This article is reprinted from a now-defunct online user content magazine, “Associated Content.” I wrote this piece back in March of 2008, and my sister-in-law takes a co-starring role. As she passed away today from a short, painful fight against cancer, I dedicate this article her. She and my brother have a lovely 11-year old daughter, who also has a part in this piece.

We will miss you, Carrie Knechtly Gilbert, 12/03/1974-6/20/2016

We must have looked like a circus family. The five of us were shopping together, 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 checkout line, so we can just pay and get in the car!"
     Our at-the-time 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 again in my lifetime."
Our tiny three-year-old was 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 The Ringmaster’s 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, (still) 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 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.
     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 5 seconds) he had gotten his fingers pulled into the conveyor at the point where the belt turns around and under the roller. At this end is a fender that undoubtedly is supposed to keep your pack of pens and candy bar from falling inside the machinery. Regardless, 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 discovered that the contraption didn't have a reverse or any manner of 'freewheeling' (not the Orca from the 80's movie) capability. There was no way, once the cashier had the 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 (this time literally) extricate him from the mouth of the appliance. Before you call me insensitive, let me assure you now the boy fared fine, he was on the mend a short couple of hours later and the mega-mart paid the ER fees.
     You would have thought that a large national chain like the one we were visiting would have carried a "Jaws of Life" in Housewares or kept one behind the service desk, if for no other time, at least for when some Nimrod managed to get the carts all twisted together. Personally, I would have settled for a conveyor with a removable fender.
     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. Aside from the ease it would have lent in pulling my son's fingers loose, a detachable 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'. While we're waiting the patent permits (and if you have kids of your own), just try to keep in mind that when there's no way your child can get hurt, they're going to.
     It only takes five short seconds to forget how quick your offspring are, and it takes even less to realize how horrible you are as a parent. My sister-in-law, Carrie, doubted her parenting abilities in her own shopping drama. Even though she knows she shouldn't have done it, she let my niece, Zoie, ride in the back of the shopping cart. 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.
     Though Zoie ended up being fine, it was a lesson for Carrie 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.
     The moral is: being lax with your children doesn't make you a bad parent, just a normal one. I'm glad that you may have an independent little girl who you think would never drink window cleaner or rappel down the side of a shopping cart. My kid is now 11 years old and we’ve been shopping with him in the neighborhood of 600 times. In all those visits, he has only gotten his fingers stuck in the checkout conveyor belt once.

Published by Jon R Gilbert