‘We’ll see’: A cruel rejoinder to children

Published 12:35 am Wednesday, November 30, 2011

“We’ll see.”

Oh, how I dreaded hearing those words when I was a child.

Hearing that phrase when I asked for something I strongly desired or wanted to do meant, in the vast majority of instances, my request was doomed.

When my mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandfather, grandmother or other adult responded to a plea for a new model airplane or making a trip to the Baskin-Robbins ice-cream store for a scoop of licorice ice cream and a scoop of banana ice cream on a cone by intoning “We’ll see,” I knew my chances of seeing my desire come to fruition were about the same as George Armstrong Custer surviving the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Any child over the age of 2 knows that 999 times out of 1,000, the words “We’ll see” is an adult’s way of saying the following:


“It’s not going to happen.”

“When pigs fly.”

As bad as it was to hear “We’ll see” when I was a towheaded young’un, the torture that followed those words was often worse. You see, “We’ll see” was not a 100-percent denial. There was that iota of a chance that one’s request would be granted.

Depending upon the request, one could languish for minutes, hours, days or weeks before hope was dashed as reality arrived. Many times I would wait out a “We’ll see” for weeks, but for naught.

While I waited, the adult who uttered the dreaded phrase had forgotten my plea five minutes after I made it.

If I had a dollar for each time I was told “We’ll see” from the time I began talking to the time I left home, I could have retired the day I left home.

Then came fatherhood and grandfatherhood.

One day, when my daughter was about 3 years old, she announced she wanted a puppy and I was the one who would buy it for her.

Before I could think about it, I replied, “We’ll see.” Did I say that?

At first, she thought I meant we would go “see” some puppies so she could select the one she wanted. I explained to her the meaning of “We’ll see.”

Alas, I knew that meaning all too well.

Fast-forward about 30 years. Brenda and Elizabeth, my two granddaughters, were in the backseat of their mother’s car and purposely annoying each other. I told them to behave or face the consequences.

They asked me if I would buy them ice cream if they behaved until we reached our destination.

That’s right. You guessed it. I replied, “We’ll see.”

I want to ask for a raise in pay, but the boss has two boys at home. I’m afraid he’s too used to saying, “We’ll see.”


Mike Voss covers the city of Washington for the Washington Daily News. Another phrase he dreaded hearing when he was a boy was “Go get me a switch.” Those words had a particular sting to them.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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