It’s true: my children are addicted to bubble gum. Nothing panics them more than running out. Nothing incites an early-morning freakout than not having enough time before school to grab a piece before loading into the car. Nothing solves the “But I’m still hungry!” conundrum like the “Hey! Go have a piece of gum!” solution. Bubble gum: it’s the constant in our house.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when, while making the girls really clean their room before Gracie’s sleepover, I lifted a plastic cup from the window sill and found underneath an oldish piece of blue bubble gum stuck to the cup and the window sill itself. It was kind of tacky, still, but it had obviously been there for awhile. And maybe if I hadn’t've just found gum ground into the mat in front of the bathroom sink and also on the carpet by the kitchen, I wouldn’t have lost it so thoroughly.
“WHOSE GUM IS THIS?!”
Not surprisingly, no one volunteered as gum owner and abandoner.
Also unsurprisingly, as I listened to first one and then the other child protest and deny that they had ever had gum in their entire lives, I quickly figured out who was telling the truth and whose voice dripped with guilt. Everyone knows you can’t hesitate, seem incredibly sad, and refuse to meet your mama’s eyes. Still: lying to your mama is a pretty gutsy move. Entirely wrong, too, but still gutsy.
So I laid it on thick: Santa was watching. Jesus was watching. (Hey, if they’re going to be all churchy on me, the least I can do is use it to my advantage.) Eventually, when Gracie was puddled in a pool of tears and Bee was probably feeling about thiiiiis tall, I announced that no one was eating any more gum until I found out who was lying. As mad as Gracie was at that unfair announcement, Bee was (almost) just as quick to deny her involvement.
I loaded everyone into the jeep for our planned outing to the store. During the drive, I switched tactics. Instead of talking threats and guilt trips, I quietly and intermittently talked about how brave someone would have to be to come tell me that they had put the gum there. (And not by accident, either – “brave” is Bee’s key identifier.) How much it would mean to her sister if she confessed and let her out of her gum punishment. How she could wait until I was alone and could come tell me quietly so no one would know (well, sort of). I laid it on thick.
When we stopped the jeep, I could tell Bee had been thinking - resigning herself to her fate, by the looks of it. By happy coincidence, she sits on the same side of the jeep as I do, and so when I helped her out of the car, I kneeled down next to her and asked if she had something to say. “I did it, Mom,” she admitted in the tiniest voice ever heard. “I was trying to have a science experiment to see what would happen to the gum.”
… Shoot. How could I be upset any more if she was invoking the holy grail of happy childhoods: science experiments run amok?
“It’s okay, Bee. I understand. And I’m so very proud of you for being brave enough to do the right thing and tell me.” And then I told her that she didn’t have gum privileges for awhile. She wasn’t very happy about that. But after her initial disappointment, she lived with the consequences pretty well. And I’m happy to admit that she behaved so well the weekend of the sleepover that she earned them back, just two weeks later. Okay, yes, I can hear you thinking that two weeks is a little harsh. But gum in my carpets, people. I had to squash that tendency pretty fast.
And I did. I love when all the mommying results in unqualified successes! The Great Gum Experiment brings my total to…um…Mom: 3, Universe: 5,439. Or something.