Friday, March 24, 2006

suburban renewal

There is only so long a country family can survive on mornings by the fire reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books and taking nature walks spent hunting for creatures that just aren’t there. “Mummy where are the salamanders?” They are sleeping deep under the ground honey.” “How come I don’t hear any birds?” “The birds have flown south to find the sun. They’ll be back any day now.” “What about the toads and the slugs?” “Umm, they’re sleeping too, they don’t’ like the cold so they crawl under rocks and stay there until spring comes. Kind of like us,” I mutter half under my breath. “What did you say Mummy?” “Oh nothing sweet. I just realized how much like reptiles we really are.”

I hate to admit it but sometimes the only way to beat cabin fever is to drive 70 miles to the nearest settlement of big box stores. I don’t know exactly what comes over me, but when it hits it’s undeniable. I need, need , need to walk among other aimless lurkers, mostly women, through long , fluorescent lit aisles of brightly-colored consumer goods.

The drive in itself is appealing. The children are strapped down in the back seat, visible only through the rear-view mirror, and trained not to “bother” mummy while she is driving. When Esther finally gets tired of asking questions and requesting her favorite song over and over again, she resigns to quietly looking out the window or taking a cat nap. Since she discovered her mirror, Isla is content with talking and smiling at her cute little baby friend that always seems to appear when she gets in the car. Once again, I have found a way to keep my infant entertained and stimulated with minimum effort on my part.

Most times I agree the beauty of living in Vermont lies in the fact that there are only two malls and no Target stores. Some days I feel the problem with living in Vermont is that there are only two malls and no Target stores. Yesterday was one of those days.

Since the closest mall and selection of big boxes is so far away, I have to create a reason that will justify wasting that much time and gas. That’s easy. We need art supplies. Can’t get those at the supermarket. Guess we’ll have to go to Target. We also need more diapers and wipes. We can get those at the supermarket but they are oh so much cheaper at the big box stores. Okay, reason enough, we HAVE to go to Saratoga. Just like that, we are out of the house and into the car, toting a bag full of snacks and a diaper bag full of enough diapers, wipes and extra outfits to last us a week lost in the woods.

The good thing about Saratoga is there’s a Children’s Museum. So any guilt about subjecting innocent children to the unsavory environment that is shopping malls and big box stores can be assuaged by a few hours spent perusing the edifying, hands-on exhibits.

When we got to the museum, it was filled with other families just like ours. There I was, chasing Esther around with Isla strapped to my chest in the Baby Bjorn looking at at least seven other mothers, babies strapped to their chests, eyeing pre-schoolers. I couldn’t help wonder how many of them were hoping to end their outings in Target or Barnes and Noble as well. It could have been my imagination but many of them had that glazed look in their eyes mothers get when they are not entirely present or sharing their children’s joy at playing “ride the trolley” or “pioneer tea party” for the umpteenth time.

After I whined our way out of the museum and in to the mall by telling Esther how hungry I was, I really perked up. I let myself dream of bargain fashions I might find at H&M with its wide selections of hip-length shirts that are just the thing this post- natal mom needs to keep her poochy belly from peeking out above the low-rider, stretch jeans that allow her to actually button her pants despite being still 15 pounds overweight.

Once at the mall, I threw a sleeping Isla, car seat and all, into the Snap'nGo, grabbed Esther by the hand and swept them towards my favorite Swedish department store. As soon as we set foot inside I was overwhelmed by color, possibility and bargains. I began grabbing things left and right, anything that looked remotely suitable, and hanging them off the stroller. All the while promising Esther we would end up in the kids department so she could find some things too. Esther whined the whole time about it not being fair that I went first, so I had to move fast. We whisked into the kids department and found some cute skirts for Essie and headed for the fitting room. We got situated in a fitting room and I whipped off my shirt and pants. Then Isla started to wail.

Determined, I sang and cooed to her, all the while frantically robing and disrobing at high speed, like a supermodel backstage at a catwalk show. Finally her little baby dino cries got so insistent I picked her up, sat down on the bench and put her to my breast. Seeing myself in the mirror like that, topless, belly drooping, bare-legged, white and blotchy under the unforgiving lights, was enough to put a lid on my retail fantasy. Just like that, reality hit. “We’re supposed to be saving money. I could be getting so much done at home. Why am I still so fat?” I thought to myself.

“What are we doing?” I said out loud to my reflection and to Esther, as if a four-year-old could fully comprehend the question. “We’re playing dress up,” she answered, posing in the mirror, eyes fixed onto her own reflection. “Oh yeah," I sighed. "Dress up." "Couldn’t we be doing this at home?" I thought. "Better yet, we could be reading a good book by the fire, or taking a nature walk."

"Let's go home," I said. "Just a few more minutes mum," Esther bargained. "I really like the way this lovely skirt twirls."

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