Not everyone thinks simultaneously of their mom and the Three Stooges, but I do. With great affection for both.

Mom forbade watching “The Three Stooges” at home. So, I just went next door to my friend Tommy’s house to watch it — “Superman” and “Batman,” too. If mom had her way, we’d have watched only “Captain Kangaroo.” She forbade all the worthwhile programs — the ones with pie throwing, good versus evil, guns, and rudeness. Ah, the innocence of life pre-cable television.

Mom did not trust that I could distinguish sophisticated vaudevillian humor from actual abhorrent behavior. She feared Moe’s manners, slapping and hair pulling, calling each other “numbskull,” or imitating Curly’s hoots erupting when grandma visited. We adored the Three Stooges because they flaunted orc-like behavior in the face of adult standards. I now know that most adults harbor an inner Moe, Larry, or Curly, just like the chaos-versus-order muppets lurking within us all. Whose alter ego doesn’t have a secret desire to throw pies in polite company?

Superman tutored us on alter egos — how to be the right person at the right time. We practiced daily at school. For some people, we were Clark Kent; for others, Superman or Moe. At school, we could only be Moe behind the teacher’s back. But Moe also taught us how to be obsequiously fawning when the authority figures were around. Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck!

Alter egos run amuck. One night at the family dinner table, we kids went too far. Why is it so much fun to be silly at dinner — the place that concentrates every adult compunction about manners? It is fraught with the fear of losing all control. That’s why the Three Stooges were such a panic: pie throwing mocked the adult compunctions.

One night at dinner we got too silly for mom. We could not control our alter egos and things were heading toward that delirious moment in a “Three Stooges” episode when the pies fly and the women in ball gowns get smacked in the face. It’s even better when the ladies themselves start throwing ’em.

Mom dropped two stern warnings. Her Adult Authority Figure could not afford to give way to us mutant orc/children. But when my brother started using his silly voice, mom couldn’t maintain her voice of authority. She giggled, then cried with laughter. She was losing it. We recognized the verge of delirium and drove straight toward it.

Her moment of helplessness crossed into her greatest fear: Life imitating television. The Three Stooges joined us at our dining room table. I scooped some mashed potatoes in my fingers and smooshed them in mom’s face. The lady now had cream pie on her ball gown. Would she return fire?

A 12-year-old “wise guy” takes a risk when he smears food in the face of parental authority. Mom hung fire, still laughing. My allowance seemed safe. Then she said, “Let’s make some real cream pies to smoosh in one another’s face.” Now I didn’t know where I stood, but I liked it. Tommy’s mother would never have said that.

The next night, we faced off in the backyard with big gooey chocolate and whipped cream pies. I went first, affectionately pushing my pie into mom’s face. Then she got me back. It was poetic parenting. It was vaudeville. It was Moe, Larry, Curly … and mom.

When my kids were young, I finally understood mom’s compunction when my son used his green beans for fangs, or when my daughter Hilary, age 4, opened her mouth full of food — “Dad! Look! A train wreck.” I struggled to be the Adult Authority Figure. “There’s a time and a place for that kind of fooling around,” I was obliged to say. “It’s not polite to play with food. Don’t be silly!” Who was I kidding, trying to uphold the standards my mom passed along? Even authority figures have alter egos. The dinner table is fraught, I tell ya!

Oh, the kids are calling. They say I can return to the table now. If I eat another bite of broccoli, I can have dessert. Pie! Then I might get to watch television. I think “you know who” is on. I’m glad somebody is upholding my mom’s standards.

Todd R. Nelson, a former school principal, lives in Penobscot.