This post is a bit of a departure for me but I had so much fun writing it that I thought others would get a few laughs as well. Please note that it is published with my wife’s smirking approval.
My wife and 16 year-old daughter are shopping addicts. It’s unquestionably their favorite way of mother-daughter bonding. By comparison, a request from me to my daughter to go for a hike, my favorite way of father-daughter bonding, is met with rolling eyes and the inevitable question, “How long will it be?” My daughter has been under the tutelage of my wife since she was three and was awarded her Master Shopper Certification at age 11 years, 1 month, 2 days, just a two months shy of the world record 10 years, 11 months, 26 days. I don’t begrudge them this pleasure, but I am envious (maybe that’s why I’m writing this).
My wife and daughter get more pleasure out of shopping for clothes than most people do from a $40 meal, even if they come home with one $15 item (which is rare). Or, as Tammy Faye Bakker once put it, “Shopping is a lot cheaper than a psychiatrist.” When they return home from a shopping foray, my daughter tries on her purchases for me and tells me how much of a discount she got on each. Somehow $20 off a $70 sweater doesn’t have the same impression on me as it did on Abercrombie. But I smile and tell her how “cute” it is. By now I have learned that any other reaction is futile. My wife, by comparison, learned long ago not to seek my approval of her purchases; the first time I see them is when she wears them.
I shop for clothes occasionally. For me, the operative word is “need.” For my wife and daughter, the operative word is “want.” When I define a need, I visit the store that carries the item, purchase it and leave. In, out, done. My wife and daughter never feel satisfied until they have visited every clothing store in the mall and made sure they got the “cutest” items at the lowest prices. The economist in me calls this “maximizing shopping utility.”
I used to point out to my wife and daughter that they can only wear one thing at a time, and that one-fifth of humanity has only one change of clothes. This was a total waste of breath; what was I thinking? Both have closets stuffed to the brim with “cute” clothes. Fortunately these closets are not overly large and so they are forced to recycle (my only consolation). Other than shoes, I cannot ever recall them ever recycling a clothing item that was worn out, which has always seemed to me the prime reason for buying new clothes in the first place. I sometimes think our family alone keeps the Salvation Army in business. I know it’s just a matter of time before the IRS audits us and disallows our massive writeoffs to charity.
My only other consolation is that my wife has a fairly advanced case of what she calls “shopping bulimia.” After she buys an article of clothing she brings it home and tries it on again to see if she “really likes it.” Fortunately, she changes her mind on about about a quarter of her purchases, which she then returns to the store for a refund or credit. This enables her to experience the joy of buying some items without them ultimately costing anything.
Due to their diligence, my wife and daughter have on rare occasions actually had the peak shopping experience they refer to as the Shopping Miracle. This is when an expensive item, sometimes one they’ve had their eyes on for months, has been marked down for the third or fourth time, usually to about one-third of its supposed “retail value.” Such occasions, which generally happen only to truly serious shoppers, are the source of immeasurable delight, satisfaction and conversation.
Over the years I have noticed a pattern to their shopping which delineates the year much the same way that football seasons do. In early May, Pre-season starts. This is when they “need” new summer clothes and good deals can be had on winter clothes. My daughter has grown another inch and “cute” new fashions titillate their shopping senses. They have held off since last season and the call of the mall can no longer be denied.
Pre-season runs until August, when Regular Season gets underway. School is just around the corner and the justification for new purchases has never been stronger. Surely my daughter can’t be seen wearing the same things she wore last year! With the kickoff of Regular Season, my wife and daughter will often migrate beyond their normal shopping territory to other, more distant malls in the metro area. Our local mall can be completely shopped in a solid long day, but other malls open up whole new worlds of shopping opportunities.
Just about the time the Regular Season seems to be winding down, my wife and daughter catch new wind with the arrival of November and Christmas buying. Having largely fulfilled their personal shopping needs, they can now shop for others! It doesn’t get any better than this—shopping and altruism combined. For the next seven weeks they are intensely focused on purchasing just the right gifts for all of our friends and relatives. It is now when all the advance work of the previous three months comes into play and when I have to remind myself that yes, in spite of their continual absence, I do have a family.
Regular Season ends in a flurry of buying in the week preceding Christmas. They shop to the point where the thought of purchasing actually begins to lose some of its allure and then, thankfully, comes Christmas morning—the Big Purge. In a period of 90 minutes, all they have worked for in the previous seven weeks is disgorged from its wrappings and ooohed and aaahed by the relatives. For my wife and daughter, this is the pinnacle of the shopping year, knowing that all those days spent shopping has brought pleasure to so many others.
For a few brief days after Christmas there is a shopping lull. The thought of driving to the mall, of entering another store, of spending more money actually feels a bit distasteful. But then the Christmas gift certificates my daughter has received begin to gnaw their way into her awareness and she is gradually restored to normalcy. Plus the incredible deals at the post-Christmas sales beckon.
And so they enter Post-season. It’s back to the mall, back to the shopping, but I can tell by the weariness in their voices and the brevity of their shopping forays that their hearts are not in it the way they were in Regular Season. Post-season is gratefully short; it runs for only about a month. By the end of January, my wife and daughter are fully sated and ready for a break. The feet sore, the checking account depleted, Off Season begins.
For the first few months it is actually a welcome relief—no more malls, no more shopping. Despite the sales, the appeal just isn’t there. But as the weather warms, the coats and sweaters are stashed away. The desire for new adornment is refreshed and renewed with the emergence of spring greenery, and the call of the mall once again beckons in the distance.
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