Saturday, November 24, 2012

Family Tradition

Macy's State Street Chicago - Family Tradition - Parentunplugged - Stacy Snyder
The day after Thanksgiving holds a tradition for me of shopping on State Street in Chicago with my mom.  The holiday lights, the cold weather, the roasted chestnuts (yuck!), the windows with their colorful displays, the gifts we buy to give to loved ones at Christmas, and the people we encounter make it a sensory experience like no other.

As a young child growing up in Indiana, my mom would leave my sister and me at home with my dad while she and a girlfriend would spend the weekend after Thanksgiving in Chicago Christmas shopping.  They’d check into the Palmer House, shop on State Street and Michigan Avenue for 2 full days, and come home with shiny bag after shiny bag full of gifts that would make their way under the Christmas tree on December 25th.  

Once we got old enough to “run the streets,” as my dad would say, my mom included my sister and me in the annual shopping trip to Chicago.  As a young girl I remember sitting in the lobby at the Palmer House, playing games and running up and down the intricate staircases with my sister, while my mom and her friend would smoke cigarettes and people-watch.  As an older child, I remember drinking steaming hot chocolate and eating Frango mints after dinner at the coffee shop in the hotel’s lower level.  As a pre-teen, I’d meet up with my Indiana school-friend, who also traveled yearly to Chicago on Thanksgiving weekend, to have tea and crumpets at The Drake, where they stayed each year.  As a teenager, said friend and I would hope to meet, sometimes successfully, young sailor boys that we could spend the day with walking to the Rock CafĂ©, or taking in a movie at Water Tower Place.

While the leisure activities of the trip changed each year, based on our age and our interests, one thing remained constant in our Chicago trips:  the job of shopping.  

My mother is a shopper.  Not just a garden-variety, “I like to shop because it’s fun” shopper, but a shop-til-you-drop professional, armed with coupons, discounts, and insider knowledge of how to get the most bang out of her buck.  She dresses according to what’s comfortable for carrying shopping bags, and won’t wear a coat in the dead of winter, as it will slow her roll inside the stores.  She knows how many bags are too many bags to carry while on the hunt and which stores offer lockers, free boxes, and gift wrapping.  She knows how many hours she can make it without food or water, and which stores require a post-shopping cigarette.  While the art of shopping is appealing in itself to her, the real golden ticket lies in the merchandise.  She loves clothes.  Garments for herself, apparel for her kids, frocks for her friends, jumpers for her grandkids, and zoot suits and tutu’s for the babies in her life.  She loves them all.  Clothes, clothes, glorious clothes. 

It’s only natural that her love of shopping and clothes would pass down to her children.  My sister unapologetically followed in my mom’s footsteps.   From the time she could walk, she was a natural in the stores, a member of the fashion society, studied apparel merchandising in school, and even today works in the clothing industry.  While interested in shopping and clothes as a kid, once I hit college, I rebuffed shopping, and honestly decent clothing, as well.  I spent a decade trying to be the anti-shopper, turning my nose up at all activities related to any mainstream shopping and instead bought and wore all things black.  From shoes, to clothes, to makeup, to hair, they were all ebony.  I still shopped, but it no longer resembled the mainstream shopping I was raised on.  Instead I’d visit Army Surplus stores for military boots, resale shops for worker coveralls, and underground boutiques for nose studs.  During that time, I broke formation from the family pastime of shopping.  It was a dark time.

Once I started having kids of my own, the clothing and shopping bug worked its way back into me.  While I didn’t personally shop a lot for my kids, I learned to once again appreciate the beauty of clothing, as my mom, my sister, and all of our friends, went nuts clothing our new baby.  We had received so many onesies, PJ’s, dresses, 2-piece rompers, Halloween costumes, shoes, and hats for our daughter when she was born, that we didn’t have to buy her a single article until she was over two years old.  With all that fashion in the house, it served as a natural aphrodisiac for shopping with my family again, as we all had a common interest….clothing the babies.  Over the years, with my sister’s kids and mine, we have added four girls to the mix of shopping and clothing, not to mention the spouses, partners, and in-laws.

Over those years, I’ve woven my way back into the shopping routine with my family.  Even if I don’t buy anything, I’ve learned to enjoy the shopping we do together.   While I don’t promote shopping for shopping’s sake alone, as an activity to make one feel better or blow money to fill a void or spend moolah that you don’t have because you need to keep up with the Jones’ on fashion, I do advocate shopping as an approved activity for bonding.  It’s not about the labels or the money saved or the exclusivity of the merchandise, or even about a single item purchased.  It’s about the time spent together.  It’s about gabbing with your shopping partner about life and all that goes with it.  It’s about sharing the excitement of buying a gift for someone else.  It’s about looking at yourself through a different mirror when you try on new clothes that could be part of you new style.  It’s about working together to accomplish a task of crossing off names on a list, or to accomplish nothing at all, except to enjoy yourself in the process.

The Palmer House Chicago Christmas Tree - Family Tradition - Parentunplugged - Stacy Snyder
As my mom and I stepped onto State Street yesterday morning for our annual tradition, the magic of the holiday shopping season overtook us.  I can go an entire year without purchasing a single item of clothing for myself or my kids, as we typically practice thrifty budgeting.  But on the day after Thanksgiving, all bets are off.  We had no list, no agenda, and no have-to’s.  We spent hours shopping, walking, eating, drinking, people-watching, and reliving shopping days gone by.  We laughed about the funny stuff we’ve bought over the years, the strange and awesome people we’ve encountered, and the ridiculous thing we’ve done, all in the name of shopping.  We bought clothes unabashedly for ourselves, our kids, and our family members.  We worked the Black Friday sales and we most likely paid for a week’s worth of Macy’s electricity bill with our clothing sales.  We drank $15 cocktails at the Palmer House and we kept track of how many men we saw wearing grey sweatpants in the lobby.  We had an outright ball.

While I love all the clothes we bought, I could go back tomorrow and return every garment purchased, as they truly don’t matter and we honestly don’t NEED a single item.  But I would not trade the experience of the day spent shopping alone with my mom for a thing in the world.  It is what family is made of:  time spent together.

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