It was a little black sanding sponge. I handed it to Ethan to put back in the cart while Kendra and I sought out materials for a table refinishing project. Ethan toddled proudly over to the cart and stretched his little body upward. He nearly stepped out of his shoes as he perched up on his toes. He grasped the side of the cart to stabilize himself and slid his arm over the side of the basket. I watched him gingerly set the sponge down in the upper basket and slowly withdraw his hand. His task complete, he gave himself a tiny clap and turned to me with a satisfied smile.We continued to hunt. We endured the occasional distractions of having to chase down Ethan as he ran off to explore washing machines and dishwashers. The stripping materials were procured. I picked up all the necessary safety equipment and a few other random items Lowe’s placed strategically in my path that they knew I knew I would just have to have (curse them!). The cart was loaded and we headed for the registers; the sanding sponge was out of mind.
I pushed our loot to the register and Kendra walked off with Ethan in search of some gum. The woman at the checkout counter noticed them and asked if she could help locate what they were seeking. I let her know their agenda, and she advised me that sadly, they did not carry gum. I braced myself for the disappointment, and called out to Kendra to let her know. Ethan looked up with a slightly alarmed expression (gum has become somewhat of a “problem” for him). The lady, who could not have been nicer, saw Ethan’s face. She said she might have some gum on her, and reached into her smock. She produced a pack of gum. It was still in the cellophane wrapper. She smiled kindly at Ethan and offered him the first piece from her personal stash (while this was exceedingly kind, this type of stuff just has to stop. I am about 98% sure he believes the world and everyone in it exists purely for his entertainment and amusement. My parents do nothing to help this condition either… but I digress).
Ethan was satisfied. He rewarded his faithful servant with an Ethan smile while playfully tucking his chin, lifting his outward shoulder slightly, and turning his head inward toward his mom in a semi-bashful pose. He gave a whispered “thank you” to raise the cuteness meter a little more, then turned his gaze away from her so he could fully concentrate on enjoying his gum. Ethan was ready for a second piece by the time she was done scanning our items. He looked at his gift giver as he swallowed the gum. He turned to Kendra, “More. More gum momma.” Kendra told him there was no more and that we might try to find some later. Ethan turned back to the woman helping us, “More”. He had spoken. She began to reach into her smock when Kendra whisked him out of the store reminding him again that he was done for now but maybe we’d find some later. I thanked the kind lady again and took our purchases outside.
There it was: the little black sanding sponge. I’d forgotten we even picked it up, and I didn’t remember it being scanned. We decided on a package of sandpaper instead, so we didn’t even need that sponge. Kendra checked the receipt…not there. I didn’t want to deal with it. The thing didn’t cost more than 2 or 3 dollars anyway. It was right there in the basket, so I am not even sure how she missed it. Ethan was being squirmy now. He needed to be changed. We needed lunch. We still had things to do. I held it for a moment… looked at it, looked back at the store. Ethan looked at me curiously. I tossed the little black sanding sponge into the back of the vehicle along with everything else. Ethan was standing in the cart, so I took him with me to return the cart to the store.
I was expecting a fight with my conscience, but it was eerily silent. It was like the silence from your parents when you feel like you are too old to be scolded. When you know you’re wrong, and they know you know you’re wrong… but they just give you the look. They don’t say anything. You expect the lecture; you want the argument. But they just stand there looking at you… saying nothing. It’s that loud silence. There’s no need for words. I looked at Ethan. He looked at me.
We got back to the parking space. I handed Ethan to Kendra then grabbed the little black sanding sponge. Kendra offered to change Ethan while I returned it. I walked back in to the store and gave the item to a different woman working at the returns counter. She smiled and shook my hand. It seemed ridiculous that she would be so appreciative of me returning something worth less than a few dollars. Then it seemed more ridiculous that I initially balked at returning it in the first place; even when I had to walk back to the store to return the cart.
Kendra and Ethan were buckled in and ready to go when I got back. We pulled out of the parking space and Kendra began to drive off. I noticed it out of the corner of my eye, “Wait!”. Kendra stopped abruptly. I looked over to the parking space we had just left. Ethan’s right shoe was sitting in the space. Kendra had been on a mission for those shoes, and finally found them a few weeks ago. Even after she found them, it was no small feat to finally get them. I will just state that losing that shoe would not have been a good thing. I turned and looked at his toes wiggling in his sock. I hopped out to grab the stranded shoe. I had to think it was no accident that I happened to glance and see it… and had I not returned the little black sanding sponge, I would have to think it would be no accident if I had suddenly misplaced his shoe.
I slid his shoe back on…he looked at me and gave me the Ethan smile, and I couldn’t hear the silence any more. There are no small tests.
Thanks for coming along for the ride…