When my wife, Jenny, was pregnant, people liberally offered advice. And the only universal truth was to be careful when listening to advice, because there is no manual for raising a kid.
But if there was just one, I wish that it would be How To Take Your Baby into a Store for the First Time by Yourself: A Father’s Journey, because while there are reams devoted to sleeping, feeding and stork bites, there is nothing on this hurdle that I was staring at recently.
In Milo’s first four months, he has not been a shut-in. He’s been to restaurants, around dogs, in a bowling alley, happily drooling in all places. But my wife was always there, too, so it was easy for me to be relaxed with the best pacifier by my side.
I knew that if I was going to be a real dad, eventually the kid and I were going to have to go into a store. A recent Monday night was the time. The destination was Whole Foods, a smart choice, I felt. I knew the layout well, which comes from visiting the place no less than five times a week. Even with that confidence, I ended up driving by the entrance, under the guise of wanting to give Milo more time to settle. On my second approach, I found my self-talk groove –“You can do this.” “He has no long-term memory.” “Produce can’t hurt you.”
By my third pass, I realized that the person behind the law requiring infants to sit facing the back of the car was my new favorite human being, since Milo couldn’t see what severe trepidation looked like. Thankfully, he was asleep as well, so I finally turned into the parking lot. I managed to balance his carrier onto the shopping cart and my skin started to de-clammify as we entered.
Then he woke up.
He made no sound. He didn’t give me his highly displeased face. He was merely looking at the new ceiling in his world, and all I could do was breathe from my diaphragm and act like I was the one in control. I just kept moving, grabbing items that looked like things we ate and figuring that bruises might now add to an apple’s flavor.
It was the least relaxing trip I’d ever had in the place, and I’ve navigated the bakery section pre-High Holidays. The only way to explain my level of focus is to say this: I didn’t even look for cheese samples, and I love cheese samples almost as much as I love my son.
On this day, there would be no grazing, no subtle return visits that I’m convinced no staff member ever notices. I didn’t have the confidence, and besides, Milo started to fidget in the soup section. We don’t even eat soup. I never go down that aisle. I was completely off my game.
My only recourse was to continue forward. Milo had been teetering on all-out crying but held it in – until we got to the register, and then he showed off his pipes. Apparently, he doesn’t like the prices any more than his father does. On the outside, I was ice. On the inside, I was screaming, “Can you not see that this baby is upset and that this is my first time doing this solo and hurrying it the [bad word] up would be a nice touch?”
But I stayed quiet, which seemed prudent since I had at least four more visits to make that week. I swiped my card, got him into the car and drove home, still thankful for the infant-seat law shielding my face and allowing Milo to believe that his dad is all-powerful for at least one more day.
Steve Calechman is a writer, stand-up comedian and new father in Salem. Email him at email@example.com