Let's face it, becoming a parent radically alters your vacation plans. Oh, it's not that you lose your desire to travel or anything like that. It's more that your definition of rest and relaxation changes. Instead of jetting off to San Carlo or cruising the Caribbean you are more than perfectly happy to spend five minutes, just about anywhere, alone. But that's not all that changes. Instead of getting an annual, two-week vacation at one time, you now have to divide it up into several forty-five minute increments throughout the year. My friend Laura fondly refers to them as "sanity breaks," but I prefer to think of them more as mini-vacations.

Personally, one of my favorite destination spots is the local grocery store. In fact, if I drive under the speed limit and miss all the green lights, I can stretch my outing into two, possibly three, hours. Oh, it's not that I don't miss my family back at home, but the minute I enter the store and head toward the deli counter for a mocha cappuccino, I develop a whole new personality. I am no longer a suburban mother of two: I am a sightseer on vacation.

I stroll down the aisles, sipping my coffee and singing the lyrics to the songs playing on the loudspeaker. Next, I saunter to the frozen food section where I enjoy the cool breeze whipping through my hair when I open the freezer door to get a box of waffles. And for entertainment I stop in the greeting card aisle to read the joke birthday cards.

Even though this may sound silly, let me just say I know people who take mini-vacations very seriously. Like my friend Peggy, the mother of three children, who puts on a black dress every Friday night and spends the evening at a big discount warehouse, wandering the aisles and eating free samples as if she were at a cocktail party.

Or my friend, Monika, who goes to the gym just so she can put her children in the free daycare and read trashy magazines while pedaling the stationary bike. And, then, there's my neighbor, Julie, who walks really slowly down her driveway to get the mail.

Of course one of the nice things about mini-vacations is that, sometimes, you don't even have to leave the house to take them. I mean, once the children are asleep you can toss all of the Barbie shoes and Hot Wheels into the toy box, then turn on a talk show or catch up on your reading as if you're living in your own little apartment.

And for those of us with older children, there is always the school PTA, which, you might as well know, is really an entire vacation package in disguise -- especially since, if you plan it right, you can sign up for so many committees you will have somewhere new to go almost every night.

Needless to say, one of the best things about taking mini-vacations is that, for the most part, they are spontaneous. On top of that, you don't have to figure out how to pack three hundred diapers into a carry-on bag. But, despite this, most of my friends without children can't understand why I enjoy going to the restroom by myself as much as, say, spending a weekend in Cabo. And, frankly I don't blame them. There are just some things people have to experience themselves to appreciate.

But remember, next time you go to a store and see a woman with a faraway look in her eyes lingering in the paperback book section, tapping her foot to the beat of Muzak, and humming softly to herself, for goodness sakes, don't stop to talk. Just keep walking and let her enjoy herself in peace.

She is, after all, on vacation.