There was a plan. Ethan would get to sleep in an extra hour. I’d give him one present in the morning and his favorite bagel to kick off his 9th birthday celebration.

At 7:10 a.m. I shot up out of bed. Holy &D^&?! I forgot the birthday goodie bags for his classroom.

Back in the good ol’ days, I’m told you could run to the grocery store, pick up a tray of those neon-colored, confetti-covered frosted cupcakes and be done. Heck, you could even slather it in peanut butter and sprinkle it with various tree nuts. But those days are gone.

Modern-day parenting requires creativity, or for me, an open Safeway grocery store on a route that has zero traffic lights. I toss on some clothes. At first I think about running a brush through my hair to avoid any Walk of Shame ideas, but with one look in the mirror at my oversized sweatshirt, makeup-free face and Christmas plaid pajama pants, I realize no one’s going to think I was getting any last night.

I run into Ethan’s room. “You’re nine! Happy birthday, buddy!”

“Yay!” He rolls over.

“Soooooo, uh, Ethan, are your friends giving out birthday bags in class this year?”

“No.” Hope.


“I’m the first birthday in my class this year.” *sigh*

“Okay, I’m running to the store to pick up some goodies.” Unconcerned, he’s already sleeping again.

I make a mad dash to Safeway. Halloween candy abounds, but I remember the healthy food rule. I see nuts, but then I picture kids in anaphylactic shock, followed by a lawsuit. Hanging to the side are reusable trick-or-treat bags shaped in cute Halloween characters. Bingo. Eco-friendly random item. Has Arlington written all over it. Check. Next question, how many? I have no idea. Twenty-one sounds like a nice, unround number.

I scan the aisles. Diapers. Triscuits. A tower of limes. No. No. Maybe, if I’m desperate. I stop a Safeway worker. “Do you have stickers anywhere?” She walks me to the school supply aisle. I stare at a wall of yellow pencils, paper clips and tape dispensers. I explain the situation.

“Wait a minute,” she says. “I think I have stickers in my purse in the storage room. You wouldn’t have to pay for it.” That’s right. Moms unite in the face of disheveled disaster. She comes running back, but she only has the plain white labels.

I thank her profusely, but I now have my eye on these decorative erasers. Just what every 3rd grader wants. Close enough. There are 16. I recall Ethan has a handful of packaged Star Wars erasers at home too. I can make this happen.

I want one more item. Shakespeare was a fan of threes and so am I. Rules be damned. I’m getting sugary lollipops. I grab a bag and make my way to the register.

“Please be patient with us. We went through a tech upgrade last night and the system is new.” No problem. I have a few minutes to spare.

“Sorry, let’s move to aisle 2. There’s a problem with this register.” I move my 21 eco-friendly bags, erasers and obesity-causing candy one lane over.

“Oh sorry, it’s not working.” I ask if we should move to another register. “No, all the registers aren’t working.” Throughout these elections, I’ve steered clear of the conspiracy theories, but today, I’m certain there was a conspiracy out to get me.

As I wait there, I spy more bags and decide to toss a black cat-themed one in for good measure. 22 total. Fifteen minutes later, I’m dashing to my car. Once at the house, I scramble up the stairs.

Ethan, how many kids are in your class? “23!” Of course.

23 … including you? “Yup.” Sorry kid, no goodie bag for your birthday.

As Ethan gets ready for school, I’m toasting up his bagel and pulling together the bags. I place each of them inside a fancy paper bag with handles instead of the plastic Safeway bag. Makes it look like I didn’t just toss this together, that maybe I did this weeks in advance, right?

I slab cream cheese on Ethan’s bagel and promptly have it slide off the plate into a pot soaking with water—face down. It’s cool. I’ll dab it (furiously) with a paper towel. He finishes eating his water-laden bagel and we head to school.

In the drop off line, he’s halfway out the door as I scream, “Oh, happy birthday, Ethan! Love you!”

Off to work I go. All I know is that these kids are just lucky they didn’t get a bag of Safeway limes.