one I had grown up in. But I get this real wary feeling as my mom picks up the washrag off of the table we’d been using to clean up the messes, and getting up, she goes over to the baby, and as my daughter goes to open her mouth to cry, my mom starts stuffing the rag in it.

Like I said, “Put a rag in it.”

Needless to say, we stopped her – but my mom, laughing, excuses herself by saying: “That’s what I always used to do with you boys when you’d get to crying like this! Put a rag in it. Shut it up.” Apparently she would shove the rag in so hard and so far back – and even tape or tie it in. Just to shut us up.

Weird, huh?

And so that’s how I learned how that phrase came about, and what it truly meant.

Now here’s the thing (aside from, say, it might be considered a little bit abusive).

The word “It”.

Not “her mouth”. Not “the baby’s mouth”. But “It”.

Because that’s what we were to her, my mom.


How dehumanizing.

No wonder we grew up cold in some ways – very cold in some – a thing that took me many years and a lot of struggle and pain and self-torture and near suicide and years of depression to overcome.

Because to her, we weren’t children.

We were “its”.

Things, possession, not people.

No wonder she did some of the things she did.

And yeah – she treated the dogs much better than us.

At least she never beat the dogs.

Us – that was a whole different matter.


Put a rag in it.

I’ll never forget that moment of realization.