In Which I'm Caught Shoplifting and I Blame the Baby

Important child-rearing advice for celebrities in midlife crises.



It seems to me that celebrities and politicians would remember to use birth control during their midlife crisis affairs if they were the ones to actually take care of the resulting children. As it is, most of them hand off those duties to someone else.

I suggest, for instance, that the next time you have occasion to go to the grocery store with your children, you invite a celebrity to join you. Let’s assume for argument’s sake, it’s a man, but there are any number of women who would be good candidates. Your celebrity can wear dark glasses, a baseball hat, and stained, shabby clothing, as if he’s actually been caring for a young child. Thus disguised, he will make it through Safeway without being recognized. Now make sure you take your baby along, and do so perilously close to the time he needs to be fed. Even better if your toilet-training toddler suddenly has to answer the call of nature in the middle of the shopping excursion. I once saw a woman helping her toddler urinate into a produce bag in an aisle of Whole Foods. That is a true story. I guess the bathroom was occupied.

I wish that Mr. Schwarzenegger had accompanied me on a memorable Safeway shopping trip when my oldest was still a baby. There was no telling when this child would suddenly lose his cool, except that, like most kids, it would always happen in a public place and at the least opportune moment. I think he was around 4 months old. I was nursing him, still, about every 2-3 hours, and it took a long time. Fitting in shopping trips was tricky, unless I planned to whip it out on demand in the juice aisle. Thus, the need for this grocery stop had become critical: There was probably no more than a sprouting potato, a jar of ketchup, and a package of tofu in stagnant water in the back of the fridge. And the thought of going to the store probably caused me to look at this spread and briefly consider making a ketchup-based stir-fry.

For the first half hour in the Safeway, the baby was awake and content. But I never knew when that would end, so I sped through the aisles tossing random items into the basket like the winner of a timed shopping spree. I’m sure we needed sour cream and onion chips, along with a box of oatmeal and six cans of navy beans. Whatever. The cart was full to the top when I got in line to pay. It was a very long line. It was a long enough line that I actually started flipping through the magazines they keep near the register. (This is when Arnold would surely have noticed himself in one of the headlines.) There were three people left in front of me, and then two people, and then…all hell broke loose. For no apparent reason (no dirty diaper, and no, it wasn’t time to eat yet), the baby started crying. Not just crying, but the urgent blood-curdling gurgling sound like he was screaming from under water. He was angry that we were standing still. I tried rolling the cart back and forth, but that was worse. I tried taking him out of his seat and holding him and pacing. No change. People were giving me that look, that ‘you must be an awful person because what did you do to that tiny baby to make it scream like that’ look. And please, MAKE it STOP.

At which point of course I would’ve handed the baby to Arnold and said, “Could you take him for a walk while I pay?” But since Arnold wasn’t there…I left the store myself, with the baby in my arms, and without the groceries.

Fast forward a few years to baby number two. This time, I was at Whole Foods. I had installed the baby’s seat at the front of the cart, so he was facing me. He was, at least, perfectly happy. I, however, had a baby and a toddler--who was at that moment in school for exactly one hour and 45 minutes, because that is how long school is when you’re two--and I was completely sleep-deprived.

Now, if we were to continue our celebrity midlife crisis-aversion training, I would have, the night before, said, “Arnold, honey, it’s only been two hours, and the baby’s up again. He doesn’t need to eat; could you put him in the car and drive around the block a few times so he’ll go back to sleep? There’s a dear.”

But here is what happened at Whole Foods. Once again, shopping desperation, with the added constraint of my toddler’s school pick-up time, which was fast-approaching and on the other side of town. I filled the cart to the top, and even had to put grocery items—in this case packages of fresh chicken from the meat department—in the gap underneath the baby’s seat, where it was raised above the front shelf of the cart. I made it through the line and paid, so satisfied with myself for having accomplished this task before school pick-up time and before any crying erupted. And by that I mean my crying. The baby was fine.

Outside, one of the store employees offered to help me load my bags into my car. We crossed the length of the parking lot, and while he put the groceries in the trunk, I removed the baby and his seat from the cart and buckled the baby into the car. The store worker gestured to me, and I walked over to him, where he stood with my nearly empty cart.

“Are these yours?” he asked, pointing to the five packages of fresh chicken, which I had stashed underneath the baby’s seat, now revealed…and for which I had not paid.

“Um…”

No, I didn’t go to jail. I sent Arnold back into the store to pay for the chicken. Oops, wait! Arnold wasn’t there…

For more from Paula Whyman, see www.paulawhyman.com and her online parody newspaper www.bethesdaworldnews.com.

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About This Blog

“Semi-Charmed Life is a blog about my personal impressions of life in the Maryland suburbs and the greater D.C. Metropolitan Area. How’s that for giving myself permission to write about anything? There we go: It’s a blog about anything. Please stay tuned.”

Paula Whyman is an award-winning writer who grew up in Montgomery County. Her stories can be found in literary journals and anthologies, and her humor essays have appeared in The Washington Post and on National Public Radio. She is working on a novel. Plus, she can teach any dog to sit.

For more on Paula and her work, see www.paulawhyman.com. Also see Bethesda World News, the parody newspaper founded by Paula’s alter ego, Isabel Brooke.

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