Shopping……… My guilty pleasure! My idea of escape! My civic duty towards my own well-being! My body’s ask of me. My mind’s warning to me.
To some shopping is buying stuff that you need. Well I’m sure you know some of those boring people too. And I empathize with you for having these Debbie Shopping Downers in your life. They take the joy away from shopping. They ask questions that they think show their intense, unwarranted and usually unwelcome interest in our ways but actually end up coming off condescending and judgmental. And they make us feel like mindless consumers.
I’m not fazed by those questions. If truth be told those questions spur me on. They light that fire in me that my parents hoped to light when they pointed out my academic shortcomings. Now why I didn’t respond to my parents better is not my fault at all. If they had tried to convince me for something more worth my while like shopping I wouldn’t have disappointed them. But they intentionally chose a genre, academics that is, that I preferred to get insulted for instead of becoming proficient in. So in the department of academic achievements my lackluster history is more a function of my parents’ lack of astuteness at identifying my areas of interest. I’ve told them this and they refuse to accept any hand in it. We don’t see eye to eye on this particular subject which is fine by me because I’m not going to go back to school anyway if they convince me now.
So one fine morning as I was going on my much-anticipated shopping trip that I had been planning for six months and saving for over a month, I had a wild idea. Now I know that new-age kids use “wild” when they’ve devised some particularly clever plan that they think is worthy of the Nobel Prize only to be told by their parents that not only their plan has been used by kids for centuries to deceive their parents but may also be illegal under state laws. But that’s not why I’ve used this adjective here. My plan was particularly wild. You can easily guess how wild any plan is depending on the excitement it induces when it strikes, the trepidation that occurs after you have actually started thinking about it and the resentment that you experience with yourself as you realize that the plan has some good ethical points because of which you can’t abort it anymore even though it seems stupid now . Decent people know this conundrum all too well. Accountability to ourselves and our thoughts is a truly ship-sinking quality that we have.
Before I drag this out beyond the length of your imagination, here’s my wild idea! I invited my mother-in-law with me.
Now some polite people might applaud me and some even politer people might politely ask “Why the hell?”
To my friends who are almost prophetic in their cursing and probably foresaw what was going to happen due to this idea, here are my reasons. And there are three of them.
First of all, since shopping is something that I’m particularly good at, I’ve always been asked by friends and family to accompany them on their shopping trips. And they’ve always been fascinated beyond belief at my amazing skill set of rabble rousing, harassing shopkeepers, insulting store owners to the point where they agree to my terms and conditions and would probably donate a kidney to get me out of the store, my expertise in using expired savings coupons without any remorse or morality and actually arguing with the sales assistant about how nit-picky they’re being by taking exception to a coupon which was valid just until six months ago and finally successfully using the coupon in question, my knack for identifying particularly lost-looking sales girls and zeroing in on them and having them go back and forth between their shoe stock in the back and us a million times before picking out the shoe that I had picked out first of all, and of course, my superhuman talent of convincing an impressionable salesman or two for discounts by batting my eyelashes and flirting shamelessly .
Secondly, I want everyone to see me during shopping. Well I’m not alone in this. We all want people to witness our talents in an environment that we thrive in. In exactly the same vain I want people to see where I use my best people’s skills and brains. That’s at a shopping center. Since my MIL thinks that I’m a dunce and really need the amount of schooling that she has regularly thrown my way, my wish for her to bear witness to my most outstanding talent became urgent. It almost became a yearning. And with time it became an obsession.
And lastly, I really want to show my MIL what women are wearing these days. I mean it’s all fine and dandy that she chose to wore her less than feminine clothes when she lived in her boring suburban suburbia but I can’t let her be dressed like that on my watch. People actually have started to ask me if she is my father-in-law and this is just signal enough that she needs to work on her personal appearance and her wardrobe ASAP.
Now my MIL is a stately woman. She is tall and broad in the shoulders. She’s about six feet tall. I certainly think, and this isn’t a jab on any woman’s height, that stateliness becomes directly proportional to the number of inches that a woman has after she has hit five feet, three inches. That’s my height, just for reference. Any inch above that height is an extra notch on the quality of stateliness. People describe stateliness as a good quality. I don’t argue with them but I believe that there can be something like too much stateliness. Unfortunately, in my MIL’s case, too much is definitely applicable.
When you’re this tall and have shoulders to match, you should probably not wear floral prints. You should probably wear things that compliment you and make you look slightly narrower. Don’t think I didn’t tell her that. I did and offered to lend her some of my husband’s clothes to try for a bit and added as an explanation that not only they would fit her but since she looks so much like a man already , people would be none the wiser as to who those clothes belong to. The look of complete mortification on my husband’s face that he paired with constant throat clearing made me suspect that he had choked on his food and I started slapping his back. This led to me completely ignoring my MIL’s cold and contemptuous look which I’m actually glad about. I’ve seen that look wilting flowers. When she gives the room that look, it cleans itself.
Now I could just go up to her and ask her casually but I had already noticed how impressed she was with people who actually put some effort into their invites. She actually, as a rule, never went to a party that she was invited to over the phone or in a cavalier manner. To her, the etiquette of invitation was fast becoming a rarity and she wasn’t happy about it. Now at the expense of calling her painful I will let you in on a personality trait of hers. She likes to make things painful for others. For this reason she likes people to either invite her in person or if they’re going to invite her over the phone then they should send her some type of document that would be a keepsake in the name of an invite.
Because no printing press would print just one invitation I had to think of something practical and cheap and so I thought of making an Evite!
Now first off this Evite has to be serious looking. Like a real invitation. And since it’s for just one person it could also be a fitting tribute to this person. And I mean, why not? Why could my electronic invitation not have a little speech in her praise. This would add to the uniqueness of it. It would also may be stimulate her to buy me a present during our shopping spree but that’s a secondary gain and an afterthought (I assure you of that. I don’t rely on strangers to get my favorite things. I rely on my husband for that ). So I started to enumerate my MIL’s qualities in my head. And because there were so many, I narrowed them down to five.
1. She absolutely loves beautifully written things. Long words with mystical meanings and endlessly continuing syllables are her favorite thing. She likes to especially say foreign words like “verboten”, “shadenfreud” , “carte blanche”. Are they French? Are the German? I’m sure some are Latin.
2. She likes it if every activity in life has a purpose attached to it. So strolling, surfing, sleeping, lolling on the couch with your mouth hanging open and sex aren’t considered things indulging in unless a product comes out in the end.
3. Anything that you plan should have a program. A set program. You can’t just land at the mall and try to figure out what you need. There has to be a list and every item must have a use mentioned.
4. Each activity has to have a mandatory food break.
5. Her significance to the operation, if it includes her, has to be outlined in detail and depth.
After I took these pointers from myself I realized that these look more like her way of spending life but well, she’s a serious woman who likes to live by principles. Ironically this way of life tells people a lot about her rules and not much about her thoughts and values. I don’t think she cares much about that. But these mental notes helped me stay within the designated lines that she has drawn for me in relation to her. If truth be told I’m glad that I’ve caught on so quickly and comprehensively.
After two nights of working on it and finalizing it, transferring it to a website that does evites, making sure I had her email address right (yes she has an email address even though I can’t imagine people corresponding with her over emails. Word of caution! If you want to have any intellectual exchange with her, an in-person tête-à-tête is the best way to go. She will talk to you at length about the issue at hand and keep continuing to school you to her heart’s content and then it’s done. Yes it may take days for you and her to reach a resolution and remember this is going to be a one-sided, resounding recollection of your entire pathetic life but it’s going to end. Doing it over the phone, or letters and emails doesn’t give her the sense of completion of the job. No amount of insult that she throws your way is ever enough unless it’s truly done in person. So doing it over the phone is only going to result in making her want to repeat all of it when she sees you in person too. I suggest you rip off the band-aid as soon as you have a disagreement with her.)
“Dear MIL! As you know life can get busy. And when I say busy I’m not referring to how it gets busy for you where you have one extra phone call to make or one extra dog to walk or one extra person to yell at. I’m referring to how it can get truly busy for someone like me who, unlike you, is in the prime of her life and at the pinnacle of her looming success. I mean who knows what tomorrow might bring for me. Will it be success? Will it be power? Will it be kids? Will it be a new partnership in a thriving business? Who knows? What we both can count on is that as time goes on, your life is going to become almost guaranteed lusterless and mine is going to become promising. I don’t want to alarm you unnecessarily but I do think there is some utility in knowing what your immediate limitations may become. For you I’d say the limitations can be age, temper and your ever-enlarging waist. Now, none of these misfortunes that await you in the shadows are going to make things any easier for you when they come. You won’t find walking, talking, laughing, strolling, making friends any easier. You might even lose interest in all the things that you do now. So my suggestion is that you make the most of this time that you have now. The time what you’re whiling away. The time that you think is best utilized in caring for animals, planting new plants, visiting new places. That time could truly be put to better use and when I say better, I’m actually suggesting the best use of your time by inviting you to go shopping with me.
Now I know that you see shopping, eating, hanging out, partying as frivolous activities. And I assure you that you’re not the only one. I have spoken with many people in your age range who have not only shown open condemnation to these pursuits but have actually tried to counsel me on how ill-employed my time is if this is what I do with it. Those people I say a prayer for everyday. I can’t save them. But I’m happy to change your perspective on the activities that are considered “mundane”.
You see when we will go shopping together, we will get to know each other in a completely new capacity. For a day, because of your absolute inexperience and my overflowing experience with the dynamics of consumerism, I’ll be your teacher and you’ll assume the capacity of my student. This is educational for you. I wouldn’t have recommended it if it wasn’t. I know how much you despise things that have no real meaning attached to them. So here’s the meaning to this activity and it’s education. I will teach you of ways to pick up on a good deal, how to convince the seller of the item and how to make them feel at an unfair advantage just because they have our heart in their hands aka the item that we want to buy. Pretty much make them feel what you made my mom feel when you persisted in getting my hand for your son in marriage. And just as my mom was harassed by your persistence and sold me to you (I’m using “sold” metaphorically even though I’ve wondered about why you asked for dowry when all you wanted was me but I think you were watching out for my mother because you explained your ask by saying that people would think my mom a pauper if she didn’t part me with some valuables) , the seller of our desired item will sell it to us with feelings that are a mix of benevolence, pity and confusion at whether he just didn’t get completely ripped off. This is the knowledge that I want to impart to you even though I have a feeling that you might know about blackmail and extortion slightly more than I do (just by looking at the ways with which you made sure I became your DIL).
Shopping will also show you another talent of mine. I have a knack for picking out the most wonderful clothing items for the most ill-proportioned ladies. I’m sure we will find something for you. If all options are exhausted, there is a Big and Tall option at the mall, specifically for broad-boned women. I’ll take you there but we are not returning empty-handed.
But don’t think that we are going to spend our entire time aimlessly looking for clothes for you. Nutrition is important I know and for this particular day I’m taking yours in my hands. I can’t help but notice how much peanut butter and jelly sandwiches you favor. Now delicious as they may be, they may be one of the reasons why we would be ending up in the Big and Tall section. I also can’t look the other way when you eat half the dog treats. And I won’t lie I’ve tasted them and they’re better than the treats they sell for humans. And they tasted even better when I pretended to be a dog and my husband tossed them at me. That was truly living the dog life and I loved it. But you can’t have anymore of those. Those are adding a few pounds to your waist that should’ve been getting added to your skinny dogs. In an effort to healthy eat I have devised a clever plan. We will carry nuts with us. Or I should say I will carry nuts with me. You will have access to them at all times though. You can ask for them when you feel like you’re going to pass out from hunger. I will also be packing a flask of water. That you can ask for any time you want but it will have a lemon at the bottom which you’re allergic to so ask for it at your own risk.
I will be forever honored if you care to join me. The trip is tomorrow. I will promptly leave at 11 in the morning. The mall opens at 12. Please don’t be fazed by me converting into a conniving, calculating, women-pushing, men-elbowing menace when you see me at the mall. My husband has always called me a great bargain maker and takes pride in my knack for buying stuff at half the price that they’re originally sold at. Also bring all the coupons even if they don’t belong at the mall. Making sure we use them is my job. Don’t worry yourself with those minor details. Wear something that people can’t hold on to. It’s sale season and women sometimes try to grab other women from behind so they can forcibly take their selected item. Make sure you wear something that would be as thin as the lingeries I wear to bed and that my husband thinks show enough to pique his interest and hide enough to pique his interest. But I digress. I’ll see you at 11:00 o’clock.
Your ever-loving DIL.”