I had stopped shopping for myself. Some of my bras had actual holes in the fabric. I had underwear that, if it were a child, would be in first grade.
My closet descended into a cabinet full of beautiful high-end items—many from the Clinton administration. There were things I had no occasion to wear, and crap from stores where you could also buy things like fluorescent-colored relish and anti-fungal creams. Gradually, getting dressed devolved into creating an outfit from a late 90’s thrift shop and a bag of clothes someone wore in a food fight.
Since my pesky kids wouldn’t stop growing, I poured my clothing dollars and my fashion sense into their wardrobes. I’d live vicariously through what I purchased for them. If they looked good, it could only reflect positively on me, right? People would say to themselves, “That mom might be slovenly and disheveled, but her darling children and their stylish outfits tell us she’s got it goin’ on!”
But last week, I realized that I had let things downgrade way too far. My daughter’s preschool was having a ribbon cutting for the new building façade and lobby. Parents were invited to attend the ceremony, as were the faculty, administration, the school’s board of trustees and even several local politicos. I had planned to grab my little girl before the festivities began, so I’d be nowhere in sight when the glitterati gathered. Instead, as usual, I couldn’t get my act together in time, and arrived just as the children and all the honored guests had assembled in front of the building.
Even though I saw another mom dressed in everyday attire, listening to the tribute before taking her son home, there was no way I was going anywhere near the front entrance. Dressed in a long-sleeve, red-and-orange-striped shirt, black jeans and Converse, I looked like a 40-something-year-old reject from the cast of 70’s Zoom. I sat in my car halfway down the street until it was over and I could leave with my little girl in anonymity.
This had to end.
The very next day, I took myself to Marshall’s and bought some tops and sweaters.
Walking through the line to check out, I noticed several displays full of kid stuff. My mental ticker tape began. “Oh look at those barrettes for my daughter! And more socks for my son! They would love…”
What the hell was I doing? I thought. Couldn’t I leave a store and buy something only for me? It was bad enough that right after I left Marshall’s I’d be scurrying through three separate grocery stores to make sure my little angels had their preferred menu. Did I need to bring them back some more things that would soon be lost, trashed or left in toy limbo?
Another woman was mulling over some frilly headbands. “I am not buying my children one. More. Thing.” I proclaimed aloud as I walked away from the display and took my place in line. “They have everything and I have nothing.”
“You’re right!” agreed the woman. “You’ve inspired me. I was going to buy something for my girls, but they have plenty.”
I stood a few inches taller, feeling perversely self-satisfied for having encouraged another mom to join me in going to a store and buying not a thing for her children. I didn’t know if a little more denial in my kids’ lives would stave off resentment-fueled rages about how little I do for myself; and it certainly wouldn’t replenish my underwear drawers with cute little sets. Still, it was a step in the right direction.
I could treat myself and no one else.
And most of all, buying my kids a ton of shit didn’t make me a better mother.