My children leisurely eat popcorn while they watch Obi Wan Kenobi defeat Anakin Skywalker in the battle of Mustafar. They laugh with their dad at Saturday Night Live’s “ Massive Head Wound Harry.” They keep action figures and plastic dinosaurs that are missing various body parts. We have a life- size, talking Darth Vader in our basement. Dustin once read “ Frankenstein” to the boys as a bedtime story.

So you would think my three boys, ages 5-11, could handle most anything. But I have found their Achilles tendon, the Kryptonite, if you will, for the Smiley boys. Turns out, Ford, Owen and Lindell can’t handle Sam’s Club.

Why didn’t I see this coming? My kids are infamous for bad behavior at a regular grocery store. Sam’s Club is like Food Lion on steroids. I should have been prepared.

But I didn’t even consider Sam’s Club as a shopping option until recently. Why it took me 35 years to find a warehouse full of food, I cannot say. Having my third son should have been an obvious prompt for other people more in the know to suggest the idea of bulk-food shopping to me. There I was buying soup can-by-can at the local grocery store when I could have been buying a whole flat of it.

Thankfully, I was finally made aware of these missed opportunities when a friend mentioned that I could buy Goldfish crackers by the pound at Sam’s Club.

She didn’t have to tell me twice.

On the way to Sam’s I prepared the children for what they might experience. “This will be like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” I said. “There will be food from floor to ceiling. And Sam’s Club might sell other things like televisions, underwear and books. You will have to stay right with me so you don’t get lost.”

The boys looked at each other sideways. Lindell alternated between excitement (floor-to-ceiling food!) and apprehension (floor-to-ceiling food).

I saw their confused, almost frightened, faces in the rearview mirror.

“We will all be OK if we stick together,” I said.

Inside, the first thing we had to do was apply for a membership. Ford looked cross, and in the absence of his father away on a military deployment, my oldest son took on the frugal-dad role.

“I do not agree with applying for entrance to this warehouse,” Ford said. And when I took out my checkbook, he balked even more. “You’re going to pay these people for the right to spend more money in their store?”

Next, I stood in front of the camera. All new members have to get their picture taken, and mine, of course, was as unattractive as any driver’s license mug shot, but with the added “benefit” of three boys doing rabbit ears behind me.

Finally we entered the Disney World of food and other products. All four of us walked in silence. Could anyone really need that many writing pens? Were 50 rolls of toilet paper absolutely necessary? How long would it take to use 100 AA batteries anyway?

The tension broke when I discovered that our Sam’s Club sells Smiley brand milk. Well, I just had to buy four gallons of that.

And juice boxes! How could I not buy 40? High-fiber granola bars sold in packs of 30? Yes, please! The biggest box of Cheerios I’ve ever seen? How could I not?

Soon our cart was overflowing and Ford was breaking into a sweat.

“Mom, where will we put all this?” he said. “What if we get tired of macaroni and cheese?”

I ignored him the same way I ignore Dustin.

“Mom, I have a bad feeling about this,” Owen said.

Lindell begged for the bulk pack of king-size Hershey’s bars.

It wasn’t until I was loading the car that I began to have second thoughts. Sam’s Club doesn’t bag your groceries. Instead, you have the option to put your purchases in giant boxes. Now, I can make an Olympic sport of carrying the most plastic bags on my pinky finger, but I knew that even I would have to make multiple trips between the car and house when we got home from Sam’s.

“And you paid to be able to do this,” Ford said.

Lindell was mostly confused and happy until we got home. That’s when he heard me say, “Where will I put all this macaroni and cheese?” and “Maybe I bought too much hand soap.”

Lindell started to cry. “Mommy, I don’t like that place. What if all this food takes up our whole house?”

“Yeah, I never want to go there again,” Owen said.

“I can’t believe you paid for this,” Ford added.

Meanwhile, I shoved giant boxes into, above and below the pantry shelves. My heart beat faster. Sweat formed on my brow. As I wiped it away, I consoled myself. After all, it had seemed like such a good idea at the time.

NAVY WIFE Sarah Smiley is the author of Shore Duty, a syndicated newspaper column that reaches more than 2 million readers weekly, and of the memoir “Going Overboard: The Misadventures of a Military Wife” and a collection of essays titled “I’m Just Saying …” For more information visit

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: