Parking Lot Police
Yesterday morning at Target I had an experience that left me feeling alternately overwhelming guilt and extreme anger (neither of which seems warranted but I’m really tired and overly emotional right now).
The kids and I haven’t left the house since last Thursday and if it was up to me we probably wouldn’t leave again until it’s consistently above 70 degrees, but a lack of cold medicine and Goldfish drove us from our cave and out into the world. And by world I mean Target. We actually did pretty well getting ready and packing up to go so it was early when we got to the store.
Now, with one child, my standard method of getting said child into a store was to park as close to a cart return as possible, toss my bag over one shoulder and carry the child to one of the carts in the return. Then I don’t have to worry about anyone running away or distracting me in a Dangerous Parking Lot Situation and we roll right into the store. The problem is with TWO children – especially when one weighs upwards of 30 lbs and the other is sleeping in a bucket seat – is I cannot carry them both safely at the same time. It is possible but not easy and not something I like to do, especially with the toddler in his current state of extreme defiance. I just don’t trust him not to thrash out of my arm when I’ve only got one to hold him with. So what I try to do when I have both kids with me is park directly next to the cart return (even if it means parking super far away from the store)(I actually prefer far away because then no one parks so close to your doors you can barely fit in the space to get the kids into the seats), lock the car, grab a cart and bring it back to the car to load the kids one at a time. I’ve always felt very comfortable with this situation, because my proximity to the car at all times means even in the extremely unlikely circumstance that I were to suddenly – KNOCK ON WOOD – drop dead while the kids were locked in the car, someone would notice them.
Unfortunately, because it was still really early and I was at the Target Less Traveled (you should be so lucky – brand new gorgeous store, almost always empty) there were only 2 carts in the entire parking lot and both were in a cart return in the only row full of cars. I drove around for a minute, hoping I could stalk someone out of the store to their car and grab a cart from them but no one came out. So I decided to pull through a spot one row over from the return. That way although I would have to trek across a row of cars to GET a cart, I’d only have to cross the lane of traffic to put it back.
So I park the car, turn around to tell Little Evan I’ll be “one minute”, which he repeats back and holds up one finger, and get out of the car. At that exact moment, cars pull into spots near mine. The guy in the truck on one side smiles and heads towards the store. No one gets out of the minivan on the other side. It isn’t until 5 seconds later when I’m on my way back with the cart, being extra-super-careful not to ding anyone’s car on my way through the row that I can see two women in their van making dramatic motions and pointing towards my van, where you can clearly see Little Evan sitting in his seat drinking his milk. I get back to the car and press the “unlock” button as dramatically and obviously as possible, wrestle the toddler then the infant seat into the cart and start towards Target. Only THEN do the women get out of the van.
After picking up all the essentials – cough drops, graham crackers, tiny pink cowboy boots – I successfully navigate checkout without accidentally stealing anything or letting the toddler fall out of the cart and head to the car. I open the right door with the remote, lock the (still sound asleep) baby’s bucket into the base, drop my bags under her seat, and close that door. I roll the cart around to the other side, wrestle the toddler into his car seat, put my diaper bag under his seat and close THAT door. Now I have an empty cart and two kids secured in their seats, so I press the lock button, dash across the lane of traffic and shove the cart into the (still empty) cart return.
As I get back into the car, I look to my left and notice those two women are sitting in their van, just watching me with their judgy, judgy faces.
I can’t prove they were waiting for me to come out and they never said a word while we were in the store together, although I passed them several times, but I would bet a MILLION DOLLARS the conversation they had when they pulled into the parking lot was whether to call the police and report children left in a car. I wouldn’t be surprised if they wrote down my license plate.
Or, hey, maybe I’m just being paranoid! Maybe they were waiting to see if I needed help! They’re just Concerned Citizens and they want to watch out For The Children! Such As.
So here’s the thing: Am I doing this wrong? Is leaving my kids in the car for less than 30 seconds at any given time worth the looks of scorn and horror these women were sending me? Trust me, I am VERY AWARE of the dangers of leaving your kid in the car but…I don’t think that’s what I’m doing here. I would bet the number of children hit by cars in parking lots is a lot higher than the number of children who are kidnapped while their mother grabs a cart. Even if you add in children who were left in a car for up to 5 minutes while their mom runs into a convenience store to pay for gas or buy some milk I think “hit by car in parking lot” would be significantly higher. I am making what feels like the safer choice in a situation that doesn’t really have a better option – at least until Target gets valet parking.
What say you?