Grab Your Flashlight, We’re Going Back-To-School Shopping

“What do you think of this?”  My daughter held something up for me to see.    If I squinted I could detect the outline of a shirt, dimly lit from behind.

“Wait a second,” I said, “my eyes need to adjust.”  My rods and hadn’t yet adapted to the near darkness of the store.

We had just walked into Hollister at the mall.  It was 95 degrees out, but I knew to bring a sweater, which I quickly slipped into as the arctic frost greeted us with a firm shake.  If that didn’t wake you, their signature fragrance blasted out from the a.c. ducts (my theory) and immediately hit you with a gagging level of fragrance.  I zipped up to my chin and hugged myself to keep any body warmth inside my sweater−hoping to create a terrarium.  The sudden drop in air temperature shocked my nervous system, even my hair−long dead−was shivering.  Two minutes in and I was already miserable.

I trailed my daughter and tried to stay close on her heels for fear of losing her.  Not that she’s a toddler and prone to wandering off, but I was afraid she’d disappear into the darkness, an atmosphere unique to stores like Hollister and Abercrombie−with lighting that makes the Adams Family dungeon look downright cheery.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a young girl with long hair in tight jeans standing next to a table of sweaters.  The sweaters looked like heaven.  If she weren’t standing there I’d have dived onto the table and wiggled underneath them.  Who would have seen me?

The girl said something to me but I couldn’t hear her.  “I’m sorry, what was that?” I said.  Of course I couldn’t hear her.  I couldn’t hear my own thoughts in my own head.  The music pulsated and throbbed against every surface of the store, including my chicken skin flesh.

“Excuse me?” I said.  Again she mouthed something.  It was one syllable.  Starting with an “h” possibly?  Help?  Could she be asking me for help?  She wasn’t moving−maybe she was frozen.

I took a step closer.

“I said, Hi!” she said, this time throwing up a hand to wave hello.  Just then I wondered if employee training at Hollister included signing.  Trust me, that skill would not be a wasted here.

“Oh, hi.”  This shopping experience was already taking too much effort.

My daughter had grabbed a few things and headed to the dressing room.

The first pair of jeans did not fit so well.  My daughter is thin, but the jeans were thinner.  She sent me out to get the next size.  I stood at the jeans table and fingered through a stack with stickers that said, 00, 0, 1, 3, 3R, 5.  I thought about my thin fourteen-year-old daughter in the dressing room in the size 3−she wouldn’t be able to bend over and tie her shoes if her life depended on it.  What must the 00 look like?  And whose idea was it to call it 00?  Could a 00 possibly find that flattering?

I turned to the Super Skinny salesgirl and mouthed my next question like I was in a foreign country speaking to someone who did not share my first language.  “What’s the diff-er-ence be-tween a 3 and a 3-R?”  (I held up three fingers.)

“Nothing,” she said, “they’re both the same.”  Both the same?  If they were both the same, why would they be labeled differently?  Wouldn’t it be more cost effective to only print one label instead of two if there were no difference in the size?  I wanted to ask her that.  I knew it would just frustrate me.  Did I really need to go into Merchandising 101 with the salesgirl?

My daughter loved the way the 5s fit.  They were bright pink and very cute.  She could really use a pair of denim ones.  We returned to the jeans table.  There were no “blue” jeans on the table.  Just an array of bright colors.  I turned to see if the salesgirl was still in her spot.  Yes.  She was still there.  My daughter approached her this time asking if there were any blue jeans in the same cut as the others.

The girl said, “What we have is all we have.”

My daughter turned to me with a look that said everything, “We’re on our own, Mom.”

I took out a pair of glasses from my handbag, opened my cellphone for some light and grabbed a pair of 5s from the wall.  Then my daughter and I felt our way to the cashier, paid, and bolted for the door, while colliding with another customer and getting accosted by a palm tree.

I didn’t go to business school, but I’m pretty sure that one of the basic signs of a successful store is its ability to keep customers in the shopping environment for as long as possible.  Not to have them racing out for the light of day, the warmth of the outdoors, the quiet of their own thoughts and wheezing from fragrance inhalation.  Happy shopping!

How to Write or How to Make Paper Snowball Garlands

(Read now and receive two Bonus Features:  How to Craft and How to Blog) 

In order to write one needs to:  arrange a selection of words into a particular order.

Yes, that’s really all there is to it.

The most difficult thing about writing is knowing which words to select and what order to put them in.  Once you’ve mastered that, writing can be quite rewarding and sometimes even enjoyable.

If this simple task does not produce the prose of your fantasies, (we all have them) disassemble the words and start again.  Note: this would be a good time to entertain replacing some of the words with new words.  Keep some old ones, add some new ones.  (Or not.)  Which ones?  It’s really up to you.

And voila!

Inevitably, this will be just the beginning.  In most cases, this first piece of writing will prompt a series of “word selections” and “methodical arrangements” and thusly, you will be on your writerly way to an elegantly rendered, if not hypnotizing, narrative.

If several hours (weeks) have gone by and you’ve attempted this a few (47) times but you’ve yet to write a single story, page, paragraph or phrase that possesses the mellifluous quality you intended, it’s time to ask yourself some tough questions:

Have you remained indoors for more than 96 hours?

Have you worn all of the clean clothes you own?

Is your refrigerator and pantry void of anything edible?

Has your husband gone to live with his mother?

Have you received news that your daughter just got married?

Are you still matching your shoes with your handbag?

If you’ve answered “yes” to no more than four of these questions, you’re in good shape!  Sit back down and give it another go!  You can do it!

If you answered “yes” to the last question, well…stop doing that.  It’s not fashionable anymore, and hasn’t been for a while.

If you answered “yes” to more than four, you should rip the pages of this pathetic attempt at writing from your notebook and crumble them into small paper snowballs.  String these snowballs together on a length of yarn (color is optional).  Hang these lovely garlands in a crisscrossing formation against a dark wall for contrast.  Take a photo of these festive swags and jot down a pithy step by step “how-to” for the do-it-yourself party planner.  Truth is, nothing says “instant party” like a snazzy garland of paper snowballs.  Now,  blog about it.  Insert the photo and click the “publish” box.

Congratulations, you’re a writer!  See, wasn’t that easy?

***

What sacrifices have you made to write?  Or, have you turned your writing into craft projects, we’d love to hear about them.

Fashion Faux Pas

A three-year-old’s summer wardrobe costs what?!?!   Apparently, upscale designer clothing for children is a growing business.  I recently read an article in which several moms were interviewed about their shopping habits for the little ones.  One woman just spent $10,000 on her daughter’s summer wardrobe.  After cleaning the lenses of my glasses and re-counting the zeros, the first thing I asked myself: who brags about spending that kind of money on a toddler?  Gauche much?  I would be mortified telling someone that.  Not that I would ever do such a thing.  I couldn’t even consider it.  Not without dipping into our backyard pony rides budget.

Is it safe to call this fashion allowance socially repugnant?  Especially in the face of our nation’s high unemployment rate and people who are desperate to afford food for their family, or college for their kids, or medicine for their illnesses.  I have one word for these decadent shopper-moms: yuck.

Another woman who was interviewed said $200 Gucci sneakers make her kids happy.  Hellooo−so does the Good Humor Man.  She spends umpteen dollars on her kids’ clothes because “They’re a walking billboard of (her).”  She’s no doubt the designer of the onesie hanging all over Canal Street touting, “Don’t ya wish your mommy was hot like mine?”

It got me thinking about when I was about to have my first child and my colleagues threw me a very lovely baby shower.  I received some lavish baby gifts.  Like a soft pink cashmere sweater from Bergdorf Goodman.  Size 0-3 months.  I remember unwrapping that gift and feeling a pang of jealousy toward my daughter.  Who wasn’t even born yet.  I was nine months pregnant and fatter than a Botero bronze.  It was summertime in Manhattan and a walk outside had me manically perspiring, my clothes clinging to all the ups and downs of my curves.  Just waiting underground on a subway platform could qualify me for a wet t-shirt contest.  (Not in a turn-on kind of way.)  I just wanted to give birth, so I could get my body back and stop wearing clothes that had stretch marks of their own.  Oh, to have a new piece of clothing−that was small−not a dress that could be mistaken for the cover I throw over my barbecue grill.  The teensy-weensy pink cashmere sweater was the most delicate and sweet thing I’d ever seen.  I carefully wrapped it up and brought it home, hoping it wouldn’t be long before my baby girl could wear it.  I had big plans for her cuteness factor.

A week later I had a caesarian section and did not have the bounce back everyone was expecting.  My daughter was born with hip dysplasia which landed her in a full body brace for the next few months.  Her cute clothes didn’t fit over the brace.  She cried most of the day and night from colic.  And so did I.  Neither one of us slept.  It was not uncommon for my husband to come home from work and find both of us wailing.

No one told me it could be like that.  Pain, sleep deprivation, infections, colic, ceaseless, inconsolable crying.  Every time I looked at the pink cashmere sweater I got angry.  Who lived that kind of pink-cashmere-sweater-fantasy?  If I could only get my daughter dressed−some days her diaper was not only her underwear, but her ensemble.  Who would put a dry-clean-only cashmere sweater on a one month old?!?  Dry-clean-only?  On a good day my hair and teeth were brushed, I had a phone conversation without tears, and I took my baby on an elevator ride to the lobby to pick up our mail.  If by the right alignment of stars I could make it outside my building, I would not be going to the dry cleaner.  And how long exactly was my daughter, or any daughter, going to wear a cashmere sweater before spitting up on it.  Okay, my daughter had colic, so she was spitting up with panache, but healthy babies spit up too.  Don’t rich babies spit up?  The kind of kids with $10,000 wardrobes?  Those with layettes of tweed coats with velvet cuffs, crisply pressed blouses with Peter Pan collars, satin dresses (I did not make that up) and cashmere “playsuits” (that either).  Maybe they spit up in designer colors to match their textiles.

But what exactly is the point of this obscene clothing allowance for a child?  One mother claims she’s “proud that her 9-year-old daughter has developed her own fashion sensibility.”  What kind of fashion sensibility does it take to dress yourself at Neiman Marcus?  You need fashion sense to dress yourself with fifty bucks, not if you have a black American Express card and a personal shopper.

***

Everyone’s had a fashion splurge at one time or another.  Sometimes it makes you feel great and sometimes it makes you feel lousy.  What was yours?

Burned at Both Ends

When I was a child my parents lived by the adage: children are to be seen, not heard and that other one, children speak only when spoken to. Though I may have had thoughts, questions, comments, theories, ideas, advice, stories, jokes, insights, musings, songs, confusion, I kept them to myself.  Well, at least I tried.  When my mom would bump into a neighbor at the grocery store and talk about how the mailman was delivering the wrong letters to the wrong houses I was itching to tell them what I saw he carried around in his mail bag and dipped into every few houses, but I held my tongue.  When my mom served dinner and the vegetable du jour was lima beans−which made the acids in my stomach so turbulent even the Titanic would have steered clear, I would close my eyes, open my mouth and insert those beans one at a time with a long swallow of milk, gulping them down without ever letting them touch my taste buds.  Never would I have dreamed of sharing aloud my real thoughts on lima beans.  Nor would I have refused to eat them, lest I’d hear about the starving children in India whom my mom talked about more frequently than family.

As young children, my brothers and I would quickly relinquish the small black and white television when my dad came home from work.  Dad got the best chair and his pick of the channels.  His arrival home would determine what time we ate dinner and he, the breadwinner, always got the best part of the steak−the sliver of meat that ran along the bone.  The kids got the well-done ends.  I had no idea what the best part tasted like but my eyes would widen and my mouth would juice up when my mother passed the dinner plate under my nose across the table to my father’s outstretched hands.

By the time I was in my teens, I became obsessed with a single thought: just wait till I’m an adult.  I would ponder how scrumptious it must be to rule the roost.  I couldn’t wait to be an adult to eat the best part of the steak.

Fast forward twenty-five years.  You could probably imagine my shock and dismay to discover that being a parent in the 21 century isn’t all it was cracked up to be.   Like when my daughter was old enough to start eating real food, my husband cut her steak into tiny pieces and passed it under my nose across the table to her outstretched hands.  “Here you go sweetie,” he said, “the best part of the steak, it’s nice and tender.”  What?!?  Huh?  The best part of the steak for a three year old?!?  I was waiting twenty-five years for that bite!  Nor was I prepared for my toddlers refusal to eat anything I cooked unless it came out of a purple and yellow box with a bunny on it.  I got arms pretzel-locked across the chest for merely suggesting carrots.  There were nights when all I wanted to do was curl up on the couch and watch a good movie, but my husband would glare at me for even contemplating switching off The Muppets Christmas, often our kids’ only sleep elixir.  Try to have an adult conversation out on your front lawn with the neighbors without someone’s kid barrelling up and interrupting because they can’t find their soccer cleats, or they need a ride somewhere, or five dollars for the ice cream truck.  Even if there were no kids in sight, adult conversations are inevitably about them, their sports, their grades, their activities.

How did this happen?  How did it happen that when I was a kid, adults ruled, and now that I’m an adult, kids rule?

Is it possible that people of my generation will be victims of ageism at all our life stages?  Call me naïve, but I’m holding out hope.  It’s still possible that when I’m a senior, seniors will rule.

I just pray I’ll still have my teeth for when I get the good part of the steak.

***

Or try this Garlicky, Smoky Grilled London Broil with Chipotle Chile and every bite will be tender like butta’.

Have you ever felt you were the right age at the wrong time?