The day before our Christmas trip to Mexico, I hired a sitter so I could do all of the last minute things needed for travel outside the country with a baby.
So naturally, I ended up wandering the aisles of my favorite thrift store, McDonald's ice tea in hand, crossing nothing off my list.
I am a registered germaphobe, so it's more than a little surprising that I'd choose to go to this particular place in the heart of cold season, busy and crowded as it was, and full of used stuff.
More remarkable, still, was that I let my guard down and glanced over into the toy aisle, an aisle that had been off-limits in my 10+ years of thrifting. Jack and Margaret knew not to put a single toe in that aisle, with its plastic items strewn about, likely covered with baby slobber, e-coli, and boogers. Sure, the loudspeaker periodically chastens parents to keep their kids with them at all times, but no one enforces it, and the toy aisle often serves as the perfect place to dump littles off while mom shops a few aisles over.
And on this cold December day, the aisle was hopping and hacking-- full of kids who were likely too sick to go to school the last day before vacation.
But it was in that petri dish of a toy aisle that I spotted IT.
Back in our (germy) church nursery near the turn of the millennium, my kids played with a large plastic "garden" you could sit in. Not that it made much sense, but the garden consisted of a plastic picket fence, some spinning plastic birds, flowers, and a mailbox. They'd make a bee-line for it, play with the plastic flowers, and put a germy plastic letter in and out of the pretend mail box for hours.
When I spotted it, I wanted my late-in-life miracle baby to have his own plastic garden to play with, once I'd cleaned it up, of course. Except it meant venturing into the germ zone, in December, one day before a major milestone family vacation.
Why didn't I just lick a urinal at Dulles Airport?
Shoring up my resolve, I darted in, then hoisted the behemoth onto my cart. As I tried to wheel it toward check out, something else caught my eye. Bags and bags of ball pit balls. Because if Miracle Baby wasn't enamored enough with the garden and its 15+ years of embedded germs and memories and fun, I could fill it with ball pit balls! Looking back, I see that this was the moment when my senses completed their leave-taking, because there is nothing, nothing, NOTHING more disgusitng than ball pit balls of unknown origin. Haven't we all heard the tales of horrible things found in ball pits? Syringes? Vomit? The wayward turd?
But what (I imagine) Miracle Baby wants, Miracle Baby gets, so I threw the bags of balls on top of the "garden" and made my way out of the store. A fierce winter wind threatened to topple us, but we made it to the car.
Except it wasn't my car.
I forgot my husband took my big car that day and left me with his small Toyota
I didn't know how I'd get the garden in the car, but I knew it would involve touching it more than I already had. And my hand sanitizer was running low by that point.
Getting it in the car would likely involve full body contact. I needed a plan. The trunk? No amount of shoving could make it fit. The front seat? Even with the seat fully reclined and pushed back, it wasn't even close. I'd have to somehow get it in the back seat, even though that looked impossible. With all the shoving and maneuvering, I'd already worked up a sweat even though it was bitterly cold outside. I was making a spectacle of myself.
The back seat was my last chance.
I almost gave up, turned around, and re-donated it to the thrift shop.
Finally, I did what no parent ever wants to do and unhooked the baby's carseat-- so expertly installed by my husband-- and tossed it aside.
That provided enough room to POTENTIALLY get the garden in the car. I turned it on its side and shimmied up against its nasty plastic edge. Nothing short of full body contact and repeated thrusting could get it in the car. The plastic grazed my lips. Ugh. I wrapped my arms around it and humped that garden with determination until I managed to wedge it in enough to shut both car doors.
I eventually got it out and cleaned it enough to set it up in the house. After school, Margaret walked in and her face lit up, "I remember that garden! That was my favorite thing to play with in the nursery! Did it come with the piece of plastic mail?"
"That was the best part."