I’ve been standing in her room for the past fifteen minutes. She has a print-out of my invitation in her hands. She is squinting at it and incredulously appraising it alternatively. She has an expression that is a mix of shock, repulsion, grief and laughter. She looks like she’s going to laugh any minute. But why does my gut say that I should run for cover?
“So you would like me to accompany you to a shopping trip, I surmise?” She finally breaks the silence.
I know I’m trying to say yes and the words are rising in my throat and have actually come out in the air and are surrounded by little speech bubbles. Then why aren’t they getting to her?
“Thanks for inviting me. I’ll be honored to be your guest”, she finally says.
This is it? This is it? She doesn’t thank me for the letter I wrote so painstakingly. She doesn’t acknowledge the trouble I went through to finally land the perfect card for her (granted it’s an e-card)? She has no way of properly thanking me? Why, a hundred dollar bill would’ve been appropriate as a nice gesture! I quickly stop myself from base thoughts and happily reply,
“It would be my pleasure, dearest MIL. I’m sure it’s going to be an amazing shopping day “.
“I highly doubt it, young lady! I think you will find that my interest in this trip is only regarding spending some time with you in what you describe as your (she consults the paper with squinted eyes) “natural environment”. I have no interest in materialistic things and objects”.
I want to agree with her by pointing out that I had already picked up on her lack of interest in material things by her choice in clothes and shoes but something tells me that it’s okay to think that only. This speech bubble shouldn’t leave my mouth.
As you can imagine I took slightly longer than the scheduled time I told her I was going to be ready at. She thinks we should just run a comb through our hair and head out. I’m not sure I want to waste my breath explaining to her that running a comb is an old technique to look presentable. Now there are several more available like make-up, curling or straightening your hair, a light manicure and pedicure, finding a nice outfit to spend the day in and uncomfortable stilettos. She won’t get it. It’s like teaching a dinosaur that there are other ways to stand out in history besides being tall and green. I mean couldn’t the dinosaurs be a little like the saber-toothed cat? Cute, cuddly and still dangerous?
I walk down the hallway to where she has been standing for an hour trying to get an approving look from her and my husband but they both look tense. I don’t get this look. She’s going shopping. Why isn’t that enough to make her cheerful for the rest of her life?
“Are we going shopping or to a party”?
Now I know! I get it! She’s upset that I look nicer than her. But come on! That one she knew was coming.
“We are going shopping but because you’re with me, it’s like a party”. I try to humor her like people used to jam a candy in my mouth when I whined as a baby.
She looks at my husband with raised eyebrows and leads the way.
My husband hurries after me.
“My dear! I don’t think you and my mother should go without me. I should come too”.
I’m suspicious of his sudden interest in a woman’s life but I’m nothing if not a consummate feminist and so I give most men the benefit of the doubt.
“You should? But why?”
“Because I could be helpful in choosing outfits for you or carrying bags or bringing ice cream”.
All good points he makes, I think.
“Okay! You can come with us but please don’t put your nose into my clothing or shoe choices. If you know what’s good for you”.
He knows what’s good for him, so he quickly agrees.
“Sure, my dear”.
As my husband jumped into the car next to me, my MIL turned to him and said.
“I thought you were getting late for work”.
I can see that my husband is finding it hard to explain why his presence is essential. But I am one for giving due credit and even though he was momentarily tongue-tied because his mother is so intimidating, I wasn’t going to let his love for me not be acknowledged. Therefore I offered,
“My husband will carry my bags and bring food for me. He has done it before. He also wears the sandals at the shoe store. He sometimes wears a dress so I can see exactly how it would look on me. It’s a blessing that he’s my height. Sometimes he even wears heels while wearing the dress. That makes it so much easier for me. He also has excellent choice in picking out lingerie for me. I can’t tell you how much he likes his own choice. If truth be told, I’m not a lingerie person. But because he helps me so extensively with my shopping I buy it as a treat to him. He doesn’t wear it, oh no no! But he likes to appreciate it on someone else, if you know what I mean!”
I wink at her roguishly. My MIL looks pale. My husband’s face is a mix of crimson and purple. Why is he looking blotchy?
Finally, after an exceptionally quiet car ride during which I try to break the silence many times by asking my MIL if she had prepared a list of items that she would look for and only getting a deep, cold silence in return, we get to the mall.
Now I know you will get this but of course my husband and MIL didn’t. What’s the first thing you do at the mall? Do you look for the items that you had been planning to buy? Or do you pull out your discount coupons and see whether anything would be available with a discount before going through full-priced items? Or do you get ice cream and some munchies? Yes, thank you, thank you, thank YOU! Ice cream and munchies. So I dutifully make a beeline to the nearest ice cream stand and promptly order three large sundaes.
My husband hurries after me,
“Dearest wife! I’m sure you’re hungry even though you ate four eggs and two potatoes for breakfast but can we not have ice cream later? I think my mother was looking forward to some actual buying of things.”
“Oh we are going to buy things. This is just to keep us busy while we window shop”.
Seriously! Honestly! By goodness, he’s dumb. He has been to these shopping trips with me more times than he has been to his work and still his ignorance of the whole operation can be only chalked up to either his obtuseness or his desire to insult me.
“Honey”, I start patiently and then immediately get distracted by the new fountain that the mall has installed in the middle of its courtyard. I rush to it, leaving my husband running after my, panting.
“Honey! Please take a picture of me here”.
“A picture of me here. I’ve never had a picture taken here”.
But why? Of course he’d ask that. He has never seen my Instagram account which is full of pretty, posed and downright seductive pictures of me. He doesn’t care that just by posting pictures my Instagram has now got a following of 20,000 followers, most of which are college students who drool over my style icon-ism. Of course he doesn’t know and I’m not going to tell him either cuz he will have something judgmental to say. To save my time, I bark at him again to take my picture.
My husband obliges. I can sense that my MIL is looking at me with the most distasteful expression but right now, this photo op has become the mission of my life.
After carefully putting some charming filters on and getting my picture taken in thirty different poses at this fountain, I walk back to my MIL. She looks like she is fuming but keeps her composure and asks me,
“Would you care to begin shopping?”
Would I? That’s all we are here for. I don’t know what she’s talking about. However I’m not here to let her ruin my spirit so I heartily put my arm through my husband’s and make it to the shoe store.
I hesitate at the threshold. This isn’t the store that I wanted to bring my MIL to. Her frugality can’t take this. She is going to memorize all the shoes here and will always point out to me how I am taking advantage of my poor husband. But the damage has been done and she has actually entered the store and is peering closely at the price tags.
She beckons me to come forward.
“I’m sure this is a mistake. Can shoes be this expensive?”.
Ladies and gentlemen! The problem isn’t that she now knows that shoes can be this expensive. The problem isn’t that she’s questioning something in my shrine of worship. The question also isn’t that she will have major judgement about me if I condoned the type of pricing that this store has for its shoes. The problem also isn’t my MIL’s stinginess with money. The problem also isn’t that this is a pair of casual wear shoes that are so cute that they totally deserve the price tag, which since we are talking about it is over the $2000 mark. The problem is that right this minute, as she and I are both trying to understand how shoes could be so expensive, right in this moment when I’m trying to honor her frugality by pretending to be dumbfounded at the price of these shoes, right here when I’m trying to steer her away from this particular pair so she can focus on some cheaper types in the store, I AM WEARING THE SAME SHOES ON MY FEET. RIGHT IN THIS MOMENT.
As I’m praying for her to have never looked at my feet in the entire time that we’ve known each other, her gaze slowly drifts in my direction. She has the same look in her eyes that I bet Newton had as he had sat under that tree with an apple in his hand and had wondered “Gee! I’ve seen this thing before” (I know most of you would want to believe the popular theory that he was befuddled at the mysteries of the universe so I’ll leave you with that. I’m not here to burst your bubble). It’s the same look that many men sitting at a table give the lone woman there when she speaks up to participate in a corporate meeting and slowly come to the conclusion “Oh there’s another human here”. It’s the same look that a woman gives to herself after years of giving sweat, blood and tears to her family and losing herself in the process, one day discovers a huge constellation of grays in her hair. This look is one of consternation, one of epiphany, one of revelation. Usually this look has surprise, sometimes shock but rarely open disgust. My MIL, being the rarity that she is, wore this look with disgust. A disgust for my consumerism.