My life is a series of shopping lists. As soon as I think I am done, someone hands me a new list. I used to shop on my way home from work once (sometimes twice) a week. I also had two refrigerators and a smaller household. Going to Costco once a month was easy. Now Costco is an hour away; more people live in my house, and I have just one refrigerator. Everyday seems to be a shopping day. I hate shopping.
My shopping gene must have mutated somehow, making me different than other women. Some women I know see shopping as a competitive sport: How fast can they shop? How much can they buy? How much do they save? (This could be an addition to the Olympic winter games: spending in indoor malls during inclement weather.) Others find it relaxing—the way I enjoy a run. (Running is cheaper.) People blog about shopping.Suzy Gershman, who just passed away, wrote a series of shopping guides titled: Born to Shop. The True Confessions of a Shopaholic was a best seller (and a movie). (I haven’t read any of these but I did see the movie.) Other women like shopping. I must be missing some crucial element in my brain chemistry. I hate shopping.
My husband would be quick to point out here that this doesn’t mean that I shop like a man—get in, ,buy the first one you see, get out. In my quest to buy whatever it is I need, I still have to go to multiple stores and examine the item in great detail, including reading all the labels. He finds this excruciating, mostly because I put off shopping and am on the prowl for more than one thing.
Twice I have gone with my friends on a girls only weekend to outlet malls. I amazed my friends with how much I bought. This is because when I do shop, I stock up and don’t shop again for months. I hate shopping so much that I often buy an item like a blouse or t-shirt in multiple colors rather than keep looking for a different style. I bought a beautiful suit for my eldest daughter’s wedding almost four years ago and have worn it for every special occasion since. I admit that I bought another camisole to go under the jacket and a spring sweater to sub for the suit jacket. Voila, two new outfits. I wore the same suit for five years before I bought this one. I think I can make this one last longer. It’s a classic. Right now I need new gym clothes but I’ll need new trail runners in a few more miles so I’m waiting to get everything at once. So in the meantime I wear the staff shirts from my last two schools. What else am I going to do with them?
Shopping for clothes can be avoided but shopping for household supplies cannot. Prescriptions, toiletries, cleaning supplies—these things can’t wait. I may think that I am well stocked but I miscalculate. I base my assumptions on past experiences, but this turns out to be more imprecise than one would assume. Even using the consumption of goods from the past month doesn’t help me. Things change. Unless I am the one using an item, I can’t seem to predict how long it will last. I’m accurate with cat litter, dog food, and bathroom cleaning supplies but inaccurate with laundry detergent, toilet paper and paper towels. And we need those things. Someone has to go shopping. Where does it end?
The other women in this house like to shop. Youngest daughter is more than happy to go shopping. Every other week she buys the coffee at the local coffee shop where they roast the beans themselves. When she runs out of diapers, she inputs my Wal-Mart list onto her phone and I hand her a credit card. The trade-off is that I have to babysit. Sometimes my mom goes with her. But some shopping has to be done by me.
I prefer to do the grocery shopping myself. Youngest daughter does almost half the cooking but I do all the planning based on the specials at the different markets. I don’t keep a written grocery list. I have vague ideas of meals that would be good for dinner and a list of needed supplies in my head. I’ve shopped this way since I was eighteen and on my own. I go to the store. I choose my produce. I select my meat. I decide what staples (pasta, rice, olive oil) I might need and I’m done. I decide what to fix once I see what’s available. Not much planning. No lists. Simple. I shop in two different grocery stores as well as the local butcher and fish market. I also go to small farms and farmer’s markets. I don’t go all these places each week. Each week is different.
My mom and daughter would like to go to the grocery store with me but I find myself stressed when we all go. Mom is used to shopping by herself and goes down the aisles in a different pattern than I do. Then I find myself looking for her. My grandson gets fussy because it takes me so long. I hold him but this breaks my concentration. The last time we all went, I arrived at the checkout stand, frazzled, my blouse drenched in drool and urine, my jaw clenched tightly, my cart filled with items I didn’t recognize.
I rarely did my grocery shopping (or any other shopping) with all three daughters when they were small. I was afraid of losing one. I didn’t like to be slowed down. I could concentrate on meals when they were not with me. I didn’t have to hear how they hated_____. And I didn’t have to buy sweets in order to bribe them to sit in the cart. But mostly I shopped without them because I like food shopping. I shopped when they were at school. I shopped while they were with friends. I shopped at six in the morning on Saturdays while everyone else in my family slept. So now I sneak off to the grocery store by myself. And my mother and daughter complain.
I understand that mom wants to get out of the house. I understand that my daughter likes grocery shopping and cooking. The problem is I like making dinner in the evening.
I didn’t start out that way. I actually didn’t know much about cooking as a young adult. When I graduated from college and got married, I worked with a girl who liked to cook. We would flip through Bon Appetite during our breaks and talk. I started trying recipes in magazines. When I returned to graduate school, I went to the university campus just two or three days a week and studied at home the rest of the week. I would read or write all day, then in the evening make dinner. Making dinner was relaxing, a break from Wordsworth, Dickens, Woolf. When the girls were small, I made them dinner, gave them baths, and had them ready for bed by the time their dad came home at seven. He read them stories, sang them songs and tucked them into bed while I cooked us dinner. The girls grew older, bedtimes got later, and we ate dinner as a family. When I worked on my teaching credential, my eldest daughter made dinner some evenings. When I started teaching, my middle daughter cooked so I could stay late for PTA meetings or History Day students. For a while, my husband had an office in the house. If I ran late, he got take-out. But eventually the girls were gone, my husband took another corporate job and I began cooking for two every evening.
For five years, I cooked dinner for two. No schedule. No pressure. We ate when my husband came home. He would stand at the counter and talk to me while I finished chopping, grating and sautéing. We wished for a bigger kitchen with an island and bar stools. When we saw the kitchen of this house, we saw ourselves, talking and cooking. We just didn’t see all the other people.
Food for the week would fit in the refrigerator if just two people lived here. But there’s more. So I need to delegate more of the shopping to my daughter. This week I have taken care of three lists; she has taken care of the rest. I did the shopping that I like to do. I went to a small grocery store. I went to a small farm where you can actually pick your own vegetables. I went out in the fields and looked at the chard, but I picked only beets. I could have picked my own beans but I was lazy and the ones they had in their store had been picked that morning. I bought their corn and tomatoes. They had blueberries from a farm in a town thirty minutes away so I bought those. Then I drove down the road where I bought summer squash, more tomatoes, peaches and nectarines. If I had gone a few more miles, I could buy fresh eggs. I like food shopping.
This dichotomy puzzles me. If I enjoy shopping for food, shouldn’t I enjoy shopping?