I used to be so tough.
A basket full of four children six and under would see me steely faced, jaw clenched, muscling my semi-truck cart through the store in firm, mama determination as I made my way through aisle after aisle with purpose and grit.
Now though? I’ve been at this shopping-for-a-family gig for awhile and quite honestly, I’ve kinda come to hate it. My once-a-month grocery shopping trips and Amazon have pretty much spoiled me for trips to the store, and lest you call me weak and wonder how I escape the mall at back-to-school time, let me remind you that we homeschool so clothes shopping isn’t a regular occurance round here.
Somehow, in thirteen years of mommying, I’ve never once clothes shopped at the department store with more than one of my children with me. The thrift store, surrre. But that’s different. At Sally’s there’s the fun little toy section where the kids can quietly play among all the busted up second hand toys that they think are all brand new and fancy because they’re NOTHING like we have at home Mama, and while they enjoy their holiday time on the Island of Misfit Toys, I can peck carefully through the racks of second-hands and find the perfect ones to bring home at a bargain price for my little people’s dresser drawers.
But today wasn’t a Sally’s day. Today was a day when they needed new clothes and they needed them now. Today was a day when I needed to know that they would walk into the store owning one pair of pants (albeit holey), two stained-up shirts, and three single socks, and walk out with enough clothes to look presentable for at least the rest of the week, but more aspiringly, the rest of the year.
So off we went. They were excited on the way over, no one had to climb into the way-back back seat, and everyone got a turn at talking since there was only three of us in the truck.
Just my two kiddos and me and there we were, clothes shopping.
And after filling up the cart with a healthy, hefty stack of girlie possibilities while brother acted the gentleman by waiting patiently on the beige pleather armchair (the kid-version of holding the purse), I pondered exactly how different these two children are.
Within seconds of parking the pile in the dressing room hallway, I remembered all these things from all the Sunday-morning fashion fiascos and I worked her pile into a color-coordinated assembly-line system of trying on structure and order, making her name each item with a No, Maybe, or Yes.
My other one built a pile of shirts in his size, ripped off his clothes and went one by one through the stack, yelling YES! for his favorites before the hem of the shirt even touched the waist of his underwear, or tearing them off within a millisecond if he didn’t care for it, tossing it into the No pile before the hair had even settled back onto his head. I don’t think we even got to the code-word game in his little room.
Four hours and hundreds of dollars later, I about laughed in mad-woman hysterics when the cashier told me that the 25% off Doorbuster coupon I’d been clutching tightly in my fist for the past three hours had expired two hours before, promptly at 1 p.m. just like it says right there in the small print ma’am. And then, I near melted to the floor in a puddle of mama mush when the big red honking siren-light at the exit doors went off.
I dragged my children and my bags back to the checkout line where the sweet elderly clerk went through every.single.item until she found the offending black magnet tag.
It was then that my son told me he hadn’t even eaten breakfast before we left the house.
My composure threatened to crack when I heard that, so I pasted on the everything’s greaaattt Sunday morning church smile at alllll the folks I met on the way out the doors and at the nice drivers who saw me clutching my children’s hands and bags of new wardrobe and figured I was either a sweet, smiling mom who needed a break in traffic or that I was a maniacal Mrs. Joker who was just about to snap so they’d better stay back. I held it together so much that I even managed a three-fingered wave and a head tip to one of them before I finding my truck and making sure all the clothes and both the kids were tucked and buckled.
We pulled out of the parking lot, it was near dark now, dinner time, so I rolled over to Taco Bell and ordered one of everything on the menu for my hungry, wilty children and got them each a soda pop, which only happens when Mama is besieged by guilt over somehow not feeding her child breakfast before subjecting him to HOURS of waiting outside the women’s fitting room while his sister deliberated over a pair of jeggings like a hung jury.
My knees were still trembling with Post Traumatic Shopping Syndrome but my white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel helped to steady me and I flipped on the headlights and pointed the truck toward home.
We hit the highway and big sis passes out tacos and napkins and takes a big gulp of her Sprite and she sighs happy and deep.
“You know what? That was the first time I ever remember clothes shopping like that.”
“Mmmmh. Uh huh.” It’s barely a mumble from my throat but finally, my nerves feel like they might be able to come back and live inside my body again.
“And you know what else Mama?” She chomps on a bite of taco and looks at the dusk outside rolling by.