Notes from a Non-Parent 3

Mom Offers Inferior Excuse for Parental Neglect

Source Story: CBS News Crimesider

Nicole Leszczynski left a supermarket without paying for a sandwich she’d eaten because she says she was suffering a “Mommy-brained moment.” In the process, she needlessly exposed her 2-year-old to removal by state Child Welfare Services. So is she absent-minded, full of it, or both? And why are so many “customer service” employees bored and petty little Napoleons?

Allegedly, this incident sparked a “nationwide outrage,” but then 60 of those happen every week. Plus it happened in Honolulu, Hawaii. If it got past you, too, here’s the deal: While at the supermarket, mom, dad, and baby Zofia get hungry and wolf down a couple of sandwiches while strolling the grocery aisles. Mom saves the wrappers for the cashier, but she forgets to include them while checking out. The family is nailed at the exit and detained by the store’s manager and his grocery bagger goons, who question the trio for four hours before calling the police.

When the cops show up, they’re accompanied by Honolulu’s Child Welfare Services, who remove little Zofia before mommy and daddy get cuffed and carted off. The parental deviants are charged with theft, post their bail, and retrieve their daughter. They are traumatized and shaken. Presumably so is Zofia, having never been away from her parents before, let alone without her stuffed animal.

Safeway the corporation later accepted Nicole’s assertion that she’d simply forgotten about the wrappers. The supermarket chain decided not to press charges and is currently reviewing its “employee shoplifting training procedures.” The Northern California Operations President even called the family to apologize and released a statement conceding that the company “may not have handled this matter in the best possible way.” (Where does Safeway recruit its grocery baggers, Mad Max Island?)

Ms. Leszczynski, meanwhile, continued to call her oversight an honest mistake and added that shopping itself is an anxiety-inducing chore (a problematic gripe coming from a former Air Force Sergeant). She said the episode escalated because no one stepped in to question whether or not it was all too much. And this is where I start to get, um, not skeptical per say, but apprehensive. Why? Because once the quarter is dropped into the machine, all the related people, places, and policies are set in motion to play a part: from the security guard to the store employees, from the police to Child Welfare, from the jailer to the defense lawyer to the court stenographer with her aspiring screenwriter boyfriend. And where in that bureaucratic mix do we find a pay grade for someone to monitor the machine’s empathy output? We don’t, because it isn’t there.

Take Safeway spokeswoman Susan Houghton’s Associated Press statement, wherein she states that “store management followed routine shoplifting procedure by contacting police, but Safeway regrets not foreseeing how doing so would cause a child to be separated from her parents.” Get out! Really? What did Safeway “expect” the police to do with a two-year-old, give her to the produce guy who squeezes fruits and melons for a living? So if the company’s spokesperson is that openly clueless, Nicole’s feigned surprise at the machine’s inability to function otherwise is a little disingenuous. The Air Force didn’t lobotomize her, which means she’s probably not the feeble idiot she’s pretending to be. Furthermore, her stated rationalization was that she was experiencing a “Mommy-brained moment.” But then she claimed she didn’t know that eating un-purchased food in a supermarket “was such a taboo thing,” stating that in the small town where she grew up “it’s not seen as stealing for sure.”

So which is it, Nicole, a “Mommy-brained moment,” or “no big deal where I come from?”

But though I smell B.S. all the way from Honolulu, this is hardly overt, criminal deceit even if the Leszczynskis did intentionally avoid including the sandwiches with their other items. They aren’t a couple of parolees with sawed-offs and a Corvette: they’re just new to Hawaii, “famished” (especially 8-month-pregnant Nicole), and negligent for exposing their daughter to the machine.

In other words, the Leszczynskis’ biggest crime was permitting their relatively non-criminal actions to be interpreted by store employees, then by cops, then by Child Welfare. The store goons – no surprise – proved to be powerless, passive-aggressive A-holes. The cops behaved as expected, and even the kid-cops had their own agenda. Through it all, the biggest loser was the little girl that everyone will claim they were trying to protect.

Nicole could’ve purchased her sandwich and stepped outside for a little people watching with her daughter, and then returned and traded places with her husband. Instead, both “Mommy-brained moment” and “no biggie in my hometown” demonstrate a lack of willingness to accept responsibility for a pretty lame alternate solution.