What a day it was shopping with my daughter Riana, not for anything in particular, just spending time together. Talking, laughing, and talking more. But in the course of the day she shared magic words. Words that mothers and fathers wait for all of their parenting lives, and when they finally hear them, they think, ‘Ah ha. I didn’t do so bad after all.’
Riana has always been one to come along with me on ‘mom’ errands. Early in her life this became a favorite activity. For me, it eased some of the stress, the droll, the rote, and the ‘what did I forget this time?’ of mom errands. She has a memory like an elephant, so she served as my list, my post-it note, and my buddy. She would remember which store it was that had milk on sale, or where we saw that dress I wanted to pick up for Bridget, or as would happen, where I left my phone.
She also served as a map. When we first moved back to Flagstaff, in 2000, and she was only eight years old, she remembered the arrangement of the city’s streets and intersections as if she’d been there when Planning and Zoning had plotted it all. I had lived in that town for almost five years, 15 years previously, but it had changed. My memory, needless to say, had also changed – post grad school and two babies, it had, well, could we say waned?
Riana would easily tell me — sometimes with a bit of a snip, a bit of, ‘I’m smarter than you, and I’m only eight’ — to turn left when I had incorrectly turned on the right blinker, or tell me ‘five more lights’ when I would ask, ‘is this the street?’ Or just roll her eyes and demand, “How can you not remember?”
She was my little personal GPS. One with an attitude. And now, in a similar vane, she has her Siri robot report to her in a British accent. I don’t believe she really needs the instruction most times. I think she just likes the camaraderie of the nose-turned-up style of a robot who will call her ‘princess.’
And why would Riana want to join me on chores? I don’t know what incited her to tag along from the dry cleaners to the shoe makers to Walgreen’s to the office and then finally to the grocery store. Her sister Bridget has always been less inclined to go shopping with me or to tag along on errands. She’ll do it, but she’s more geared to spending mom time by curling up in bed with me and watching a movie; proposing that we read together at a coffee shop, sitting with steaming hot lattes in front of us. She’ll always jump at the chance to grab our laptops and go sit at Macy’s. But for Riana, it’s ‘let’s go shopping.’
I was in Tucson earlier this month for the All Souls Day Procession, and to that I say ‘put it on your bucket list.’ For me, Tucson is a big city with its half a million people and three PetSmarts. I have recently moved away from Flagstaff’s sixty-five thousand people because that is simply too many for me. I’m the one in the family who strove to find the place that was the exact opposite of where we were raised. Cottonwood’s twelve thousand people is just right for this Detroit girl. But I do appreciate the Trader Joe’s and Marshalls, so, well, the shopping, which we do not have in Cottonwood.
It’s become a mainstay for when I visit Ri in Tucson. We had just dropped Romeo off for a grooming at one of the PetSmarts because his swimming in the Verde River, while good for his bad knees and making him a happy dog, has also made him a smelly one. And Marshall’s was nearby.
“It’s a fancy Marshalls,” Riana reports.
“Perfect,” I say.
While we love Marshall’s, that consumer notion that we have been given this grand opportunity of purchasing the wares of the wealthy at an affordable rate is hogwash. Do they believe that middle income folks like us feel privileged to sniff the low end of the the rich and the famous’ shopping line. As if it’s our high end? Well, okay, it is, and we’re proud.
But usually my girls and I . . . . we are thrifters. There is simply nothing like the smell of old, sometimes moth balls, always affordable. It’s treasure hunting really. As the seventh of nine children, and one of some seventy or more first cousins, hand me downs are normal for me. Normal, not embarrassing, not below me. I can get as excited about a Woodward & Lothrop hat from the 1950’s for five dollars as some might get when buying a brand new Neimun Marcus fedora for two hundred.
Ever since I left home at eighteen to live on Ferry St. on Wayne State campus, I have been a thrifter. Buying it used for a fraction of the cost, even if it meant mending a hem, or dry cleaning a dress, well, there is the real opportunity to own and don the higher quality wares of the world. Marshall’s had nothing on Twice as Nice, or even, if you look hard enough, Goodwill or Savers.
“I need new bras,” I announced glad that underwear is no longer a topic that my daughters will not discuss with me. Puberty and adolescence stripped this conversation right out of our lexicon. “Mom!” was the refrain, through gritted teeth or at the top of their lungs if I suggested it was time to buy new underwear or bras after seeing what had become of their under things. Doing laundry is a vital chore for parents. Mysteries of life reveal themselves in those baskets of topsy-turvy, twisted and balled up shirts, pants and undies. Histories become evident, curiosities resolved, and sometimes truths be told. But far be it from me to say, “You wear a thong when you’re on your period?”
Oh, the good old days of granny panties with thin strips of elastic in which we wedged a football sized wad of cotton and paper. And even with all that “protection,” I still leaked into my new pink hiphuggers at the roller rink. Still leaked on Pat Gladney’s back seat. Oh, dear, God. Forgive me, Pat. We’ll talk when I meet up with you on the other side.
I once saw thong-shaped panty liners in the “sanitary’ aisle at CVS. “What?” I asked out loud to nobody, and certainly nobody that would ever speak out loud in that aisle. We must be quiet about the fact that ounce upon ounce of blood rushes out of female bodies once a month for far too many years of their lives. “How on earth can that be of any use?” The question, fortunately, remains unanswered because? I really don’t want to know.
But back when the girls were stretching like bubblegum, mum was the word. The girls insisted on buying their own underwear and bras. And when, as adolescents they went off on shopping expeditions, on their own, and returned excited to show me the new jeans or dress or jacket, they never shared the undies. Never. As if to say, ‘Shhhhhhhh, we don’t talk about those things, mother. It is our private blossoming sexuality, and you, mother, can not know about this.’ Funny. So, funny.
Likewise, my girls had shopped with me in thrift stores all their lives. And they had found used toys under the tree on Christmas mornings. They were fed from the trays of used high chairs. Their butts were wiped on used changing tables. When we shopped for new school clothes, I would acquiesce to the need for more special items, and Target was the place. But usually, it was a thrift store.
And then all that came to a screeching halt, as loud and as bright as a red fire truck screeching and honking and coming up from behind. I pulled over and watched puberty and adolescence quickly take over all three of our lives, and their tastes in shopping. They would not be seen with me when I went thrifting. They would not want a thrifted gift. They had impressions to make and perceptions to mold. No questions asked, just no, mom. No.
Until, when they were both a a little older, and it became cool (aka affordable) for the high school gals to thrift shop for prom dresses, jeans, Halloween costumes. All good things do come around, no? Suddenly thrifting was not just acceptable, but the expectation. It was environmental. It was green. Oh, my, God. Enough already. I’d had it with their citizenry. As if all the thrifting I’d been doing was somehow different or old fashioned. But, really, I was so glad.
And, that’s where this particular trip to Marshall’s was a highlight of my parenting life.
My mentioning that I needed to shop for bras neither embarrassed or appalled my daughter as it might have ten years previously. In fact, she readily joined me in our march to the back of the store where we were met by long racks of tiny bits of strappy fabric hanging on impossible slotted hangers arranged in a simple system of rib sizes: twenty through forty inches; and early alphabet letters – A’s through DDs to indicate the depth and breadth of the boobs themselves. Heft or toss. Chomp or nip. Grab or brush.
I have never understood why they stopped lettering at D, and then moved to double letters. Why not E, F, G, etc.? They do the same in shoes, apparently. Really wide feet can be up to quadruple E’s. Why not I or J or K? Anyway.
Riana and I were happy to sort through the array of silks and cottons and lace and padded or bare. We chit-chatted our way through cheap, cheaper, and cheapest. It became quickly apparent that white bras are a thing of the past; padded bras are losing popularity, thus the removable pads. And razor backs are now optional with handy little snaps that will draw traditional straps together over your spine.
When I finished one row, I found another displaying even more brassieres for every size and shape of boob there might ever be from flat as a rib cage to ‘Holy Toledo, doesn’t your back hurt?’
My best friend’s mother always said, ‘a mouthful is perfect, a handful too much.’ Easy for us smaller women to say. I’ve been happy with that assessment throughout my life and remember fondly moving from a flat chested twelve-year-old to a Holy Toledo myself. But my Holy Toledo was, really, more like Holy Girona.
But in the bra-less days of the feminist seventies, too little bra and too much boob could lead you directly and quickly to the cross your heart model or some other heft lifting contraption, one even rumored to be designed by a rich aviation magnate. Lift and separate, the television commercials used to say.
For me, all that heft, the little I had, was left behind with babies and nursing, and then age and gravity. I’m lucky I’ve got anything to tuck into a cup: they just don’t make trainers for thirty-eight inch rib cages.
We discussed sizes, Riana and I. Something we had never done before as the topic was prohibitive. It was refreshing to learn that a 38A and a 36B are the same, according to Riana, or at least similar, according to a pod cast or YouTube video she’d watched.
“Darling,” I tried to explain. “You have tiny little ribs and plentiful bazoombas. My ribs grew immense when you tried to kick your way out from behind them, and my boobs deflated when you and your sister no longer wanted them for nourishment. The rib diameter, and the boob size, matter. A lot.” Although, I had, over the years of trying on bras, wondered how much difference was there, really, between the 36Bs and 38As I had looked at.
We argued in a friendly fashion all the way in to the fitting rooms, where we entered our little neighboring, mirrored stations that were lit, surprisingly, quite exquisitely. They had tamed the typical fluorescence, so my every wiggle and wrinkle was not highlighted by the ill-lit rooms usually available. Something I never even noticed until after fifty birthdays.
In between exchanging oohs and ahs, or “OMG not this one,” between the wall of our side by side rooms, I exclaimed, “I need to look at underwear, too.”
And then the magic happened.
“I thought of you the other day,” Riana said, “When I was buying underwear.”
“Really,” I wondered where this was going.
“You always bought us packaged underwear,” she explained. And yes, I always did, and I still do, I thought. Because I’d buy thrift undies if I could, but that’s one thing you can’t thrift. So buying a package of cotton bikinis, that are made well, all fit the same, and will last longer than a month, is important to me.
As if she’d read my mind. “And you were right,” she exclaimed. “It makes so much more sense.”
We exited our little rooms, having determined which of the bras would or wouldn’t work, and headed back to the show room. Riana continued.
“I thought I was so cool when I was a teenager. Picking out individual panties for their color and print and beauty, not really paying attention to the price. But the other day, I did pay attention. Packages are the way to go.”
Did I hold my tongue? Or did I blurt out some form of “I told you so”? Doesn’t matter, and knowing me, I probably blurted something akin to gloating. But I was elated, smiling from one side of the lingerie department to the other, the satisfaction, the sense of accomplishment, the pure joy of watching my grown daughter realize her own foible, and her mother’s wisdom, was unforgettable.
Not that I had expectations. In fact, if she had bought expensive, ill-fitting, short-life underwear for the rest of her days, I wouldn’t have held it against her. But that is not the point.
The fact that she got it. Gets me. Realized, with some pride, that Mom is pretty smart after all. That made my day. I didn’t do so bad. Nope. I did good.
And so here is a poem that I wrote for Riana, my poetry-hating daughter, and that I gave to her when she was probably buying those fancy panties.
Her eyes, like mystery
may conceal the innocence,
but no matter
how many masks
she designs, she moves
through her childhood
like a beam,
like a lamb.
She is everything.
She smiles wide as sunrise,
and never hides her sorrow.
She leans with the wind
to the endangered,
carry her forward;
and then sometimes
She is growing.
I watch her sneak
away and know
she knows I know.
We play as if we don’t
because we are in training
for her adolescence,
for the remainder of her life
this is but a rehearsal;
the wash, the pigments,
will they show through
when she sneaks
and I don’t
She is everything.
Being ignored floors her,
and she retracts
into her bellybutton.
As if she had become
a hardball pitched
into an old glove,
pinned and stunned
by the softness, strength,
the fat-laced fingers,
she quickly loves
that the worn leather
smells just like me.
Sleep is a deep occasional friend,
and when her lush black lashes
finally kiss her cheeks goodnight,
it is an embrace
of gratitude. I kiss
her forehead relishing
that she will rest, that she
will leave my name behind
for a moment, for a dream.
Then I, too, am quiet
photo from Unsplash.com
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