That Time Tess and I Were on the Lam

***Part of this story is made up. I’ll let the reader decide which part.***


It was a cold Tuesday morning. Not the coldest of mornings. That was the week before. But still, it was pretty cold—cold enough to make me dread leaving the house, particularly with a baby.


Tess and I had just dropped Sam off at school and were at the grocery store, gathering the half dozen or so items I had forgotten to get when I used the grocery delivery service two days before.


I always write my grocery list in the order that I see the items as I travel through the store, but I had forgotten my list that morning. In my failed attempt to get Sam to school on time, it was the one item I forgot to grab from the table as we darted out the door. So we were weaving through the store in a meandering fashion, backtracking, retracing, and zigzagging. If nothing else, I was burning a lot of calories.


But it doesn’t even compare to the quantity of calories I was about to burn.


We trudged to the checkout counter, and I placed our items on the conveyor belt—plain Greek yogurt, a loaf of bread, a box of cereal, a bag of “spicy hot” almonds for Nate, and some croutons so that Tighe can choke down a spinach salad.


Tess watched me from her seat in the cart. She had had a fever the night before, a nasty cold was quite literally weighing her down. She slumped a little, her eyes were heavy and red, and dried snot crusted her nostrils and upper lip.


But the geriatric ladies who man the mid-morning shift at the cash registers didn’t seem to care. They cooed and made faces and commented on her pretty blue eyes, which were barely visible under her droopy eyelids.


Tess has a pretty solid case of Resting Bitch Face, so she glared at them, unflinching. In fact, I don’t even think she blinked.


“She’s ready for a nap,” I smiled at them apologetically. That’s usually my excuse for her when she shoots eye daggers at strangers. It just also happened to be true this time.


“Uh-oh,” one of the women murmured reading the computer screen in front of her. “Your card’s been declined.”


“Really?” I was hopeful that it was a mistake. That the magnetic strip was just worn out. That the machine reader was defective. That my geriatric friend just didn’t know how to use technology.


“Let’s try again,” she said, probably with the same hopes in mind.


We tried three more times. Each time was a fail. It was the only card I’d brought with me. And I never have cash. I wondered if they would accept the fourteen dollars I had left on a Panera gift card when the cashier interrupted my thoughts.


“We can put your groceries on hold for you, if you like. We can try again after you call the credit card company.” She was trying to be helpful, but my mind was racing now.


Part of my brain was retracing recent events, wondering what could have happened to make the credit card company decline these ordinary charges. Another part of my brain was growing increasingly irritated.


How much time did I just waste in the grocery store and I still didn’t have Greek yogurt for the casserole I was planning to make tonight? What else could I make for dinner then?


Why does this loaf of Sara Lee bread indicate “suspicious activity?” Maybe it’s the Quaker Oatmeal Squares—they’re so expensive! This would never happen at Trader Joe’s!


And I had so much to do today! Two loads of laundry…change the sheets on the kids’ beds, write two blogs—one about great benefits packages and one titled “Hot Jobs in the Skilled Trades Industry”…clean the powder room toilet because I know Sam recently got poop stains on the toilet seat and our cleaning lady only uses natural products—sometimes a toilet just needs a little Clorox…


Is anyone even still reading this? I’m hoping that last paragraph is the most boring thing I’ll ever write, but we all know it won’t be.


I glanced at Tess. She looked pissed, too. I want to be a good mom, so I had to act.


The store was practically empty.


I quickly scanned the ceiling for the black, bulbous security camera and pulled up the collar on my jacket, shielding my face from its view.


I sized up my geriatric friends. I’m bigger, faster, stronger than they are. Could I make it through the bins of discounted Christmas candy, the racks of Chiefs t-shirts and through the automatic doors before they could? Surely.


My thoughts sped up even more as I pictured life on the run from the cops with a ten-month old. Is she ready for this? Is she tough enough? Would a fake moustache look good on her?


Before I could second guess myself, I went for it. I steadied her with one hand, lowered my head, and pushed the cart ahead weaving through the random “why does a grocery store sell this stuff“ displays and hustled out the door!


I sprinted through the parking lot and threw our un-bagged groceries into the passenger seat and my baby in the car seat. My tires literally squealed as I sped out of the parking lot.


I’d never committed a crime before—unless underage drinking or traffic violations count. This was my first crime, I’m so inexperienced! To get home, I’d have to cross State Line Road back into Missouri. Does that make this a felony? Is Tess an accessory? Will her record be wiped clean when she turns 18?


I sped through a yellow light as I tried to recall anything from my undergraduate criminal justice classes, but all that came to mind were the Ed Norris anecdotes and the professors’ insistence that we never mess with the Albanian mob. Apparently, they’re the most vindictive. It was a great class, but it’s no help to me now.


“Check engine?” I said aloud, jarred from my academic nostalgia. “Why is the check engine light on?”


Tess didn’t reply, she was already asleep.


How far would I be able to travel in this ailing Chevy Suburban? Without a credit card! How many diapers did I have with me? How long could we last on the run now that we were robbers?


I checked my rearview mirror. Still no cops.


Tighe will have to raise Nate and Sam on his own. Or remarry. And Tess and I will have to become Uber drivers.  At least we can survive on bread and croutons for a while.


Okay, you’re right: most of this didn’t really happen. In reality, I left the store without my six items, mad at no one in particular. By the time I reached the car, I had a text from Tighe asking if I was at the store because he got an alert that there was a fraud attempt on our card.


“Yeah, it was me!” I typed back in anger. Seven minutes later, I pulled into our driveway. Tess was already asleep, and Tighe had texted me back that he had called the credit card company and I was free to use our card again.  She took a four hour nap and I accomplished my entire to-do list. I even made it to the store after I picked Sam up.


See how boring real life can be? You’re probably not even reading anymore, are you?


As I was typing this, sitting at our dining room table in a quiet, nearly empty house, a KCMO patrol car really did drift down our street. Slowly. Too slowly. I’ll be watching my back for the rest of the day.