(I discovered this story while rummaging through my archives. Enjoy!)
“Maybe she can be a Steelers cheerleader for Halloween,” I suggest as we walk past the baby clothes. In Hanover, the toddler football gear is divided evenly between the Ravens, the Eagles, and the Steelers. This is somewhat jarring, considering that we are less than an hour from Baltimore and at least three hours from either of the other cities. It pleases me to see that the Ravens, my team’s bitter enemies, are unable to dominate the local market.
My wife shakes her head. “Those outfits are for three year-olds. Won’t fit.”
This is common for us. Every time we shop at Wal-Mart I try to get some Steelers stuff for my daughter, who is 17 months old. My wife, who controls the purse-strings in our family, always says no.
We continue past, looking for costumes because Halloween is coming soon.
“Oh, honey, the baby is smelly.”
I glance at my daughter, who is smiling in the cart. She looks happy, in that way which mischievous children often appear pleased with their transgressions. My wife is right; there’s a stench rising from her backside.
“Well,” I say, “I suppose we’ll have to change her.” The North Hanover Wal-Mart is not normally where we try to change diapers, but we’re waiting for the One Hour Photo lab to finish with some pictures, and we’re going to be here another half an hour. But, as all parents of toddlers do, we carry a diaper bag for such occasions.
It is a long walk back to the Layaway department where the restrooms are located. During this walk, I casually mention that there will probably not be Koala Care Changing Tables in the men’s room. My wife, possibly annoyed, volunteers to do the changing. As we arrive, she reaches into the cart to grab the diaper bag, but she stops short. A look of horror crosses her face.
“What,” she asks, “is that?” She is pointing to something in the cart.
I look in. She is pointing at the diaper bag. On top of the bag sits a small, chunky brown puddle. It looks like vomit, but it isn’t.
“It’s a bunch of…”
“That’s what I thought,” she says. Her voice is higher now. Panic is setting in.
The baby giggles.
“Get me a paper towel!” My wife is getting more agitated as she looks at the baby and the bag. She is trying to figure out how this could be happening. To me, there seems to be only one explanation, and it’s not pleasant.
I try to focus. In the bathroom, I’m grabbing wet paper towels. I can only imagine what I’m going to be using them for in a minute from now. Out in the Layaway area, I can hear the baby crying and my wife muttering ohmygodohmygodohmyGOD.
“She pooped up her back,” my wife explains when I return. “It’s all over her shirt and her pants!”
“We should have put her in a onesie.”
“Can you please hurry with the diaper bag so I can get her changed? This is so gross!”
A Wal-Mart employee pushing a cleaning cart arrives. She wants to clean the bathrooms, but I ask her if she’d mind loaning me her disinfectant. She doesn’t, and she also gives me a plastic bag to put the soiled clothes in. I spray and wipe and spray and wipe a second time, just to make sure. I also wash my hands twice for the same reason.
In a few minutes, my wife returns, holding the baby, who is now dressed only in a diaper. “There’s no backup outfit in the bag.”
“Then it’s a good thing this happened at Wal-Mart and not at Red Lobster. We can buy her a new outfit.”
A bright idea: “Maybe a new Steelers outfit…”
“Fine. Whatever. But let’s go—I don’t like her running around naked in the Wal-Mart.”
“She’s not naked; she’s in a diaper.”
We head back to the baby clothes and find the football section. I begin rifling through the clothes, looking at each black and gold item on display. My wife prefers the pink outfits. “Here’s a nice one,” she says, holding up a onesie covered in little pink Steelers logos. It also comes with pink sweatpants and a cloth bib that says “Pittsburgh.”
“Okay,” I say, knowing that I won’t win in a fight between black and pink.
“But it’s the wrong size—24 months…” She grabs the next one on the rack. “This one is 18 months. It’ll work.” She rips the tags off of the outfit (setting them aside so we can pay for them later) and we begin to put the baby into it. The onesie is on, and I’m holding the baby under her arms while my wife pulls the pink sweatpants up the baby’s legs.
She stops halfway.
“Why is there an eagle on these Steelers pants?” Her frown darkens. “Oh—it’s not an eagle. It’s a raven. These are Ravens pants.” Somehow—perhaps because Wal-Mart is not the most organized of department stores, the pink Ravens outfit and the pink Steelers outfit had been placed on the same rack. My wife, assuming that every item on the rack would be a twin to every other item on said rack, had mistakenly grabbed the wrong team’s outfit. Because it was the non-official pink rather than the official purple, we have not noticed the mistake until now.
“Take it off,” I say.
“But I removed the tags.”
“Off. I’m not buying a Ravens outfit.”
“It’s only for today—it’s okay if no one else sees her…”
“We just took her out of one filth-encrusted set of clothing. I don’t think we should put her into another.”
“But this is so skeezy!”
“The Ravens thing is eighteen dollars. I’m not paying that for something she’s only going to wear once.”
“They’re going to throw us out of the store, Andrew!”
“No, this is Wal-Mart. They have a very liberal return policy. It’s okay.”
Seeing that I am not going to budge, she hurriedly removes the pants and the onesie, laying them across the rack with the tags on top of them. She starts searching frantically for a Steelers ensemble that will fit the baby, who is now squirming and making noise. My wife looks panicky, as if at any moment we will be arrested. I put the baby down so I can aid in the search. The baby runs off around the corner, giggling, wearing a diaper and nothing else. I hear a Latina voice say, “Mira la bebe—¡sin ropa!”
There is no Steelers option of the appropriate size. I corral the baby, and we throw her into a cheap pink get-up that has nothing to do with sports. My wife rushes off to pick up our photos as I head to the register with my daughter to pay for the new clothes. I hand the cashier the tags and explain about the pooping.
“It happens,” she says, smiling. “Thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart. Do come again.”
As we leave the store, my wife leans over to me and says, “I don’t think we should come back to this Wal-Mart.”
“Not for a few months.”
“Not until football season is over.” The baby, who still smells vaguely like feces, giggles and claps.