On Toothpaste and Counting to Ten

I have always prided myself on being careful about what I say. I am not alone in having experienced the hurtful speech of others, so I try very hard to not point my sense of humor at anyone, to not make disparaging remarks or say things that might hurt. I try to never criticize anyone, friends, family or strangers. I do not always succeed however.

There was the time at a wedding rehearsal, when without thinking, obviously I was not thinking, I said to the bride’s father, “Well, if it’s a shotgun wedding, at least it’s a white shotgun!” (Formal wedding). Oh, my gosh, how he managed to not yell, swear or fuss at me, let alone managed to not write to the Bishop and complain, I do not know.

Then there was this “Marcellino Family” thing (or maybe it was jut a Jack and Maggie thing) that I brought into my second marriage. If I did something that my mother didn’t like, but it wasn’t something that was really going to get me in trouble, she would say to my father, “Jack! Speak to your daughter!” and he might say, “Hello, Michele.” Obviously, that was not what she intended. Or, if I had done something equally vexing, she might say to me, “You are just like your father’s people!” (Sorry cousins!)

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

My husband quickly adapted to that tradition. One day the dog had done something that annoyed him (Sammy, our first beagle) and he said to me, “He is just like your side of the family!” Out of my mouth flew, “That’s right! He’s got hair!” Don’t feel too bad for him, thirty some years later, he has never let me live it down.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, and possibly longer, when children’s feelings were hurt, parents’ usual reply was “Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you.” We were taught to say that back to our tormentors. But now we know, it was never true.

Words hurt, unintentional words can hurt, and verbal abuse is genuine abuse. How many spouses, or significant others, have stayed in painful, destructive relationships because, “It’s only words. He/she never hit me.” But their mental health and self image have taken the hit. Words when they are out of our mouths, or keyboards, are not unlike toothpaste. You can get it out of the tube, but you cannot get it back into the tube.

Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. from Pexels

I often wonder in courtroom settings, when a judge addresses a jury and says that a particular statement by an attorney has to be stricken from the record and that it cannot be used in deliberation, how do you unhear something? In the television courtroom dramas, that often seems to be the point.

Now, when many of us, not only in the United States where I live, but many areas in countries around the world are in essential lock down, stay at home, social distancing protocols, our homes have become really small quarters. We are in close proximity to one another with very little chance for alone time. Especially if there are more than two of you. There is another old expression that can apply, but I pray that it does not, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

Photo by Designecologist from Pexels

Tempers are bound to flare, feelings are bound to be hurt. Now would be a good time to develop a strategy. How are you going to respond the next time your spouse, or child or significant other says and does something hurtful? Counting to Ten may help, but not if you are counting by tens! Each person in a house is going to have a different way to cope, but I want to suggest that this is important. Count way past ten. Take a deep breath, go outside if you are able, pray if that is your tradition. This might be a good time to start that tradition, no matter who you are. Color! Phone a friend. Do something nice. Forgive. Make a list, make it work, we are in this for the long haul.

Now, more than ever, you need each other. We need each other and the world still needs love. When I do premarital counseling, we always talk about the wedding ceremony, and plans about what that will look like. But in my counseling sessions and in my wedding homilies I always stress the importance of tangible expressions of love, practicing and expressing gratitude to your spouse. forgiveness and respect.

Photo by Kristin DeSoto Photography from Pexels

As I write, I can think of all kinds of song lyrics, but am frankly, too lazy to look up the copyright information, and out of respect for other writers and myself, do not want to quote things that would imperil my blog. But it might be worth checking your “go to” search engine for songs about respect (pretty sure there is at least one!), forgiveness, love, and choosing your words.

The things we say to those we claim to love, our families our friends may be more important than ever in the close quarters we call home. Saying we didn’t mean them is counter-productive and once our words are out, once the email has been sent, or the phrase tweeted, it is like toothpaste. It is out of the tube, and there are no “take backs” that can make up for it.

None of this is easy, but I know Someone who can help us through.

Not holding back the tide,


A postscript for my readers: I try to do two posts a week. As it turns out I have a shoulder injury that requires surgery in a few days. I will try to get one post out a week in the interim. Don’t want to lose you.

Published by msomerville2014

About: Michele Somerville is a wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. She lives with her husband and their dog Sheba. Sheba is their fourth rescue dog in 30 years. She is a retired ordained United Methodist Elder and serves two churches part-time in North Central Pennsylvania. She obtained her Bachelors’ Degree in 1999 from Mansfield University and her Master of Divinity in 2004 and Doctor of Ministry in 2016, both from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York. My Doctor of Ministry Thesis was:” Prophetic Words of Grace: Biblical Storytelling in the Local Church.” Michele began writing and performing character monologues for worship in 2008. She began by asking the question about nameless characters in the Bible, “What would they say if they could speak for themselves?” and then using her theological education and experience of the human condition to attempt an answer that is both academic and creative. Much of what you will read here are memories from growing up in a tourist town, in a bar, in the 1960’s, shaggy dog stories about our rescue dogs, life in a small town, and stories of faith and hope. Throughout her life she has lived in many states, including small towns, large towns and cities. She lived in Rota, Spain, for nine challenging months. Despite all the places she have lived since moving away from home in 1970,Michele is at the heart of all things Jack and Maggie’s daughter, and a beach girl from Onset, Massachusetts.

6 thoughts on “On Toothpaste and Counting to Ten

  1. You make some very good points here about being in close quarters and give some good tips. Count to ten, or as they used to say “bite your tongue”… counting is less painful. And yes, words do hurt, but we all also have to give each other some slack in these challenging times.

    I enjoyed the personal stories which started oft the post which had me chuckling.. the white wedding comment in particular… Haven’t we all said something like that to the wrong person at the wrong time hahah.



    1. Thank you so much, I appreciate your thoughtful comments and feedback, especially as a new blogger, These are stories I have wanted to write for a long time. Sometimes I worry that I will run out, and then a new thought or memory pops into my head. And I am enjoying following your travels as well,


  2. Michele, Very funny on your opening story. We all have said something possibly inappropriate with no hurtful intention. Yet, very funny, too on “He’s got hair.” Funny to me.

    Thought-provoking analogy on the toothpaste and the tube. I have also wondered about the courtroom scenario. Wise words on how more than ever we need each other. I agree with Peta how we have to give each other some slack in these challenging times. Hugs and good wishes on your surgery.


    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Isn’t that picture of the toothpaste tube with the cactus thought provoking? More than ever, we do need to cut each other slack. Coming along from the surgery. Thanks for the good wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my post and comment. The surgery has come and gone, I actually wrote this in early April. I debated removing the note but left it in. Surgery was okay, glad to be back to semi-normal. Thanks again for visiting.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: