The setting of the old joke is Cell Block D, where night after night, different guys call out different numbers, randomly, and the rest of the inmates start laughing. They’ve heard the same jokes for so long, they just tell a joke by whatever number they’ve assigned it.

One guy hollers “4!” Chuckles everywhere.

“18!” Ripples of laughter.

“Hey guys…8!” Inmates start slapping their knees. Tears of joy.

Like that.

So one night a newbie inmate who’s been listening to this for a week waits until it’s quiet and then yells, “3!” He expects the usual explosion of laughter.


He says it again, only with less confidence.



“Why isn’t anyone laughing?” he asks his veteran bunkmate. 

“Well,” the old inmate says, “I guess it’s just that some guys can tell a joke, and some guys can’t.”

(If you’d been in prison, I wouldn’t have had to write all that. I could have just written, “187.”)

The point is that on this Mother’s Day, most moms should be in prison. No, wait. That’s not right. Most of us children of moms — that’s it — should be in some sort of Kid Lockup for breaking first Mom Laws. And to save them time and air and nervous breakdowns, moms should have a list of violations or Mom Sayings and a number that corresponds with each, like our comedian prisoners have.

For instance, a mom could yell “1!” Naturally, that would mean, “If Jimmy/Sally jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”

“2!” might be, “Clean up your room!”

“3!” would be “Stop running!”

“4!” is “Hurry up!”

“5!” could be “Stop hitting your (brother/sister/grandpa/kitty cat)!” or it could just be “Stop!”

Consider “6!”: “Because I said so.”

“Because I said so.” A Mom Classic, right there.

This list is about as endless as a mother’s love. There’s “Make sure you put on clean underwear; you might get in a wreck.” And “I’m not your maid!” And “Have you done your homework?” 

Sometimes they are challenging. “Well go live with THEM then!”

Or “What did you say? WHAT did you say?!”

And “ANSWER me when I ask you a question!”

Some Momspeak deals with numbers, like “I’m counting to three” or “How many times do I have to tell you?”

(I always answered “142.” Never went over as I’d hoped.)

At some point, often before breakfast, I would get on my mom’s “last nerve,” the double first cousin of “I’ve had it up to here with you today.” Funny, but I never got on my dad’s last nerve, for some reason. He had either more nerves or a shorter fuse. But then, battles with dads are usually fixed bayonets, quickly settled matters. Moms will give you more rope.

“Don’t make me have to say this again…” 

But we did, and moms — without the handy number system — had to say it again.

And again. And again. And after time in Kid Lockup, we’d be on the loose. Again.

Thankfully, moms have short memories for what we did wrong and long memories for what we did right. Of course, that’s a much easier — and a much smaller — list to remember.

Teddy Allen is an award-winning columnist and graduate of Louisiana Tech, where he works as a writer and broadcaster.