The other little girl and I were related—something on the order of second cousins once or twice removed—though we’d never seen each other until this visit my family was making to hers. We eyed each other with the caution of two children whose parents, assuming because they are the same age they have things in common, have told them to go play.
Then she broke the ice with an overture of friendship. “Would you like some gum?”
“Sure,” I said, assuming we would head for the kitchen or wherever her mother kept the stash of Doublemint and Juicy Fruit.
Instead, she reached into her mouth with a grubby finger, extracted the gum she was chewing, pulled it in half, and held one piece out to me.
This was a social dilemma delicate enough to make even Emily Post hesitate. I had already accepted my hostess’s polite offer. I didn’t want to be rude. I didn’t want to insult her or hurt her feelings. I didn’t want to put her germy piece of ABC (Already Been Chewed) gum into my mouth, either.
In the end, distaste defeated good manners. I managed to stammer something like, “No, that’s all right, you don’t need to give me half of your gum.” She stuck the wad back into her mouth and we wandered off to look at the kittens or try out the swing. We played together in reasonable amity for the rest of the visit and, as far as I can remember, have never seen each other since.
Some years later, as a newly qualified practicing adult but not yet a parent, I was at a backyard gathering. I watched in horror as a young mother nonchalantly took a drink from a glass of water that her toddler had just enhanced with a backwashed mouthful of cracker crumbs. I didn’t actually say, “Eeeeeuuw! That’s disgusting!” My face must have spoken clearly, though, because she and several other moms all laughed at me. “Just wait till you have kids,” one of them said. “You’ll get used to it.”
Eventually, I did have kids. Eventually, they had kids, too. And I never did “get used to it.” I’ve changed diapers and wiped noses. I’ve dealt with vomit, blood, and other unsavory substances. I fully understand that sometimes—often in the middle of the night—a woman’s just gotta do what a woman’s gotta do.
But I don’t care how adorable, insistent, closely related, or deeply loved a baby might be. Saliva-sodden bits of stuff that may have once been food are simply gross. There’s no rule of politeness or parenting that says I have to ingest them. Words out of the mouths of babes might sometimes be delightful. Food out of the mouths of babes is anything but.
I might give gifts, money, or my life for the precious little critter. But when it comes to sharing food, I hold to a different standard. ABC gum? ABC cookie? ABC anything? Sorry, kid, you’re on your own.