Many mother-daughter bonds are forged on shopping trips, to the cadence of a credit card authorizing, of racks of hangers parting, of faint R&B music cascading through dressing rooms. My mother and I are no different.
Like most adults who have been around awhile, my mother’s persona is defined by a hodgepodge of idiosyncrasies. Some of my mom’s quirks elicit knowing eye rolls between my siblings and I; charming foibles we swore we’d avoid. But as I’ve grown older, I see my mom through a different lens. The more time I spend with her (and I truly enjoy spending time with her), the more I understand there are lessons being imparted as we pound the mall pavement.
It’s okay to ask for what you want.
While shopping, my mom always asks for what she wants, even if it seems ridiculous. She’s the type of person who would walk into a sandwich shop and order Chinese food. Would Target take these expired coupons from 1998? Has the DVD version of this movie come out yet? It hasn’t? Could you check the stockroom just in case?
Once, my mom handed a green shirt with a collar to a salesperson and asked “Does this top come in purple, no collar, and also with sequins?” Inwardly, I groaned. It wasn’t even the same shirt.” Guess what? The saleswoman returned with the exact top my mom wanted.
I tend to take everything at face-value; oh, this shoe doesn’t come in my size, I’ll just walk away, never knowing there are several size-9s waiting in a back room somewhere. My mom would comb every stockroom, basement, website, and store location within a 100 mile radius to find it.
9 out of 10 times, she was able to leave with exactly what we needed.
People want to hear your story.
It used to drive me bonkers when my mom made small talk with strangers. Didn’t matter who- cashiers, dressing room attendants, strangers behind us in line, small children in the parking lot- she engaged them in chat, often sharing waaaay too much information.
We’re buying this dress for my daughter’s homecoming dance. She’s going with friends, since she has no date.
My son’s leaving for college, so we’re buying him this comforter. Also, he’s had two hernia operations.
When I lived in the Bronx, my lobby had that exact coffee table, until it was stolen by my neighbor’s grandson.
I’d cringe and turn away, knowing these strangers didn’t care about my mom’s best friend’s hip surgery or what she thought of that Sandra Bullock movie.
Turns out, I was wrong.
The cashier also had a daughter entering college. The mother of the parking lot child was grateful for the distraction so she could load her groceries into the trunk. And everyone knows someone from the Bronx. They had stories too, and were just as anxious to exchange them with a friendly face, especially on the checkout line during Black Friday.
Everything is negotiable.
Through sheer force of will, my mother convinced a bookstore to give her a book for free, since there was no price on it. Once, after presenting a flurry of coupons, she left Staples with the cashier having paid her fifteen cents to take away a pack of pencils. Her mantra, muttered within earshot of store managers, was “I would totally buy two of those, if they were ten dollars cheaper.”
For my mom, they always were.
Go outside your comfort zone.
It’s no shocker that my mother and I have different taste. My mom is bolder, preferring things in dramatic colors, that swish, sparkle, or match the necklace she is currently wearing. My wardrobe could best be described as “casual casualness,” gravitating toward pieces that coordinate with the electrical tape holding them together.
In an effort to liven me up, my mom grabs clothes from racks with the instructions, “Try it on, just for me.” And I trudge obediently to the dressing room, bedazzled blazer in hand, to prove how very wrong she is, how little she knows me, how laughable her selection is. But lo- I look in the mirror and suddenly this blazer is the exact thing missing from my life, transforming me into the librarian diva I always knew I could be. All it took was an outsider (or, you know, a woman who’s known me since birth) to push me toward the option less traveled.
Kind honesty is the best policy.
Do these red gingham leggings look good on me?
Without destroying my self-esteem, how can the woman who gave me life convince me that I look like I’m sheathed in a tablecloth from an Italian restaurant? My mom’s got this. Countless times, I’ve exited a dressing room to the scrunched-up head shake of my less-than-enthused mom. This reminds me that she’s genuinely invested in me looking my best.
Throughout the years, this policy also helped convey her opinions on my unemployed cat-sitter ex-boyfriend, my adventures with a hair crimper, and my break dance routine for the 5th grade talent show.
As usual, at the end of our shopping day, I leave with a purse full of store circulars, the exact same sweater (which she promised to never wear on the same day as me), a touch of credit card debt, and a bit more wisdom.
(This post originally ran on Wiggle Room Blog)