Back in December of 1996, Jim found out that he would be attending a week-long conference in San Francisco, for work. To our surprise, his boss at the small company he worked for at the time told him that he should bring his family at the company’s expense. (Does that even happen anymore? Doubtful.) We were thrilled beyond belief as we packed up what was necessary to go away for a week with an almost-two-year-old and a four-year-old.

Being the Type-A person that I am when it comes to everything vacation planning, I did my research on San Francisco (we had never been there before) and made lists upon lists of where the boys and I would go. The plan was that the three of us would enjoy what the city had to offer during the day while Jim was at his conference, and then in the evening we’d take him back to our favorite destinations, so he could see a bit of the area too.

One day, I took the boys to the Basic Brown Bear Factory, which was a non-franchised version of (and, I think, a precursor to) “Build-A-Bear”. The place was crowded from the time we arrived, full of a couple of school groups in addition to the individual families like mine. I had never seen anything like it and we had a great time choosing our bears (we each picked one out) and going to the various stuffing and sewing stations. I was took photo after photo after photo, for our trip scrapbook. When our bears were all closed up, we checked out the clothing and accessories, and I decided that rather than spend the money, our bears would go au natural.

I needed one more shot: the one of the boys outside in front of the sign. I made sure that all of our belongings were gathered up and we squeezed ourselves out of the crowded store. I took a couple of shots of the boys with our three bears under the adorable exterior sign and, satisfied that I had captured the experience on film, we got back into our little rental car and did the 30-minute drive back to the hotel.

It wasn’t until we were within spitting distance of our hotel that I realized something: I ran us out of the Basic Brown Bear Factory without paying for our bears. I broke out into a cold sweat when I realized that mistake. I was a thief. A common criminal. I stole three teddy bears. And my young boys were accessories to the crime. Ugh.

I absolutely did not want to make the drive all the way back, as it was already past lunchtime and the younger one really needed a nap, but I had to own up to my mistake and pay for those bears, because I’m not a thief.

I mean, can you just IMAGINE–besides the fact that it’s wrong to steal things anyway–how horrible it would be to watch my kids smother those bears with love, all the while knowing they were stolen? No way.

If I had to drive back, I would…but I had another idea. I grabbed the boys and the bears from the car and ran as fast as I could while hanging on to everybody, rushing into our hotel room and grabbing the yellow pages and the phone. I dialed. I waited for someone to pick up.

“Basic Brown Bear Factory…can I help you?”

“Um yes, I was actually just there about a half hour ago, and it was busy, and I was taking pictures of my kids, and…um…I left there without paying for my bears. I am soooo very sorry! Can I give you my credit card number over the phone? I bought only bears; no clothing or accessories.”

“Uh, could you hold on for a minute?”

“Yes.” (resume cold sweats)

“Hello? This is the manager. I understand you left without paying for your purchases and would like to pay for them over the phone?”

(my mind was racing; I was imagining that they were just keeping me on the phone long enough for the cops to trace my location, I expected FBI agents to storm the hotel room door any moment)

“Yes; I am so sorry! I had my two small children with me, and it was busy, and I was so excited about getting pictures of everything that we went outside for an exterior shot and then we just…left. I’ve never done this before, honestly!”

“Ma’am, I just have to really thank you for your honesty. I really appreciate your call, and of course we can ring this up over the phone.”

And that’s what we did. I have never been so happy to pay for something in my entire life.