After I checked into the Cape Hedge Inn, I told the kids we were hitting the beach. Small, Medium and Large hastily scrambled into their suits. A measure of their excitement: no one complained when I applied sunscreen.

We were on vacation with my husband’s family—his parents, brother, sister-in-law and their two children, K and G (ages six and three), as well as his 85-year-old grandmother whom the kids call G.G. (Great-Grammie). We were missing only my husband’s sister and her family and – there is no way to write this without the words dripping with irony – my husband.

Small, Medium and Large’s first ocean experience was idyllic. We spent the afternoon under the sun, jumping waves, squealing over seaweed and selecting the smoothest pebbles to bring home. More than once I wished my husband was there with us (he was arriving the following evening) to see the kids at their carefree, fun-loving best.

Fast forward a few hours. I have lugged all the beach toys, rocks (did I call them pebbles?), blankets, towels and coolers back to our motel room, made all the kids shower and change, rinsed and wrung out four bathing suits, cleaned the cooler and found dry clothes for myself. I am exhausted and so are the kids. Unfortunately, when my kids reach exhaustion they refuse to allow themselves to feel tired. Instead, they push themselves to that level beyond exhaustion – super-hyper-drive-your-mother-crazy-energizer-bunny-stage. They are entertaining themselves by bouncing off the walls. Literally. It is 7:30 p.m. and we haven’t eaten dinner.

My sister-in-law drops by our room to invite us to go with the rest of the family and dine in town. At a restaurant. After telling her that is sheer madness, I politely decline—opting for what I hope will be a lesser form of torture: a visit to the grocery store.

Our drive to the store is blessedly quick. Once I have located the entrance (on the far side of the building from where we have parked), we troop in. I hand Liam a basket and take one for myself. At first, we navigate the aisles like a school of fish; as a group, we dart in for tasty bites and shy away from oncoming predators. But by the time we reach the bread aisle, our school has disbanded. We look less like fish and more like an ineffective cowboy with a poorly managed cattle herd. I yell at the rogues and attempt to head them off at the pass. More than once, I wish I had a cattle prod.

We reach the checkout counter where a bored teenager with heavy eye-liner scans our groceries. I have over-estimated stuff to buy and there is no bagger so I do it myself. After we make it through the exit, I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s then that I hear a noise. Nora has dropped her new flip-flops. I freeze. And it dawns on me.

“Did we pay for those flip-flops?

She is silent.

“Nora! Did those flip-flops make it onto the checkout belt?”

She shakes her head vigorously. Her eyes well with tears. “I forgot!”

The bags I am hefting suddenly feel heavier. I close my eyes. For an instant, I consider just continuing on, going back to the motel. But I can’t. I will not intentionally set my six year old on the road that could end with her crafting a shank out of a cafeteria utensil. This is one of those “teachable moments” the parenting experts are always on about. Damn them.

“C’mon everybody. We have to go back inside.” I herd the kids back toward the doors we just exited. They start an ascending chorus of “Whys” and “Do we have tos?” but they are stumbling in the right direction. A young couple stares at us wide-eyed as we pass them on their way out of the store. I think to myself that we are a walking advertisement for birth control.

The doors close behind us. I can see our cashier just beyond the next set of doors. But they remain closed. We are trapped in this glass box until someone leaves the store.

Liam notices that we are being captured on the security camera’s monitor and begins doing the “butt dance.” Nora and Henry drop their bags and begin shaking their butts at the camera too. They are hilarious. I am nigh hysterical. Suddenly, the doors hiss open and the group of German exchange students that had been testing Axe deodorant sprays in aisle seven are standing on the other side. I stop telling my kids to stop and stride purposefully through the cloud of pheromones. Small, Medium and Large follow me meekly.

The flip-flops make a smacking sound when I slap them on the conveyer belt. “We forgot to pay for these.”

The cashier shrugs, scans the tag and says, “That will be two dollars and seventeen cents.” I hand her the money silently.

She is handing me my change when Liam leans forward. “You really ought to tighten up your security. I mean, my sister walked right out of here and there weren’t any bells or anything.”

So, he learned something. Too bad it wasn’t the lesson I was trying to teach.

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