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How Target Almost-Sort-Of-Indirectly Killed Thing Two

I don’t know what your level of education is, but I imagine you don’t have a lot of trouble conjugating English verbs. Good for you. As for me, when it comes to talking to Madeline, my grammar goes the way of the dinosaurs and Paula Abdul’s career. I actually caught myself saying this yesterday: “ARE IT HUNGRY? ARE IT? OOOOO….IT ARE SUCH A HUNGRY GIRLSIES!”

I try to keep this kind of nonsense in check when I’m out in public, though you’re more likely to see a do-do bird out in public these days, except for at Target. You could experience a rare-yet-underwhelming Julie sighting at Target.

And when we go to Target, I have goals:

1. Get children into confined spaces without meltdowns or neck contortions — theirs or mine.

2. Keep pacifier in the confines of the Bjorn and off the Ebola-smeared floor.

3. Buy some stuff, 75% of which should be classified as “necessary to life on earth.”

4. Avoid hoping people don’t think I look fat and tired because that would be vain.

5. Avoid signing up for 10%-saving credit card no matter how lame they make me feel for refusing it.

5. Get back in the car. The right car.

And, #5: Justify spending at least $80 every freakin’ time, at least in my own mind.

Drew’s goal is simple: See the vacuums. “Bacuums?” he chirps.

We go to the bacuum aisle and he tells me what the colors of all the bacuums are. He, like his father before him, prefers the Dysons. When we were at Target as a family a few weeks ago, Gordon suggested visiting the vacuums because for some unknowable reason he is intent on becoming the proud owner of a $600 vacuum cleaner, which is like trying to understand Cuneiform to me because it’s not like HE is the one doing any of the vacuuming around our house. (Incidentally, I would rather have a $2,000 couch for the sunroom, but we all have to make compromises in life, and our compromise is to just not spend any money on anything ever — except for $80 at Target — so we end up visiting our future purchases like they are exotic animals in captivity.)

We were coming home from just such a shopping trip one evening this week (was it Sunday?) and Gordon put Maddie’s car seat up on the island in our kitchen. I took Maddie out to nurse her in the TV room while Gordon took Drew upstairs for a bath. I considered letting her sleep in her seat and helping Gordon with Drew, but because I am vigilant — almost militant — about getting her days and nights right side up, I woke her up to force-feed her. (Hence the strange intoning of, “ARE IT HUNGRY? ARE IT?”)

As we were sitting there, I noticed a strange smell. Was the back door open? Was someone grilling something? And then a feeling of dread came over me, and even before I could put words to my terrible suspicion, I jumped up, baby on the boob, to see what on earth was on fire in my house.

It was Thing Two’s car seat. It was on the island of the kitchen, on the flat electric burner. The seat had turned the knob to “on” when it had been placed there.

Smoke filled the room. (In case you’re wondering, grilling a car seat smells like sautéing roller skate wheels with a little crushed garlic. Not appetizing.)

When I yanked the car seat from the burner, long grey strings of melted plastic pulled away like mozzarella cheese. A big goopy black-and-grey mess was bubbling on the burner like molten demon entrails. The odor was horrifying because it smelled like the unspeakable, almost-catastrophe of what would have happened had I left Maddie to sleep in her seat and gone upstairs to help with Drew, deafened by roaring bathwater. How long before the whole thing had burst into flames? The rosebud-dotted blanket was mere inches from the smoldering plastic…

As hot as it was in my kitchen, my whole body felt chilled. I whipped open the back door and turned on the stove vent. I glanced up furtively at the smoke detector, praying it wouldn’t go off. It took me a while to settle on how I was going to feel about all of this. Guilty? Yes, guilt would be appropriate. Indignant? Yes, I could pin all this on Gordon who had put the seat there in the first place, though I hadn’t exactly been uber conscientious. Helpless? After all, what parent doesn’t make mistakes and who knows but that we’re just one mistake away from destroying or disfiguring our children. This awful trio of emotion — guilt, indignance, helplessness — was strangling me like a thorny bungee cord. I was horrified, horrified, horrified.

But the final emotion I decided to cultivate was thankfulness.

“Thank you,” I whispered. Not only was Madeline safely out of her car seat, but also I had been downstairs to smell it before the house caught fire.

Yes, it is true that we are milliseconds and milligrams away from disaster, but it is also true that we also have an all-present Protector, which means being out of control doesn’t really mean being out of control after all.

Except when it comes to shopping at Target, or one’s unabashed obsession with Dyson.