Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Some folklore to get us through the transition temper tantrums

By Robin Lakoff

As the latest long national nightmare slithers inexorably to its end, it is time to consider a few familiar stories that may provide much needed wisdom.


Grimms fairytale character Rumplestiltskin stamping his feet. In the village square, the king overhears a woman boasting: “My daughter is such a fine spinner, she can spin straw into gold.” The king, who has lots of straw but never enough gold (you know how kings are), is intrigued, and has the girl brought to him. He takes her to a room filled with straw and a spinning wheel, and offers her a deal: If she can spin all the straw into gold by morning, OK. Otherwise … off with her head. He leaves.

She sits at the wheel and cries piteously. Of course she can do no such thing. Then a dwarf appears in the room, asks her what the problem is, and asks: what will you give me to spin the straw into gold? She removes her necklace and gives it to him, and he spends the night spinning the straw into gold.

The next morning the king shows up and is delighted, but not satisfied (you know how kings are). He offers her the same deal: straw into gold by morning, or…. Again she sits down at the wheel and cries, and again the dwarf appears. She gives him her ring, and he again spins the straw into gold. The next morning the king shows up, is pleased, but still not content. He sweetens the offer: if she doesn’t spin the straw into gold, off with her head. But if she can… he’ll marry her and make her queen. (Lucky her!)

The dwarf appears again, and asks the same question. The girl replies that she has nothing left to give him. He says: “That’s OK. After you’re queen, you’ll have a baby, and you’ll give the baby to me.” Desperate, she agrees.

This time the king is satisfied and marries the girl and makes her queen, and in due course she has a baby. Shortly thereafter the dwarf shows up and demands the child. She bursts into tears (her favorite strategy) and he makes her an offer: on that and the next two nights, she must try to guess his name. She gets three guesses each time. If she can guess it right, he’ll go away. If not, he gets the kid.

She tries common names first: “Is it John?” No. “Is it Frank?” No. “Is it Fred?” Heh-heh, nope.

The next night, she goes for exotic names: “Skeleton Beast? Sheep’s Tail? Boot Lace?” No dice.

The next morning, she sends a messenger around the country to see what names he can dig up. When he returns, he tells her he hasn’t heard any new names, but he did see a weird thing: in the forest in front of a little house, a dwarf was dancing around a fire and singing:

Today I bake, tomorrow I’ll brew,

Day after tomorrow I’ll fetch the queen’s child;

Oh, what a fine thing it is that no one knows

That my name is Rumpelstiltskin!


So, when the dwarf shows up that night, she first guesses: “Conrad?” No. “Harry?” No. A long pause. “Could it…by chance…be…Rumpelstiltskin?”

The dwarf is terribly upset. He stomps around in his rage, driving his foot so hard that it goes into the floor. That makes him so much angrier that he seizes his other foot with both hands and tears himself in two.

What might someone given to fits of rage learn from this fairy tale? When you get mad, don’t tear yourself in two. It’s not a good look. And don’t get mad, get rational. Don’t take people’s babies, or put them in cages.


Samson was a man whose extraordinary strength came from his hair. He was warned never to cut his hair, or he would lose his strength.

At that time his people were fighting the Philistines, but he fell in love with Delilah, a Philistine, and insisted on marrying her despite his mother’s objections. He loved Delilah, but she didn’t love him, and was induced by a bribe to cut his hair while he was asleep.

(You know what a Philistine is: Someone who won’t watch movies with subtitles.)

So the Philistines easily captured him and put out his eyes and made him run a mill while they made fun of him. This is what happens when you don’t listen to your mother.

Biblical character Samson pushing pillars. But the Philistines forgot that hair grows. And as Samson’s hair grew back, so did his strength. One day he found himself outside a house of worship in which many Philistines were worshiping. He went inside and took a seat between two pillars, grasping each in one hand, and shook them until he brought the temple down, killing all the Philistines, as well as himself.

What might someone with Big Hair and a taste for vengeance learn from this Bible story? Don’t fuss over your hair: it isn’t manly. And revenge may not be fun if you are one of its objects, as can happen.

A Modern Story

You can’t dodge all temper tantrums. A mother would be unnatural if she had that much patience and tact. When the storm breaks, you try to take it casually and help to get it over. You certainly don’t give in and meekly let the child have his way; otherwise he’d be throwing tantrums all the time on purpose. You don’t argue with him, because he’s in no mood to see the error of his ways - Benjamin Spock, Baby and Child Care

What can we learn from this parable? Don’t elect a 3-year-old to the presidency, especially one given to tantrums.  He will never pull up his Big Boy pants. The Framers put in the 35-year age requirement for a reason.