I’m sitting cross-legged on the kitchen counter as Luau makes dinner.
Brooke and I have just gotten home from an attempt to do some shopping.
He’s looking at me, bewildered, trying to figure out why I look so dejected.
“Did she have a hard time?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I answer. “Though no harder than usual, really.”
“It just sucks for her, hon. Everything about it sucks. Even when we go exactly where she wants to go, it still sucks. She lives for the big toy store, but there are little kids everywhere in there.”
He nods in recognition.
“She has me holding her ears half the time,” I continue. “One kid’s coughing, another’s crying and a third is off in the distance somewhere screaming. She’s miserable. And meanwhile the music is pounding in the background making it all even worse. I just wish it didn’t have to be so damned hard for her.”
There’s more to it; I just don’t know how to tell him. Honestly, what I really want to say sounds ridiculous in my head, so I leave it there.
I grew up shopping with my parents. It was just what we did. Wait, no. It was more than that. It was what we did together.
Shopping was a sport in my house. Some families don their team’s colors and head to the local football stadium on Sunday afternoons. My family? We wore walking shoes, layered our clothing and headed out to ‘browse’.
My parents lived for the hunt. They could (and did) spend hours roaming through antique shops and fairs. There was always a mission. One month we were looking for antique cut crystal bowls, the next it was Beeleek from Northern Ireland. Later, we would hawk auctions for oriental rugs. Even as a kid, I knew prices were getting too high when the dealers dropped out of the bidding. By eight I’d learned that one never, ever raised a hand in the middle of an auction for any reason. That’s a mistake you only make once.
I learned the art of negotiation at five. Money was divided into separate pockets before we left the house so as to lend legitimacy to the ‘But this is all I have, Sir, so do we have a deal?’
I learned never to show desire to a merchant. Drool in private, but show nothing but take it or leave it nonchalance when it came time to strike the deal. While my friends spent their Saturdays marking stats in play books at Yankee Stadium, I was repeating back to my dad, ‘Always look like you’re ready to walk away.’
And then there was clothes shopping. To this day, neither of my parents can deny the adrenaline rush that comes with finding a coveted piece of clothing on sale. A high-end designer hiding out in an off-price store or waiting patiently on a clearance rack at a department store is manna from heaven.
My mom wrote ‘Jessica’s first trip to Bloomingdale’s’ into my baby book. I was four days old. (I’m not making that up. Ask her.)
And so, as is my birthright, I am a shopper. I love stores. All kinds. From quiet little boutiques to huge, multi-level department stores. I love something about all of them. I love the marketing, the lighting, the skinny mirrors and solicitous shopkeepers that conspire to tell me sweet little lies. I like the smells, the textures, the promise of things shiny and new – the endless possibilities of style, creature comfort and fun.
I once got locked into Bergdorf Goodman after closing time. I stood stock-still in the half-light, mesmerized by the Judith Leiber bags sparkling in their display case. I begged the security guards not to let me out onto Fifth Avenue.
Katie has been my half-pint shopping buddy since the beginning. She’s a ruthless fashion critic, a keen-eyed stylist and a sucker for anyone with a free sample of .. well, anything. She wants to try it all. She can’t pass up an opportunity to try on a hat, a scarf or a pair of sunglasses and thoughtfully examine her reflection in the nearest mirror. She turns this way and that, usually cracking herself up with the silliest expressions she can muster.
She sashays her way down the perfume counter, trying a little of this and a touch of that. She knows what she likes – and what she doesn’t! – and will happily share her opinions, whether they are solicited or not. At four she asked the counter girl for coffee beans to clear her nose.
When she was six I showed her a pair of shoes that I liked and asked what she thought of them. She said, “They’re cute, Mama, but you know you’ll never wear them.” She was right, of course.
We don’t always buy things. These days we come home empty-handed far more often than not, but that’s not really the point. It really never was.
So when Brooke and I head out together on a Saturday afternoon in hopes of managing to buy her a single pair of pajamas, I .. well .. I hope. Against all odds, I hope that she might find something about the whole experience that isn’t altogether awful. That she’ll decide that it’s almost fun. That she’ll like picking out the things that she will wear. That she’ll like looking at the Christmas decorations or at the very least join me in wondering why the heck they’re selling them in October.
Or maybe – just maybe – she’ll like the idea of spending some girly time with her Mama doing something that her Mama likes to do.
It’s senseless, I know. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I hope.
So when we walk into Old Navy and she loses her words and frantically points at the door, it’s hard. When she finds them again and all she can say – or more accurately YELL – is, “Mom, can we LEAVE here?” I can’t make her stay. I just don’t have it in me. Sixty seconds after walking in, we’re walking out.
So yeah, it’s shallow. It’s shopping. I get it, and I know how it must sound. But it’s one more shift in expectation. One more adjustment of what I envisioned versus what is. A small one, granted. But sometimes even the small ones get me.