We’re out for our ritual family fine dining experience. I’m seated at Cici’s Pizza in front of two steaming slices of Alfredo pizza.
As I prepare to take the first delectable bite, my son Diego pops up at my side. He is chewing gum.
I didn’t give him any gum. “Where did the gum come from?” I ask Diego while trying to pry it out of his mouth with both hands. Diego develops a sudden case of lockjaw. I decide to leave his mouth alone for a minute as he has agreed to lead me to the gum’s mysterious origin.
He waves me forward and tiptoes sneakily over to another table. He shows me the underside of the table. It is decorated with many colourful pieces of pre-chewed gum. Delightful. Just what I was hoping my son would have for a pre-dinner treat. The remains of someone else’s gum from weeks … months … maybe years ago?
I feel momentarily sick to my stomach.
But not sick enough to stop me from enjoying the rest of my pizza, 32 ounces of sweet tea, 3 cinnamon rolls and a caster sugar brownie. Meanwhile, Diego consumes 6 noodles and excuses himself from the table so he can go make love to the Skittles machine in the candy bay. He is massaging the machine lovingly with both hands. He is whispering promises of devotion. He is caressing the glass window. He is licking … wait, licking? Yes, licking the metal dispenser door.
Okay. Things have gone too far. My husband grabs Diego and attempts to coax him back to the table. There’s got to be some other activity that he might find enthralling besides licking candy machines. We offer him more noodles. We offer him bits of chicken and vegetables. We even offer him a drink of sweet tea.
He decides to play video games. We tell Nino to keep an eye on him. They are gone for a full five minutes. My husband and I decide to eat more cinnamon rolls while the kids aren’t watching. Suddenly they emerge, both of them, at the same time. I choke down half a cinnamon roll I had in my mouth and try not to show signs of chewing.
But, for some reason, both my children are showing signs of chewing. “What are you eating?” my husband and I ask at the same time.
“Candy,” they reply unanimously.
“Where did you get it?”
Nino points to a spot beneath a video game. It’s so dusty down there, a family of mice could be hiding and you wouldn’t recognise them. “It’s okay, Mami,” he reassures me, as he swallows the rest of the candy. “It was mostly even still in its wrapping.”