I went shopping this morning in my pajamas. This is because yesterday broke me. Yes, it did. So I asked myself, If I can't go shopping in my pajamas at Christmas, when can I go? Matthew would say never. What does he know?
Okay, so I didn't change into nice fresh pajamas; they're the ones I wore to bed. Still, the bottoms are a rich Christmas green with a snowflake pattern, and I managed not to get toothpaste on my shirt while brushing my teeth this morning. Afterward I put on my prettiest pink lipstick and added some dangly earrings in hopes that I would confuse my fellow shoppers, Is she really in pajamas or are those just some crazy pants? I suppose it hurt my chances a little-they're flannel.
But the story really begins with this past weekend. We got out some Christmas stuff-my snowmen, the nutcrackers, tree skirt and stockings (We didn't get out the tree; there's a small battle waging about that. I want to invest in a table tree this year, so Danny Sammy can't get at it; Matthew doesn't want to spend the money.). Berto pulled out the stocking I made for him and cried, "Oh, my stocking!" in true yule-cheer greeting. I dragged out Ana's and held it up for her, "Ana, here's yours," I said. Ana glanced at it and looked away, quickly but discreetly moving on to another decoration.
"Ana, don't you like it?" I asked, turning it toward myself to examine its limp purple velvet, its green felt tree with glitter glue ornaments and the winged fairy at its top so meticulously sewn on.
She looked back shyly and took it from me. "Well....."
And that's when I knew she thought it was the ugliest thing on earth. I wasn't really hurt, but I was thinking, "Damn! Now I got to rustle up another stocking!" And I still had Ella's to make, too.
"You really don't like it, do you?" I said matter-of-factly, but the tears smarted in her eyes, and she snuggled up against me as close as she could come.
That's when we began a long exchange of feelings in a complicated mother-daughter tango of emotions. I tried to convince her I wasn't hurt; I just didn't want her to be stuck with a stocking she didn't like. She tried to mop away my deep imaginary pain with her many shed tears, and she communicated with me in tones so softly uttered I had to hold my ear an inch away from her mouth while screwing up my face in concentration and saying continually, "What? What?" like an honery old lady. But finally, finally I figured out she didn't hate it just because it was ugly; she had specifics-thank God!
And so later I began to rip off the fairy. Even I had to admit that fairy just did not go. However, I had sewn the dang thing on so well that it took me awhile to disconnect its tiny (even, I might add) stitches. I really admired my handiwork as I was decimating it, and, unfortunately, the imprint of the fairy was still to be seen on the stocking.
"How? How am I going to get this done and Ella's this year?" I wondered pitifully while the kids were playing outside.
"Just go get them some stocking from the store," said Matthew. "Like ours."
Except the kids didn't go for it.
"I like my stocking," said Berto. "I don't want another one."
Ana agreed she'd rather have an ugly handmade stocking from her sweet mama than one made by an expert seamstress and needlepoint genius in China.
"Look, they can have two," said Matthew. "Each year they can choose which one to hang out."
Yes, this seemed like a plan, so we made the decision to go stocking shopping on Wednesday right after school.
We were off to a decent start at the mall. Daniel was in the sling on me, Gabriella in the stroller-Berto and Ana walking dutifully near, but then I assigned shopping buddies. Berto chose Gabriella. Oh, boy! What was that kid thinking? Didn't he remember the long johns episode? I mean I had taken the precaution of bribing her with a candy cane as a reward if she behaved, but still, with her it is always a shaky proposition. She likes adventure, and it can't be had while behaving.
Half our time was spent examining stockings, half my time was spent shouting, "Berto nab her-dagnabbit! She's your shopping buddy!" as Gabriella skuttled off, skirting around bold Christmas displays and dodging around breakables. The stroller thing hadn't lasted long, and Berto was constantly running interception on his little sister's every move. Ella did her preschool best to thwart him. All else failing she'd buffet him with her fists when he came too near and yell, "Stop, Berto!" as if he were the pest for trying to keep her safe.
Ella had early on chosen her stocking at Macy's. A simple-"That one-uh-huh," to designate it as her life-long present recipient (It was an angel in flowing robes holding a horn, and I have, as you can imagine, no comment on that choice-no comparison to make between her behavior that afternoon and the angelic stocking meant to represent her on Christmas Eve). After that she had nothing but time to burn and trouble to find. We moved on to Dillard's and things got hairier, especially when Berto pushed the button in the elevator without consulting her wishes. "Next time," I told her, so she decided to practice navigating our dusty stroller around tight turns at tables loaded with precariously stacked stoneware and by trees dripping with delicate ornament displays. I put my foot down-literally-by the stroller to stop its wheels and threatened to take away her candy cane for the day if she drove one foot farther.
Ana finally found her stocking: an angel, too-dark-haired with a serene Anie-like expression. After paying for it, we beat it back to Macy's to procure Ella's stocking and had to wait in line behind some demanding and irascible little grinch women for a good twenty minutes. Berto was done at this point; he's not a shopper in the least, and all the dodge and run of tagging Ella and withstanding the impromtu boxing matches had depleted his willpower to continue. Finally, our transaction complete, we were free to leave the mall, but we again had to take the elevator to the lower level.
"I want to push the button this time," said Ella, striding down the short hall to it, swinging her arm authoritatively.
A family ahead of us let my children and me take the elevator; there wasn't room for both families, so my brood stepped in, the doors shut, and Berto's finger honed in on the button.
"No-me!" yelled Ella.
"No, Berto," I said quickly, trying to forestall more yelling and tantrum from Ella. "Let Ella push it. We told her she could push it."
"She didn't ask," said Berto. "She just screamed, 'I want to push it!' "
He had a point.
"Ella," I said. "Use your big girl words and ask properly."
"Please coin I push it?"
"Apologize to Berto for yelling at him."
"Sorry, Berto," she mumbled. Then we all looked at her and waited. She stared at the elevator panel.
"Ella," I said, after a long moment. "It's this button right here-the UL button. See it?"
Still she didn't move. Here eyes started casually surveying the walls and floor of the elevator.
"Ella, push it. Push this button!" Berto said in supreme exasperation.
"Push it, Ella, or I'm going to let Berto do it," I warned her.
She folded her arms and wouldn't budge even when I tried to direct her to the panel of buttons. I wondered if the family that had forfeited their place on the elevator could hear our ridiculous negotiations with a preschooler, and also if there was a panic button for being held hostage by a three-year-old who threw tantrums like a little devil and had the curly pigtails that made her look like one?
No, but there was justice, for just as I was telling Berto to push the button, and Ella began to scream and try to jockey her way to it before him, some benevolent shopper on the outside hit the call button, and we began to move down.
What kind of voo-doo magic is this? said the expression on Ella's face. "Wait!" she yelled.
"Go ahead and push it again," I said. "But someone hit the button for the elevator. You had your chance."
When we stepped off, Ella tried to get back on. I grabbed her and turned her around, and it was then that my sweet-faced, curly-haired munchkin turned into an absolute gremlin, and I was forced to stuff her unceremoniously back into the stroller.
She screamed down the hall away from the elevator, and she screamed on the long walk through Macy's as I graciously acknowledged the many dirty looks thrown our way. Her undulating screams maintained one long, piercing theme:
"I WANTED TO PUSH THE BUTTON!"
"I know; I know you did," I said repeatedly in a low soothing voice while plotting her discipline.
We turned a corner toward the doors near where our car was parked, and a saleswoman who had heard us coming all the way through the store laughed as she finally saw the procession accompanying the little monster making all the noise. Daniel was wide-eyed in the sling on me as he bent his body awkwardly to look with fear and confusion at his sister the spectacle. I was dressed impractically in shirt, skirt, nice jewelry and boots, and if my expression reflected my strategy for making a dignified exit, it was completely impassive. Ana's big brown eyes were filled with sorrow because she alone was beginning to feel sorry for her little sister. Berto's face was scrunched up in disgust like the Grinch's when he talks about "The noise! Oh, the noise, noise, noise, noise, noise!" of all the Whos down in Whoville on Christmas.
I saw an obstacle on the way to our exit: an elderly lady who had that tell-tale look of concern on her face that says, "Poor little angel! What must have happened to her?" She waylaid us.
"Sweetheart, what is wrong with you?" she asked Ella as she bent over her.
I looked at the store clerk and the elderly lady and said calmly, "She wanted to push the button in the elevator. We all told her to push it, but she wouldn't do it, and then someone on the outside hit the call button, so now she's upset."
"Oh, well! That's the shakes," said the store clerk in true Mama fashion.
"Yep, that's the shakes," I concurred.
The elderly lady had faded away. I didn't even see her anymore as we left the store.
Berto was about to break with the incessant noise and kept yelling at Ella to stop screaming or else, but she still wailed as we crossed the parking lot. A gentleman waiting by his car laughed at the spectacle, too, as he heard me tell Berto, "Let it go. Just let it go, son. This is what happens sometimes when you shop with a preschooler."
In the car I told Ella that there would be no candy cane, and that I was considering returning the stocking, so Saint Nicholas wouldn't bother putting treats in it since she so little deserved them. This last part I did amend. Ella adores candy, and the loss of the candy cane caused such anguish I was satisfied. I lectured her all the way home, and she sniffled and cried, "I love you, Mama!" And soft-hearted Ana cried, too. Berto growled in the backseat about the cruelty of his fate-two sisters!
Matthew got a calm recital of events that evening, but, as I said, it was the morning after when I faced another trip to the store to get some items we should have been able to get on the stocking expedition that I realized I was broken, my Christmas spirit wounded. It felt more like a chain of obligations on my feet than an angel singing carols at my shoulder.
So I went shopping in my pajamas. I just didn't care, and you know what? No one even noticed.