A few months after my daughter was born, I made one of my regular escapes to Costco. These days, I time my Costco trips to coincide with the exact moment the doors open, armed with a list, so I can dash through, ignoring the entryway impulse buys, ticking off my list triumphantly, and arriving at the checkout before the lines stretch back into the refrigerated section of eternity.
Then, though, everything I did revolved to maniacal detail around my children's nap schedules. I'd worked hard on the schedule, Baby Whisperer-style, knowing that if only I could get them down at the same time, I could myself drift into a brief sleep, or take a shower. I can go without eating, even without coffee. But I need to be clean, and I need to sleep. I basically failed at being a Bay Street lawyer because my circadian rhythms prevented me from doing all-nighters through my early career. If my children had good naps all day, the likelier they were to sleep through most of the night, in turn permitting me to achieve a total of eight hours' sleep, cobbled together over the full 24.
That day, my son, then 16 months, was with me. We cruised through books, stocked up on cleaning products, and moved purposefully through produce, meats, and dry goods. I probably stopped at the flower section, as I always do, and, after careful consideration, decided I didn't really need fresh flowers, as I always do. I definitely would have topped off the cart with giant packs of diapers in different sizes, corresponding to my kids's then-current sizes. In my memory, I was at Costco in part to shop for a dinner party I was giving later that week, or maybe even that evening. That was the kind of thing I would think up for myself to do in the quiet nap time moments (or maybe in the silent scintilla of time between an infant's midnight sobs), when I was lonely and bored at home with two kids born a year apart, exhausted and desperate for adult interaction. I did this even though my husband was tired too, and hated spending his non-work time socializing. I did this to feel competent and capable, showing the world I could raise children, do paid work full-time, and maintain some standard of intellectual rigour.
I paid and left. I had timed the trip perfectly; my son was just beginning to get drowsy. We would get home just in time for his nap. I passed the last Costco gauntlet, one final line where the exit checker makes sure you haven't stolen a two-pack of queen mattresses and stashed them under your cart. In the dank concrete lobby area, Costco employees were passing out leaflets. They hadn't been there just 40 minutes before on my way in; had they been, I could have planned it all so differently.
Costco can't be blamed, of course. The decision to just go on home was mine. Any harried, prudent parent would have made the same choice. Naptime was calling. Staying would have courted disaster, crying, maybe a tantrum, stares and judgment. And I couldn't have that. Not in front of David Sedaris.
Because that's what the leaflet said. I knew David (in my best fantasies, Sedaris and I are first-name-basis-buddies) was in Toronto, promoting his latest book. I'd even toyed with the idea of attending his reading the night before at the Bloor Street Indigo, but never got around to the efforts, both Herculean and Sisyphean, required to set up a two-hour jaunt to something as elevated as a book reading. Babysitting, expressing breast milk, making dinner, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, and my god what would I wear? But here was David, practically meeting me for a date! At Costco, no less!
I stood in the lobby for a long time, thinking of what to do. I was dressed OK enough to present myself to a Famous Author. I'd read most of his work. I had some time to think up a few intelligent questions. Who knew when a chance like this would come my way again? I thought the North York Costco crowd wasn't exactly David's demographic, so I reasoned there'd be a good chance we could actually have a conversation, not just a perfunctory book-signing and dreary small talk. And David was due to arrive shortly -- I could easily entertain myself until he was set up. Everything was pointing to me sticking around at Costco.
But I didn't.
I regretted my decision almost immediately. Why didn't I stay? There was the nap obsession, of course, but actually, my son was a hardy sort, not bothered by much. Had I needed him to, he would have lain down in the cart and slept, while I impressed David with my wit, knowledge, Canadianess. Oh, yes, the hungry newborn daughter at home. But she hated breastfeeding, and had been left with a loving nanny and a bottle of formula, tainted only with guilt. I left Costco, cruising home with a drowsy-but-not-asleep baby, maternal and sacrificing, loving and forbearing. I vaguely wondered if I could drop off my boy and zip back. But it was already too late -- I was the one that was truly tired, and wasn't going really going back to Costco, in the hopes of speaking to David. And what if he'd been a jerk? My mothering -- my most difficult persona -- would have all been for nothing.
Just a few months later, nursing a glass of red one evening, I opened the latest New Yorker, a place known to publish occasional Sedaris pieces. "Author, Author" is classic Sedaris -- gay humour, specific time and place, memory.
My husband, having patiently listened to my anguished David-at-Costco-dilemma story more than once, bore the brunt of my reaction to the final paragraphs of that essay. In them, David describes that junket stop at the North York Costco. He must have arrived moments after I drove off. David sat, alone and ignored, while Costco shoppers idled by. His record of the experience confirmed my suspicion that the North York Costco wasn't his milieu. David doesn't like having his photo taken, so a little sign near him asked people to restrain themselves. Painfully and horribly, this wasn't a big problem that day. He held that humiliation with him, and his writing contextualized it as a particular moment on a longer Costco journey.
To me, it was so much. Too much. I could have been there. My son could have giggled for/at David. I could have asked my clever questions. In "Author, Author," David appears friendly to his readers, and even seems amenable to a random dinner invitation. It's easy to imagine myself conversing brilliantly with him, inviting him to a Costco-bountiful dinner. Would I really have?
I don't know. I was yet another harried/perfect professional mum, holding it all together. Prioritizing naps over adult conversation, breastfeeding over tantrums, parenting over intellectual rigour. It would have been fine -- my kids would have been fine -- had I stayed that day. I would have maybe summoned the courage to ask him to dinner, or at least for a signed book. Maybe he would have liked me.
The regret faded, until for Christmas last year, I got Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, David's latest collection of short stories. A perfect winter afternoon devouring that book was marred only by the appearance of "Author, Author," forcing me to relive my Costco decision again.
Who knows where David and I would be now. Maybe I would have even made it into the book. But surely, I would not be spitting with rage and regret, having chosen instead to roam the Costco corridors for a brief few moments more.