As a single mom, I hated one chore above all others. Grocery shopping.
Juggling a baby and a rambunctious four year old while trying to navigate the aisles with a grocery cart was a nightmare. Benny, the baby, would gnaw right through plastic packages to try to get at the apples, the hot dogs, the bread. At eight months, he only had a handful of teeth but made good use of them on anything he could get his hands on. By the time I got to the check out counter, a good portion of my groceries were open or mangled and wet with baby slobber. Once, in an attempt to distract him, I gave him a bar of Dove to hold. Little Sharky quickly chewed through to the soap, made a gagging sound, and flung the bar into the Pepsi display.
Sam, the four year old could, not be contained. He was Mr. Curious—touching and smelling everything. Rearranging canned goods. Adding random items to the cart—Count Chocula cereal, shaving cream, dog biscuits for his imaginary dog. I tried putting him in the cart with Benny but then I didn’t have any room for groceries. I tried putting him in a second cart but he hated it and effectively pulling one and pushing another was impossible.
My only option was to lessen the pain and agony by power shopping just once a month at one of the new gigantic warehouse stores. And it was on one of these trips that the unthinkable happened.
Stressed out and distracted, I had reluctantly let Sam stay in the paper goods aisle to look at the Star Wars Kleenex boxes while I made a quick loop around the next aisle with the cart, Little Sharky happily trying to eat grapes through the bag.
I returned quickly but he was gone. I tried not to panic. This had happened before at Target. That time, I didn’t even know he was gone when an announcement was made—“We have a four year old boy named Sam who has lost his mother”—because I was standing just two feet away from him.
So, I figured he’d show up. I continued to do my shopping, keeping an eye out for him, and returning to the Kleenex section every few minutes. But when I’d finished my shopping and scanned every aisle one more time, and there was still no sign of him.
I proceeded to the check out counter to unload my months worth of mauled groceries, and explained to the cashier in what I hoped was a light-hearted way that I had looked everywhere but couldn’t find my four year old. She shrugged.
“Could you have someone look for him?” I asked. She paged a stock boy and explained that a kid was missing.
I chewed my nails and waited with my bagged groceries and Benny for what seemed like an unbearably long time when the stock boy returned with a child who was struggling to get away from him. He was about the right size, but this kid wasn’t my son and I wasn’t willing to settle for a replacement.
“Maybe you should call the police,” the cashier said and gestured toward the pay phone near the door.
Near hysteria, imagining all of the horrible things that could have happened to him, I pushed my cart full of groceries and my baby toward the door to call the police.
I had just dialed the first number when I heard something.
“Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep…….” It was the sound of a car horn. Not like a car alarm had gone off. But like someone was beeping the horn in rapid succession And it sounded suspiciously like my car. I dropped the phone and flew out the door with the cart and my baby.
Yep. There he was. Sam, the curious one. In my car. Laughing his head off and smashing his little fists into the horn. “Where were you?” he said.
Crisis averted. I dried my tears and started to load the groceries into the car. But the parking lot had a slight hill. And while I was lifting the last bag into the trunk, the cart started rolling. Fast. By the time I picked my head up, it was out of my reach and I could only watch in horror as it hit a cement parking curb and launched Benny right out of the cart seat and into the bushes.
He survived with just a small scrape on his head. But I would never recover. For the next several years, I paid a baby sitter when I had to go to the store.