The other day I got home from our neighborhood Safeway, lugged all of the heavy bags inside, and left the food sitting out on the kitchen counter while I turned around and walked directly to our downstairs living room. I paused in order to yell, "I NEED FIVE MINUTES OF COMPLETE SILENCE. DO NOT SAY A SINGLE SOLITARY WORD, DO NOT MOVE, JUST SIT QUIETLY, AND DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT BOTHERING ME." Then I slammed the door shut and collapsed on the couch with one arm draped dramatically across my throbbing forehead.

Out of all the responsibilities I have as a parent, who would have guessed grocery shopping would be the most exhausting? It is by far the most grueling thing I do with my two children -- and I am including the decidedly un-fun activities of taking them for flu vaccinations and/or Chuck E. Cheese's parties.

I keep thinking it'll get better as they get older, but holy crap, they keep proving me wrong. Week in and week out, they transform from mostly non-feral grade school children into manic howler monkeys the moment we walk through the automated doors. I don't know what it is about grocery stores, exactly -- the fluorescent lighting? The visual cacophony of food packaging? The tinkling background music? The dodge 'em car environment of carts and aisle displays and people? Why is an environment that represents the most menial of weekly chores to me more exciting than Disneyland to my kids?

Whatever it is, 30 seconds after we enter the store, I can feel a giant stress-vein bulging between my knit eyebrows as I find myself hissing the same things I always do. "Hey. Guys. Guys. Chill out. You, stop touching things. You, stop dancing. Watch where you're going! Dylan, stay with me. Riley, don't just stop in front of my cart. Dylan, I want you to -- RILEY, get back -- GUYS!"

It's not that they misbehave, exactly, it's more that they seem to experience a physical effect akin to shotgunning at least seven Red Bulls with a bathtub-crank chaser. You can practically see their pupils dilate and turn into little spirals as we go through the aisles, me trudging resignedly, the two of them levitating joyously a minimum of three inches above the ground.

Everything is just. So. THRILLING. They jostle each other in front of the apples in their rush to help me pick out the most perfect Honeycrisps, while I cringe in fear that the entire carefully-stacked display will come tumbling down. They reach their hands out to run their fingers over the weirdest-looking vegetables, peppering me with questions about what makes them grow so FUNNY. They twirl around in the aisles and walk backwards naming all the cereals they like, as I lunge to pull them out of the way of approaching shoppers. They race at top speed to the cat food section because OMG CATS. They stop dead in the bakery, closing their eyes and heaving great dramatic snorfling inhales: "THOSE DONUTS SMELL SO GOOD!" They squeal with triumph when I agree to throw some chocolate puddings in the cart. They bicker loudly over who gets to unload the groceries onto the conveyor belt when we go to pay, while I hold my finger to my lips in the universal motherly symbol for "PLEASE SHUSH I THINK THE CHILDLESS PERSON IN FRONT OF US IS ABOUT TO STAB ONE OF YOU WITH A BAGUETTE."

And ... okay, actually, now that I write it out like that, I can see the grocery store's appeal. To them, it's a fun diversion, a colorful place filled with things to look at and smell and touch. Whereas for me it just feels like a dreary amount of work, from the time-intensive process of getting all the items on my list (godddamn it I forgot bananas now we have to go all the way back to produce) to the gut-punch of paying (so long, hard-earned freelance check!) to the tediousness of putting everything away (why did I get so many refrigerated items WHYYY). Frankly, shopping by myself feels like a Canyon Ranch spa vacation compared to doing it all with two hyper boys.

Someday they'll probably hate to be seen in the store with me, and I'll remember these crazy years of Safeway shenanigans with a weepy fondness. For now, though, I'll continue tapping "Add exercise: shopping: 7,000 calories" in my fitness app whenever I get home. From my fainting couch, of course.

Do you find grocery shopping to be insanely exhausting when the kids are with you?


Image via Linda Sharps