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The Most Important Lesson of My Childhood

Photo by: iStock

I love chewing gum.

And on occasion, I have set my morals aside to get my hands on some.

When I was five years old, we lived in a quiet (almost no people) town on the eastern shore of Maryland. There wasn’t much to do. So whenever family visited from Pennsylvania, my younger brothers and I were thrilled.

It was extra special when my great Aunt Mary and Uncle Buddy came to see us. We had fun, laughter-filled crab feasts and nighttime games of kick-the-can. But the best part about their visits was that they traveled in a camper!

A camper!

Our excitement erupted when we’d spot their truck turn onto our dirt lane with the camper throwing clouds of dust in its wake. They parked in the shade under our big oak tree.

The summer of my thieving, I still had an enforced nap time. (I guess having three kids under the age of six does that to a mother)

I hated rest time.

My God, I was five!

But with Aunt Mary and Uncle Buddy in town, I figured it wouldn’t be so bad. I fantasized about lying in the camper for my mandatory siesta, the cool breeze blowing through the screened windows—and the best part—I would be chewing a sugary piece of bubble gum.

The day of my crime, my mother had to go to the food mart to get supplies for dinner. Perfect. I’d get my gum there.

Hubba Bubba. Grape.

At the store, I can’t remember what my mother purchased or even if my brothers were with us, only that when I asked for a pack of gum my mom said NO.

Put that back, Heather.

I pretended to walk back to the gum display rack. But instead of returning the gum to its proper place, I slipped it into my pocket.

Nobody saw me do it.

On the ride home, the gum called to me.

Heather. Heather. Heather.

I quietly snuck a piece into my mouth and tried to suck it without moving my jaw.

I closed my eyes and leaned against the window.


Heather, where did you get that gum? My mother’s voice was sharp and snapped me out of my reverie.

She turned around the car. Marched me back into the store. Walked me to the storeowner. Made me return the gum and apologize.

I was certain that everybody in the store stared at me. My cheeks blazed. My heart pounded. I can still feel the sweat at the nape of my neck.

I was a gum-stealing little crook.

As you might have guessed, I didn’t get to take a nap in the camper. My mother explained to the whole family what I’d done and I was sent to my room for the evening.

For years, I begged God for absolution. I was terrified that if died suddenly, I would go straight to hell sure my gum stealing was a crime against humanity.

No kidding.

It sounds extreme. But, it was a lesson I carried with me for a long time. My mother wasn’t worried about how I felt or what I thought about the situation. She didn’t try to understand why I’d taken the gum. She was the parent. I was the kid. And she made it clear that my behavior was not acceptable.

Do. Not. Steal.


My mother knew that there was a plus side to allowing me to feel a little shame, guilt, and remorse in the appropriate situation. These not-so-good feelings became a powerful learning tool that fostered a teaching moment.

As a parent, my problem is that I want every aspect of my children’s lives to be perfect, to shield them from pain, to protect them from disappointment, to fix anything that’s not quite right.

It’s hard to do—to let our kids suffer their mistakes. However; it might be what’s best for them.

To my folks, it was just the way you taught right from wrong.

My hope is to do half the job.

Heather Christie is a wife, mother, writer, real estate broker, new knitter, amateur cook, exercise freak, and avid reader. When she’s not selling houses, she’s writing books and blogging about family, food, & philosophy at Heather Christie Books. She recently completed her debut novel What The Valley Knows. You can also follow Heather on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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