I pulled into the parking lot, shut off the ignition and turned around and looked at them. June, 3, was in a dead sleep after a rambunctious play date. Newborn Katie was in the carseat next to her, snoring sweetly. I knew I had to wake them up and bring them into the store with me. How irresponsible would I be to leave them in the car? Who does that except horrible parents? You always hear terrifying stories about moms and dads who leave kids locked in hot cars or kids who get kidnapped from parking lots because their parents aren’t paying attention. I’m not one of those parents. No way. And yet my need for efficiency was so great — I just want to make this return! It’ll take 4 minutes! How bad can it be? — that leaving them in the car seemed like the lesser of two evils in that instant.
I started the car again and moved it to the closest parking spot to the front door in view of the cash registers where I’d be making the return. I looked at the clock and found myself flipping through rationalization about why what I was about to do was actually not the most evil thing in the world:
Number one, I could make the return at the front of the store, not the back, thereby saving precious time.
Number two, the cash register was in view of the car, so if anyone approached the vehicle while I was inside the store, I would see and dash outside.
Number three, we live in a small, predominately rural community. Chances are, this parking lot is not rife with kidnappers and serial killers.
Number four, I’ll give myself 8 minutes tops to complete this task. If it took any longer than that, I’d run outside again, wake the kids and bring them inside with me.
Number five, it was a balmy 52 degrees outside. The car would remain nice and cool.
I got out of the car, locked it, and jogged into the store where I was immediately met with a sizable line to the registers. My heart raced. Luckily, the line suddenly moved en masse, and I was at a register within a minute. I worried that passersby in the parking lot would see my unattended children in my locked car and call the authorities. I craned my head to get a view and so far, no one had approached the vehicle.
The cashier eyeballed my item and asked for the receipt. She looked at it. She kept looking at it like she was studying for a test. She picked up the item and turned it around. “I don’t see a sticker on this,” she said. I had no idea what she was talking about. She consulted with an associate. My fingernails drummed the counter. Another two minutes had gone by. She came back and looked at the item some more. “Do you know if there were more like this back there?”
I blurted, “I don’t know, but I really need to hustle because my kids are in the car.”
She understood immediately. Within a minute, my $42 had been refunded, and I was headed back to the car.
I half expected disgusted looks from people in the parking lot, but no noticed me as I got back in my car. I started the engine. The girls still slumbered peacefully. I drove away feeling really guilty but relieved.
When I got home, I told Jake what I’d done. He gave me a look that said, “Don’t ever do that again.” I won’t do it again. It occurred to me the anxiety I experienced performing such a stunt — the nervousness, the guilt, the fear — canceled out any time I saved by leaving them in the car. It’s stressful either way so I might as well have my girls — cranky as they may be — with me.