The Good Life: It’s Not About the Shopping

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons by Sarah Mattison Buhl

It’s Not About the Shopping

My thirteen-year-old daughter is giddy this time of year.  It isn’t so much the last, long, sunshine-y days, or the final mind-numbing hours spent on Tumblr.  It certainly isn’t the notion that school starts in a matter of days.  It is the shopping. 

My kids and I have a tradition to venture out on a day planned well in advance to find a suitable outfit for the first day of school.  I take them one at a time.  My only girl swoons at the thought of new shoes, and imagines how she’ll wear her hair with said shoes artfully decorating her feet.  My boys are less enthusiastic.  Part of the joy for her is in the planning.  She strategizes about what time we’ll leave in the morning for maximum shopping benefit.  She maps out the stores in her mind and thinks hard about what special snack she’ll have as we traverse our route.  This time will it be a hot pretzel with waxy cheese or a mango slushie bubble tea?  The night before our outing she playfully whispers, “Tomorrow is our special day!”  It takes me a moment, and then I remember:  I too, am filled with anticipation.  I think of a long, unhurried day spent with one of my most favorite people in the world.

School shopping can easily feel like dutiful drudgery.  The expense is sickening, and the clothing styles marketed toward teenage girls range from eye-opening to repulsive.  There are long lines for the dressing rooms, long lines for the cash register, long lines for the restroom.  I am ready for all of this, because I know there is more to this day than shopping bags.  The morning of our much anticipated outing, we take our breakfast in the van.  We head down the familiar stretch of interstate, and the magic begins.  We are sympatico.  “We talk a lot on this road,” she muses.  Indeed we do.  We park easily because the mall isn’t open yet.  This is part of her plan.  She likes the quiet emptiness, and the joy of all the beautiful things skillfully displayed behind the sparkling windows.  We talk more.  She expresses her apprehension at starting school.  New locker, new hallways, new schedule.  She wonders how her friends feel about her, and if she fits in.  She wonders if she’ll stay in ballet or take up the cello.  She wonders if I think that “super-cute crop top” is appropriate.  She wonders if today’s shopping budget includes makeup, because she wants to “even out” her complexion.  I tell her I like freckles.  She talks, I learn.  Maybe she learns, too.

We have a contest to see who gets tired first.  I am determined to win, not only because I want to prove my mettle as a worthy shopping partner, but I want her to feel as fully satisfied with this day as I am.  I challenge her by saying that I learned my shopping stamina from the best—my mom, who never met a pair of sling-back shoes she didn’t like, and who would keep me trapped in fabric stores until I grew dizzy from the nauseating smell and florescent lighting.  The bet is on, and somewhat surprisingly, she gets tired first. I am victorious.  We head north toward home, where she invites me to her room where we can “look at our stuff and talk.”  Another victory.  I’m still not tired;  I could go on like this forever.


Sarah Mattison Buhl

As a mother of three, Sarah appreciates the extraordinary beauty of the ordinary. She makes her home with her family in Northampton, MA.


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