An oldie but a goodie

This piece of mine was originally published in 2005, back when I was still the parent of a preschooler. Enjoy!

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It

Thursday, 11:20 am
We find Impossible Mission Special Agent (code name: Cheryl) on the way to the local mall. Her assignment: exchange two clothing items. She has only 25 minutes to get to the mall, park, get to the store, return the two items, choose two new ones, make the purchase, and get out of there. If she isn’t back to preschool for the noon pick-up, her four-year-old will self-destruct.

11:25 am
Parking goes off without a hitch. Kidless, our agent enters the mall, successfully dodging the super rip-off kiddie rides. She enters the store.

11:30 am
Our agent selects two properly fitting items and proceeds to the checkout counter to execute “the exchange.” Two counters are manned. Neither has the “I’m open” light on. The cashier at counter A is with a customer. When she’s finished, she flippantly informs our agent, “I’m closed,” and walks away. At counter B, the customer first in line has ten items and a credit card application. The second customer has a cell phone (on which he is speaking, loudly), but is otherwise empty-handed…a definite sign of trouble.

11:35 am
Our agent languishes behind Credit Application Girl and Cell Phone Man. She observes at least six other salespeople busying themselves around the store, including one who is unloading Pampered Chef boxes from the UPS man, while talking to the cashier who was formerly working. Our agent aggressively clears her throat.

11:40 am
The sole working cashier is now on the phone. She appears to be speaking to the credit card division, but our agent suspects that they are trading coded message about how to keep her there indefinitely. In a bold and unexpected move, our agent says loudly, “I don’t want to be rude, but this looks like it’s going to take a while. Can you please open another checkout?” Crippled as if by an electromagnetic pulse, everyone at the counter freezes. After reviving, Pampered Chef guy says, “Uh, sure,” and radios his underlings.

11:45 am
An unidentified sales operative appears at the counter furthest away from our agent’s present location. She feebly offers, “I’ll take the next customer in line.” Our agent waves Cell Phone Man on, then follows him to the Forbidden Outpost. Meanwhile, a fresh-faced couple takes their place behind Credit Card Girl, whose sale has just been completed.

11:50 am
Back at the Forbidden Outpost, the cashier has completed her quest to locate a rare and valuable store gift card for Cell Phone Man. But she has to call for back-up when her ID mysteriously comes up “invalid” and her system “locks up.” All heads turn back to the original checkout, where the fresh-faced couple has now come and gone, and the customer is now a grey-haired woman with a greyer-haired man (considering the circumstances, our agent discounts the possible use of an evil, rapid-aging formula). The cashier presses a few buttons, looks over at Pampered Chef Guy, and says, “I’m locked up too.” At that moment, we scream into the transmitter, “Abort! Abort! Abort!” The transmission terminates. We lose contact.

11:59 am
Cheryl pulls up in front of the preschool with one minute to spare. Sure, she broke a few (dozen) traffic laws to get there in time, but, hey, who would pull over a minivan? Relishing her final thirty seconds of free time before pick up, our agent leans back in her seat and sighs. Mission accomplished.

This piece originally appeared in FORUM, the national newsletter for Mothers & More.