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I just came across this post that I had written years ago. It was one of the first blog posts I ever wrote, but I think it established my voice. It’s a true account that happened back in 2007, and I assure you, he’s never done this again! The story is kind of funny, and there’s a little bit of a lesson. If you’re ready, keep your hands inside the shopping cart as away we go…
          We must have looked like a circus family. The five of us were shopping at the same time, trying to make it look as if we had the show under control. My wife is always the Ringmaster, just trying to do her job and keep us from hurting ourselves. “Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, please direct your attention to the amazing way we stay in the check out line, so we can just pay and get in the car!”
          My nine-year-old daughter was in her familiar role as the Carnival Barker. “Hurry, Hurry. Step right up. See the toy I wanna buy that I really don’t need. Let me get it while I’m thinkin’ about it. I may never see another opportunity like this in my lifetime again.” Our tiny three-year-old is that little hyperactive Monkey who seems like she’s had two cups of coffee too many. The Ringmaster is just trying to get the blonde Monkey out of the crowd and back in her cage (that is to say, trapped somewhere between her legs and the shopping cart, ‘so we can just pay and get back in the car’). I, as if you didn’t see this coming, am the Clown, too goofy to notice the frazzled Ringmaster, the irritating Barker or the over-caffeinated Monkey (“Honey, there she goes again, back into the crowd. Would it help if I offered her some popcorn?”).
          While I was unloading the bags from the merry-go-round at the end of the check-out lane, a screech from the shopping cart brought the circus back to reality. It took a fraction of a second to realize that our littlest guy, who was sitting in the shopping cart, wasn’t playing circus and all kidding aside, was trapped in the conveyor belt. Well okay, I’m kidding a little. He wasn’t actually trapped, but, in all the commotion (and after taking our eyes off him for what must have been less than five seconds) he had gotten his fingers pulled into the conveyor at the point where the belt turns around the roller. At this end is a fender that no doubt is supposed to keep your pack of pens and candy bar from falling inside the machinery. But there must have been just enough of a gap for a two-year-old thumb and fore-finger to get gobbled up.
          My panic was heightened when I immediately found out that the contraption didn’t have a reverse or some manner of ‘freewheeling’ (not the Orca from the 80’s movie) capability. There was no way, once the cashier had the good sense to turn the machine off, that one could roll it backwards or put it in ‘neutral’. Instead, I had to grab my little boy by the wrist and literally extricate him from the mouth of the appliance (before you call me insensitive, and in order to keep the Letters to the Editor to a minimum, let me assure you now the boy fared fine, he was on the mend a short couple of hours later and the store paid the ER fees).
          Though there’s no way I can attest to the intellectual prowess of your little genius, our two-year-old just can’t read yet (I blame his mother’s side of the family). That’s probably why they make, and someone should have taken the courtesy to notice, the wordless, 1¼” x ¾” pictograph on the opposite edge of the conveyor machine. The worn-out sticker long ago had clearly and vividly shown that you should keep your hands away from the moving rubber belt. Now it looked like the picture of an old lady cooking a pork chop. While making me hungry, I’m sure it originally served as a warning that probably should have been common knowledge anyhow. Why my boy wasn’t at the mandatory meeting, I’m still trying to figure out.
          You would have thought a large, national chain like the one we were visiting would have carried a “Jaws of Life” in the Sporting Goods department or Housewares, or at least have kept one behind the service desk, namely for when some nimrod managed to get the carts all twisted together. At a minimum, I would have settled for a conveyor with a fender you could have taken off.
          I know those machines must get dirty in there anyhow, what with live plants and wet milk jugs and ripped dog food bags rolling across them all day. Never mind the ease it would have made to pull my son’s fingers loose, a removable fender could be a housekeeping miracle. It was suggested to me by a friend who works the same non-rescue equipped service desk at this mega-market, that I should invent this aforementioned ‘removable fender’. I’d love to, but what with donning my clown make-up every day before I trudge to my desk in the living room to continue my (thus-far limited) writing profession, command my own rescue team and squeeze in a nap before doing the dishes, where would I find the time. Not that I’m saying someone shouldn’t pursue this little venture. If you build it, they will be able to get their fingers out, as it were. But while we’re waiting for approval of the patent permits (and if you have kids of your own), try to keep in mind that when there’s no way your kid can get hurt, they’re going to.
          It only takes that short five seconds to forget how quick your kids are, but it takes even less to think about how horrible you are as a parent. My sister-in-law doubted her parenting abilities in her own shopping drama. Even though she knows she shouldn’t have done it, she let my niece ride in the back of the shopping cart. Hey, it happens to the best of families. As if you couldn’t see this coming, she turned her back for just an iota to look at paint swatches or something and whoop; the little pumpkin bounced her melon on the floor.
          The little girl ended up being fine, I promise. But it was a lesson learned for Mom that those folks down at the shopping cart company weren’t just doodling when they scribbled the “No children in the back of the cart” warning. More than that, it made her think about just how quick her little one really is.
          Try to remember that goofing up with your children doesn’t make you a bad parent, just a normal one. I’m glad you have an independent little girl who you think would never swallow the window cleaner or rappel down the side of a shopping cart. My kid has been alive just over 800 days and we’ve taken him shopping about 115 times. In all those visits, he has only gotten his fingers stuck in the check out conveyor belt once.