Saturday, January 05, 2013
Going home for the holidays, even in middle age (perhaps especially in middle age) stirs up so many emotions and memories. Like all visits home, this one was a mixed blessing -- one that will take me some time to unpack.
So this is another blog about a friend of my mothers. They are a colorful bunch. You may remember the fudge friend from a few days ago (4 pounds?). This one is about my mom's shopping friend. They shop together. A lot. Many times a week. And they talk about shopping together. A lot. Like, about 95% of their conversation is about shopping. It's fun for them, but a bit tedious for anyone else in the room (or car) who doesn't share their passion.
Over the years, my mother and I have developed the ability to love and respect one another as much for our differences as for our similarities. She knows I'm probably a creature from some other planet: as much as she is devoted to shopping; I detest it. When asked at the grocery store if she wants paper or plastic, she takes both; I bring my own bags. Her ideal vacation is being pampered at a spa; mine is backpacking in the mountains with no creature comforts. Most of the time, we find a way to make it work.
This year's visit was a bit different. My parents have a new friend who spends nearly every day with them -- and nearly every dinner. The shopping friend. Well, more accurately, the rich shopping friend. My mother loves having a partner in crime, and my step-father enjoys the company and the stories when they return home. She has become a family member to them, and as a grown child living 3000 miles away from them, I'm grateful they have her presence in their lives.
But. She does alter our family dynamic significantly. She's very outgoing, and dominates every conversation. She (wrongly) assumed that my daughter and I are just like my mom, and that we love to shop, love to talk about shopping, and love glittery blingy baubles. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As a result, my daughter and I felt put down and alienated when she was around. My poor mother could see what was happening, and felt caught in the middle. I was starting to feel the anxiety, and could tell I was slipping into stress eating (sourdough bread? cheese? fudge?).
Not anticipating this dynamic, my parents had given us all (rich shopping friend included) matinee tickets to the ballet in the City, and promised a late afternoon of exploring Chinatown and authentic Chinese cuisine for dinner. In theory, it sounded fun! The reality was a bit different.
I'll spare you the details, but it is a rather long car ride to the city -- filled with shopping friend's lurid stories of ... shopping. By the time we got to the ballet, I was all shopped out. So was my daughter. Without ever stepping foot in a store.
The ballet, thankfully, was absolutely lovely on it own terms ... and it was a much-needed break from the shopping talk.
When we got to Chinatown, however, shopping friend couldn't wait to drag us into trinket stores to buy some chotchkes. My daughter and I wouldn't go in, wouldn't go along. We'd listened politely long enough. Instead, we proposed that we split up, and meet at the restaurant. After some negotiation, my mom agreed that was a good plan.
A block up the street, we found a tiny modest-looking tea shop. The back wall was filled with glass jars of every kind of tea we'd ever imagined -- and some we hadn't. We were the only customers, and the young woman gave us a tour of her teas. She took down most of them for us to smell, heavenly and exotic aromas. When we asked about the brown rice macha tea, she prepared us two small cups, and described how it was made as we sipped it. My daughter was entranced and intrigued. It was a truly delightful full sensory experience.
Ironically, we ended up purchasing more than the shopping friend did, because we found so many things we wanted to take home with us. We returned with a canister of the brown rice macha, which I enjoyed with my breakfast yesterday. My daughter chose a ginger chai, and I took a lemon green and some white jasmine. For non-consumerist CSAgirl, it was quite a haul.
With that little bit of peace in a tiny shop, and a little taste of heaven in a cup, my daughter and I were restored before dinner -- which btw was amazing (especially the Dungeness Crab in Black Bean Sauce). Once again we could smile. Once again we could let the shopping talk float over us without really listening, while we chose to savor each moment with our other senses: taste, sight, smell, touch.
That night, I requested that we spend our last day with just the family -- no shopping friend. My mother gratefully agreed, and acknowledged that things were certainly different with shopping friend around.
When our final day came, the four of us spent it together, enjoying the simplicity of one another's company, the beauty of the Northern California landscape, and some really good food and wine. Thankfully, we were all able to end the trip on a loving and positive note. And I didn't gain any weight from the stress eating. Thank you, tea, for providing that moment to pause, get some distance, reconsider, and reboot.