I went to Target the other night for milk and paper towels while the baby sitter stayed home with my kids.
Two hours later, I returned home with the milk and paper towels.
"What took you so long?" one of my kids asked.
"Well," I said, setting down the bags from my Target run, "let's see ... two greeting cards, the new Oprah magazine, my favorite Burt's Bees Beeswax lip balm, a book about a dog named Oogy ... ."
Oh -- and there was one more thing: My sanity, restored.
This is why I laughed when someone on Facebook posted an e-greeting card that showed a smiling woman pushing a shopping cart full of items. The words that accompanied her were perfect: You know you're a mom when going shopping at Target feels like a vacation and going on vacation with your family feels like work.
"Can you relate?" the poster asked.
"This is my life," I replied.
"This is my wife," a guy answered back.
The wives chimed in, too.
"Sometimes, I take two hours to go grocery shopping!"
"I just went to Target Tuesday and that is exactly how I felt!"
"Wish that didn't feel so true."
For a decade now -- since I began traveling as a mother with a growing entourage of crying babies, toddlers in diapers and squabbling siblings -- vacations do feel more like work. Well, maybe more like investments. On a recent camping trip, I asked my 9-year-old, "So, how am I doing in my job as your Chief Memory Procurer?"
"My ... what?"
"Your Chief Memory Procurer -- CMP for short. As the CMP, I'm in charge of providing your childhood memories. So, your first camping trip? What do you think?"
He considered my question.
"It's been good," he said, "except for the bathrooms."
For me, preparations for the camping trip included getting the car's oil changed; doing the laundry; going grocery shopping; packing for four people; assembling an assortment of reasonably healthful snacks and beverages for the five-hour drive; remembering to buy ice, sunscreen and mosquito spray; tracking down the children's diaries so I could make them journal on the trip; checking the weather forecast; hunting for the camera and the flashlights; changing the batteries in the camera and the flashlights, and so on.
An adventure? Yes! A vacation? No.
I vacation alone in the aisles of Target -- or Wal-Mart or Cub Foods or the Dollar Store -- one hour at a time. Apparently, so do many other women, according to the responses I read online:
"YES!!!! Getting ready for vacation now and dreading it."
"They always wonder how come it takes me so long at the grocery store. That is the only time I got to be alone and I continue to take a long time now that I am retired."
"Sooo true! I took a vacation last night to Kohl's!"
In my own 60-minute vacations -- OK, 90-minute -- I can sip a Starbucks mocha cookie crumble frappuccino while I shop for groceries, browse the magazine and book aisles, pick through the clearance racks of clothes and, maybe, sometimes, buy something ridiculous, like a pink flamingo garden ornament with blinking lights.
On "Target Savers," the Facebook group where I saw the e-card posted, one shopper gently chided moms like me: "My mom always said, 'There will come a time when you will wish to have children making noise & dirtying up the house.' I know now just what she meant."
Now that I have every other weekend free, I also understand what that woman's mother meant. But I still escape to Target when I have no children at home. During these weekends, it's a way to get a break from the unnatural quiet.
Maybe I should just get a dog.
(Are dogs allowed at Target?)
Molly Guthrey can be reached at 651-228-5505.