At 9:45AM on a Thursday, the mall is not quite awake. Chain link security grates sit barely open, like the eyelids of the store salespeople clinging to their coffee cups like short paper canes that will support their slow progress to work. Around Starbucks, business is booming, the barristas bright-eyed and alert, whether from ample AM java or from having been on the job for hours, it's hard to say. The lighting is dim, the hallway music is off, and the play area is already crowded with strollers and toddlers, and tired-looking mamas who divide their attention between paying heed to precocious preschoolers and glaring jealously at the 'No Food or Drink' sign.
Everyone is dressed better than I am. Except the mamas. But I lack the requisite stroller and munchkins, so I feel conspicuously unfashionable in my t-shirt and faded jean skirt. Passing a mirrored column, I see my reflection. Eyes, too tired. Toenails unpainted. The salons look open already, and I see a woman having her hair shampooed inside one of them. Her male hairdresser wears a voluminous white coat and a beret. I wonder if he has an affected French accent as well. I could probably get a pedicure at the "salon and spa". Or I could stick to the plan.
I need clothes. Nothing fancy. Nothing frou-frou. Dressy at my job is Friday casual in many others. But a steady trail of colored markers, hot pink cupcake icing, and baby puke has rendered a lot of my wardrobe unsuitable. Much of the rest claims a vintage older than my daughter.
I always hate shopping in mall stores, with nosy salespeople watching, making unwated suggestions, asking me to remember their names. But I have store credit from last Christmas. Alas, that store doesn't prop open their tall glass doors. Later, a paper sign "closed due to technical difficulties" appears in the window. So I search for other options.
Some places are too outlandish. Most are too young. A few look too old. Their clothes would look lovely on my mother, but I'm not ready for that yet. I walk around Macy's, and then wish I hadn't bothered. I keep secretly hoping that my fairy godmother will bibbity-bobbity-boo them back into Famous Barr. But my favorite pumpkin seems to have permanently morphed into a black-and-magena-and-silvery-white collection of clothing that I am too short, too plump, too boring, and too poor to feel like purchasing.
At some point during my matamorphosis into a mother, I have lost the ability to shop for myself without first shopping for my children. It is some psychological condition, a suggestion that has been implanted into my brain. The consequence of ignoring it is guilt. Nagging, annoying, heart-rending guilt. I acqueisce to it, I always do, rationalizing that both kids are on the cusp of changing sizes, and fall is coming soon.
I do manage to find a few items for myself, at one lone store whose color pallete doesn't require olive or yellow undertones in one's complexion. Its the same store, ironically, that I recently complained about to a friend. Their shirts are always too tight in the sleeves. Maybe my upper arms are too fat. Lord knows, that since my youngest now walks everywhere, I can no longer boast of impressive upper body tone. As usual, I don't fit into their woven tops. Maybe I could tailor a larger size to fit my torso. Or maybe I'll just stick to knits. But the colors are good. The prices aren't outrageous. And I spend slightly more on myself than I did on my children. Slightly.
For once I don't reject the help of the salesman. Maybe because it is a guy, who is neither pushy nor intimidating. Well-dressed female salespeople always make me feel defensive about my own appearance. Maybe because I am the only customer in the store, so I really can't avoid him. But he arranges my selections artfully in the changing room, and swaps out a size for me. And I don't have to remember his name so that he can claim his commission.
On my way to the car I am accosted by two separate kiosk-venders--both men who are fasionably dressed with delibertely stubled jawlines and crisp white shirts, and foreign accents of unknown authenticity--offering to help with my "natural appearance". One wants to smear something on my fingernails, and another wishes to help with my hair. As if someone who doesn't paint her nails or blow-dry her hair actually wants to add more products and steps to her morning routine.
I give them a wide berth, and sink gratefully into my car, my purchases stowed in the trunk. Its a start.