"Hi guys! I'm just here for a minute to start dinner before I --"
Coming in the door with more groceries, I suddenly realized what the three teenagers at the dining room table were eating.
"Oh no! You've pillaged my avocados!"
"Argh, I just bought them an hour ago," I cried, more in sorrow than in anger. "They're supposed to go in tonight's supper."
"I'm so sorry!" said my eldest daughter. "We came in, and we were all hungry. We just assumed that you bought ripe avocados so people could eat them."
"Well, yes, I know, but --"
From the kitchen came a plaintive cry from a fourth teenager. "Mummy! Where's the milk?"
"What do you mean, where's the milk?" I murmured disbelievingly, as I carried my groceries into the kitchen and plopped the bags on the counter. The fridge door stood open, and a boy was leaning into the chilly void.
"There isn't any milk," he said, putting on the singsong intonations of a spoiled child a decade younger than himself. "Waaah."
"But I bought two gallons yesterday!"
The milk had been finished. The bagels were gone. We were down to a pair of eggs. The avocados and tomatoes had disappeared. The apples were done. The secret supplies of frozen chicken and chile burritos had been emptied. There was one banana, but it was fatally speckled. And there was cereal, of course, but no milk.
A family of seven goes through a lot of groceries in normal times. A family of seven that has been augmented for the summer by two visiting adolescents and a spare 12-year-old is a household that runs through food like a teenage boy on the GW Parkway at midnight.
Oh, I'd just brought in more groceries, but none of them corresponded to what had vanished. I felt like Sisyphus, the tormented figure from myth, except that instead of pushing a boulder endlessly up a hill, I was pushing a shopping cart that could never, ever could be quite full enough.
The thought brought to mind a sight I'd witnessed years ago, when my first two children were very small. We had ventured for the first time into Costco and were marveling at the prodigious size of all the edibles for sale there. With just four of us in the family at the time, two with the dainty appetites of toddlerhood, everything seemed too big. I remember laughing over the vats of fresh mozzarella: Who could eat all that stuff?
A moment later, I saw her: My future self! She was a pleasant-looking woman in her mid-to-late forties, pushing a cart piled ridiculously high with a hundredweight of guacamole, a half-ton of strawberries, multiple containers of one-bite brownies, a dozen loaves of bread and a great wheel of brie.
"Wow, seems you're having a party," I remarked, like an idiot.
She pushed aside a strand of hair. "Something like that. My son is coming home from college for the weekend," she said. "And he's bringing friends."
I smiled at the memory as I unpacked my grocery bags. It fell away a moment later, though, when one of the avocado-plunderers said: "Are you going to the grocery store again today by any chance?"
"Are you kidding?"
"I'm just asking because we haven't had any bread for, like, three days."
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.