With Mom. That’s what Los Angeles baby boomer Janet Clare calls this story about her mother. And her relationship, which of course has changed since Janet grew up and her mother grew old. With Mom is a story — extracted from the anthology of essays called Spent — with which many of us can relate. If we’re even lucky enough to still have one.
One of my earliest memories of shopping is going up the escalator of a local department store with my mother gently poking me in the back to make me stand up straight. I’m not sure how old I was, maybe ten or eleven, old enough to be embarrassed and none too happy about it.
My mother wasn’t mean, although perhaps a bit insensitive, but she’s ninety-six now so I’ve pretty much left that particular incident in the dust. I think. However, I do recall most shopping trips with her as a kind of endurance test. She was fond of weaving in and out of the aisles looking at everything while I trudged behind, uninterested and bored, wanting nothing more than to go. Please, can’t we just go?
No doubt, this early experience with my mother is at least partly responsible for my general disinterest in shopping to this day. Certainly I lack the enthusiasm for what I call hard-core shopping… schlepping from store to store, rack to rack, searching through every item… for hours. I have friends with great wardrobes who do this on a regular basis.
I don’t have a great wardrobe. Still, I manage to get dressed every day. Because I do like to buy things, I just don’t like to shop for them. I like to walk down a street and happen upon a store and happen to go in and happen to find something I can afford that fits. I especially like shoes because you don’t have to take off your clothes to try them on, which is particularly wonderful when traveling or in really cold weather.
Also, I’m happy enough to go into a tried-and-true store, spend maybe twenty minutes checking out the merchandise, find a couple of things, and dash. Having gone through times of plenty and times of scarcity, I know how to look in store windows and keep on walking, and at this point in my life, I rarely covet anything. More importantly, I’m old enough to know that whatever we have is transitory and merely on loan. Pass it on, hand it down, hopefully to a welcoming recipient.
This became even more obvious to me a couple of years ago when I helped my mother move from her home of forty years to a small apartment in an assisted living facility. She went from a closet the size of a small chalet to a closet the size of a closet. She was a trooper, ruthless even, and together we weeded through tons of clothes, handbags, shoes, belts, hosiery, hats, scarves, and jewelry collected for years, meticulously hung and boxed.
Nevertheless, after the move there was still too much. My niece, a professional organizer, stood in front of her grandmother and held up her choices. “Here are six pink shirts, you get three.” And my mother would choose, seeming relieved of the whole process.
Her closet is full once again, but she still needs things, she says, and so I take her shopping. Her eyes wander over the store, checking it all out. But she tires easily now and moves slowly with her walker. I fetch her things from the racks in seconds. She knows what she likes and she buys what she wants and we leave. It’s a much faster trip these days and I’m more than happy to do it.
Always independent, perhaps to a fault, my mother needs me more, and in fact, I think she likes me more. She tells me she loves me, something I can’t recall hearing as a child and she misses me if I’m gone for a few days. How different from her own years of travel. Well, I love her too, and it seems we’ve somehow met in the middle. So yes, I shop for her and with her and do whatever I can, aware that I’m also doing it for myself. This time, after all, is finite. And now, I’m the one in the driver’s seat.
Excerpted from Spent: Exposing Our Complicated Relationship with Shopping, edited by Kerry Cohen. With permission from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2014.