Wednesday, April 7, 2010

We Were A Family Of Foreign Travelers

The music boomed out the front doors of the shop and into the hallway where we were seated. Around us, strangers, families, and individuals strolled through the mall, darting into stores and lugging plastic bags on their arms. We sat on an upholstered bench, eating a vending machine ice cream cone: just one to share between the girls and I -- Justin wasn't interested in the frozen pink and blue, bubblegum-flavored treat. Tattling crystals of frozen condensation sprinkled to the ground as we'd opened the package, melting on the industrial tiles of the mall floor, confessing the truth of the ice cream's long wait at the bottom of the machine's frozen stockpile.

The storefront before us was darkened, but not for lack of life inside. A deep bassline thrummed out around scantily clad mannequins and shoppers, all of the young and hip variety. This was the kind of store I'd always wanted to shop at when I was a teenager. A store full of fool-proof fashion, instant popularity, and automatic acceptance into the in-crowd. If I'd worn those faded and machine-frayed clothes, I'd have been in. I just knew it.

In what I considered to be a dramatic and unfair twist of life, I also knew I would never shop from that store. Looking at a single price tag on a should-be affordable piece of clothing once made my adolescent jaw drop in wonder. People paid this much for that?! I understood then that I wasn't going to ever fit into that crowd: my clothing was cheaper and less fashionable. Less tattered. Less baring. Far less expensive.

But with my family beside me, my dreams and hopes having drastically changed in the past decade, I just giggled at the thought of people -- slaves and followers -- spending so much money on such worthless clothing. Justin looked at me over our bubblegum-flavored little girls. "I think I'm going to head in there. Check out some new clothes," he declared with a twinkle in his chocolate brown eyes.

I lifted one brow in disbelief. "Sure thing," I joked. We'd be just about as welcome in that store -- with our sticky, pastel-colored children -- as a family of monkeys into Martha Stewart's living room. Despite my disbelief, when the ice cream was finished, he grabbed Mia by the hand and strolled confidently into the darkened store. Peeking back over her shoulder, Mia squealed in excitement: this was suddenly an adventure into a dark and noisy cave. After cleaning Lauren up, I followed, pushing the stroller into the abyss.

We were suddenly one with the store. Clothing piled in haphazard arrangements were our companions. Thumping music and shadowed corners were our heartbeat and lifeblood. Sweet, cologne-fragranced air was our...air. It was unsettling.

I couldn't see Justin or Mia anywhere; the store was a maze of walls and tables, lying in wait. Carefully, I navigated the aisles, cursing the choice to bring the stroller in the first place. But, I reasoned, trying to keep Lauren's curious hands away from the piles of clothing and displays of cologne would have been just as nerve-wracking. I pushed on, hoping to stumble across the rest of my family so we could be on our way. Circling around near the back of the store, we cut across a few labyrinthine rows to head back to the front. I was just about to turn the corner, squeezing between two tables, when the inevitable happened: I got stuck.

The stroller was wedged tightly between a table of cologne bottles and a one of properly tattered undergarments.

The store had apparently asserted its dislike of our messy, cumbersome family in favor of its more civilized customers. I carefully backed out from the tables, reversing the way I came, all the while under the superior gaze of the cashier. She was carelessly dressed in the same hip, tight clothing as the store mannequins, with posture just as brazenly confident. In contrast to her, I in my comfortable shoes and cardigan looked downright old.

Near the front of the store, I found Justin and Mia, looking for all the world like buried treasure in that darkened cave. Justin's handsome, loving face. Mia's glowing smile and flying hair. Lauren's laughing voice and waving hands greeting them.

This was my family.

We left the store -- that other world -- and eased back into the mall's traffic.

I was never so glad to be old. Unfashionable. Comfortable. Loved.


  1. You're right... Going into one of "those" stores is a sure-fire way to feel old. Which we are SO not! :) It is unsettling, for sure. And I tell you what... My little girl will never, NEVER wear shorts and skirts as short as those places sell. Jeesh! Well, maybe I am old... ;)

  2. I'm amazed you were able to stand being in the store. Turn down the music! It's too loud! (in my "old" 26-year-old voice)

    I just read this article and it made me think of your recent post on being shy. I've tried to fight my shyness my whole life, but this article makes me feel a little better about it.

  3. Haha, I love it! How were you able to breathe in there? Our dark, hip store is so pungent that you can smell it from across the mall. My husband and I joke that they must issue ventilation masks to new employees :)

    And if unfashionable means being in the company of people like you, I'll take it :)

  4. Ew, I hate trendy stores like that! I have been known to be on the verge of tears and insist we had to leave because I was so uncomfortable. I think that means I'm more unfashionable than old, but I'm fine with whatever labels keep me out of there! You were so brave to take your girls in there!

  5. Oh, I hear you, girl! I've resigned myself to being the old, unhip mom a long time ago. About the time when my first-time prego belly was nearly knocking over the clothing racks.

    I've always laughed to myself about the haughty cashiers in these stores. I mean, really... what do they have to be so self-righteous about? They're *cashiers*, not doctors or rocket scientists. Don't get me wrong, there's totally nothing wrong with being a cashier - I've been one several times. But there IS something wrong with being a "I'm-better-than-you" cashier.

  6. My head is nodding in total agreement over here for all aspects you wrote about....and satisfaction with the now. Does that mean I can join this club?? Count me in, girls!!

  7. You are such an amazingly creative writer! This perfectly sums up our family's experience through the local Hollister store...with a double stroller-UGH! I'm pretty sure that 2 of their XL shirts wouldn't even begin to be enough fabric for this stretched out mom of three! :) Wouldn't trade 'em for the world, though!
    LOVED THIS! :)

  8. I love moments like that :) Making old feel good!
    Beautifully written (do I write that in every comment here? It's always true!)

  9. :) "Old" really is wonderful!


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?