Why Do I Love to Shop?

Why Do I Love to Shop? Morethananexpat

Red,  white & blue sweatsuit. Phone books. Reward. Annual Shopping Trips. $100 Budget. Coupons.

I have been taking one question with me to the yoga mat for each of my Bikram yoga classes. It is the closest I get to meditation these days. My monkey mind focuses on one question. These are the words that rose to the surface in my mind’s eye.

Red,  white & blue sweatsuit. Phone books. Reward. Annual Shopping Trip. $100 Budget. Coupons.

Red, white & blue sweatsuit. I don’t know how old I was. It was before junior high so I was maybe 11 or 12 years old. It was a surely a boy’s sweatsuit. It has red, white and blue color block horizontal stripes across the sweatshirt. I probably thought it looked fancy because of the white collar with three buttons. It looked like one of those rugby shirts that were so popular in the 80’s. I had matching red sweatpants with pockets. Pockets made them fancy. Pockets made them day wear. My European husband will laugh out loud when he reads this.

“I looked like Alvin, from “Alvin & The Chipmunks”, with a perm.”

And I had essentially a mullet perm hairdo with pink tortoise-shell round glasses perched atop chubby cheeks and buck teeth. I looked like Alvin, from “Alvin & The Chipmunks”, with a perm.

I loved it. I wore it with turquoise high top Chuck Taylor Converse that flipped down at the top to reveal a yellow lining. I loved those shoes.

I know this was before junior high because I vividly remember the playground and four square. Recess was basically the only time we were allowed to socialize at school. I was so proud of that outfit. Oh, my classmates let me have it. Playing four square, I remember the other players and other standing around laughing at me and my outfit.

That perm, those thick horizontal stripes, baggy pockets, circular eyeglasses. They did not help my chubby little body one bit. Oh, I was comfortable wearing them, but after my classmates got done with me at recess, my skin felt like it was on fire. I’m sure I cried. Which is like gasoline on a fire for tween girls’ laughter. It is a wonder I made it out of those years.

Phone Books. My twin sister and I used to deliver phone books. This was before the term “Side Hustle”. I think we spent one or two weekends delivering phone books in the biggest town in our area. Thank God we were not doing this in our hometown. The shame could have consumed me. We delivered phone books to earn money to spend on school clothes. It taught us the value of money. What it also taught me was to hate phone books. There were stack after stack of these things shrink wrapped and sitting in our garage. That plastic smell. The ink turning my finger tips black. The paper cuts. The value of money.

My mother made it work. She found a means to an end. I associate those phone books with shame and with being too poor to just buy school clothes like everyone else, but she was actually the first entrepreneur in my life. I tell myself I don’t know how to be an entrepreneur, but the seeds are all right there. I have been telling myself the wrong stories.

Reward. I associate shopping with a reward. I see shopping as a reward. Small wonder. Delivering these phone books was rewarded with a trip to the Chicago suburbs to go shopping for next fall’s school clothes. It was a big deal. The Chicago suburbs might as well have been the runways of Paris or Milan compared to my small town options. There was no internet shopping. There was no internet period. Sears catalog. Phone books, people.

Now I know why I snuck out of the office all those times to go shopping. In London when I worked 14 hour days, in Amsterdam when everyone hated bankers, in Wisconsin when I felt alone, on business trips when I felt so stressed, I went shopping. Whether it was stopping into an outlet mall in Wisconsin or meandering through Liverpool Street Station or buying too many souvenirs at a market in Istanbul or nipping into Marks & Spencer’s. It was all a reward. And if there was a sale, oh, there was no stopping me.

Annual Shopping Trip. My mother turned Fall School Shopping into a destination vacation. We stayed in a mid-range hotel (which seemed very posh to me). We ate out for dinner (at a place with cloth napkins). Sometimes we got to bring a friend along. We went to shopping malls with a population probably as large as our town. It was a cultural event.

We went for clothes, but it was an entire experience. Maybe that is what I crave when I walk into a store. I crave that excitement and experience. Maybe I miss my mother and my sisters.

And how I felt so cool walking into school in clothes I knew no one else had. This back fired big time. See red, white and blue sweatsuit above. Yep, that was definitely before high school. Blending in was crucial to my high school experience. I think that is a question for another yoga class, though.

$100 Budget. For some reason, I think we each had a budget of $100. That seems like a lot of money back then. We came back with a pile of clothes and shoes. I remember meticulously tallying the receipts. Being even is crucial for twins. Down to the cent, we had to be even. We definitely knew how much each of our pieces of clothing cost. If not immediately, it definitely now instilled a value of taking care of my belongings. I know this because I find myself saying it to my daughters and husbands.

Coupons. What is it with the American culture and coupons? Dutch people ask me this especially now that TLC starting running “Extreme Couponing” in The Netherlands. Scarcity. Marketing 101. It is ingrained in the American culture. Get it while it is cheaper. If you wait, you will have to pay more. Full price is for suckers. That is why coupons have expiration dates.

These shopping trips taught me to never pay full price for anything. It is a great lesson on the surface. Somehow, being on sale made something more valuable. How backward is that? Why doesn’t ‘being on sale’ mean “It is ugly and no one wants it”?

Coupons should have taught me to game the system. They should have taught me a bigger lesson that there is a system and it can be gamed. It taught me to how to consume the most possible. It also eventually made me realize that there is a huge margin built into most sticker prices.

I still find myself compulsively confessing to people that I bought something on sale or second-hand. Why do I do that? Another question for another yoga session. So many questions…



They sang a Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) song tonight on The Voice. (We can watch it here in The Netherlands, but it is on a delay.) For me, CCR (and John Fogerty) is synonymous with my Dad. It doesn’t really matter which song. When one plays, I am right back there in the cab of my dad’s pick up truck. I am sitting in the passenger’s seat as he drives. Or I am cutting across farm fields driving on country roads. Or my twin sister and I are belting out a song while heading to our softball game. Then I am huddled in a chair next to his open casket begging for this nightmare to end and cursing my father for taking my kids’ grandfather from them. All the while, CCR plays in the background.

Then I have this thought that Dad is looking down from wherever he is and feeling like he isn’t missing much. Yes, he is missing out on memories with his family, but outside of that little circle, I bet he doesn’t feel like he is missing much. I wonder if he felt that while he was still alive. Do we all feel like that at a certain point? Do we eventually feel like we have seen all we want to see? We have hit all the milestones there will be. We have felt the highest of the highs and lowest of the lows and nothing else will ever push us to those extremes. Do we reach a jaded, ragged, easy assurance or peaceful resignation? Is that the goal?

(Photo by Piano Piano! from Flickr)

Our Visitor

We have a visitor this week. His name is Puk. He is a stuffed doll from our three year old’s daycare. Dutch education pedagogy centres around this little guy whose name is pronounced something in between “puck” and “puke”. I can never get the pronunciation quite right.

Puk teaches the kids about the weather, manners, seasons, etc. Part of the curriculum is that each child gets to take Puk home for the week. He gets to go on adventures with the child and it should get documented in Puk’s diary. Sigh.

Puk and his belongings have seen a better day. The poor thing has only pajamas and a green chenille jacket left to wear. I scanned through Puk’s diary looking mostly at the dates and pictures since it is all written in Dutch, of course. This doll and this diary have been making the rounds for over four years. He is older than my daughter!

So I freshened up his wardrobe today. A local store was having BOGO on all clearance items. I found him a newborn sized shirt, shorts and hoodie as well as a grey laptop bag to replace his sad makeshift suitcase with broken zipper. I spent nine euros in total. The shirt and hoody needed to be taken in so I cut the zipper off of the hoodie, shortened it and hemmed it. I shortened the long sleeved tee too. Puk is ready for a few more adventures.

The novelty of Puk has worn off quickly. He is not even sleeping in our daughter’s bed tonight. Yesterday, he went to (British) music class and a (Canadian) birthday party with us. That is enough, right? I mostly just do not want to lose him. I don’t want to be the family to lose Puk.

Here are pictures from music class (p.s. That is the teacher in the background and she is blowing bubbles…the highlight at the end of class) and of Puk with his new ‘pants’ and hoodie.




Oh, she has almost figured it out. Wiglet is nearly crawling. She knows all of the different pieces, but only put them together once so far. She gets so excited that she has to put her knees down to get her balance back. We went to a toddler group yesterday for the first time and all of the other little ones were crawling. She watched. And then it all clicked. After a nap, she put it all together….and she started squealing with delight and tipped over.

I cannot figure out how to post a video so here is a picture of her trying in the mirror. Her squeals of joy just filled me with hope and laughter.


Dad, If you were here…

If you were here…
I would tell you that I was thinking about our trip to Ireland. We took E there when she was just six months old. Oddly enough, I got to thinking about it today while I was feeding her little sister, Wiglet. I was feeding Wiglet baby food, puréed carrots. I thought of our trip while changing her diaper. It was horrible. Both girls’ diapers got exponentially more disgusting when they started eating solids. Their wriggling only made it messier.

It seems like we spent most of our trip to Ireland seeking out baby food, changing diapers and washing her clothes. What was it about the angle of the car seat? E’s poop seemed to defy gravity. I remember pulling off the road at a gas station in the Irish countryside. We were both nauseous from the winding roads. I thought you were going to lose your lunch when I started changing E’s diaper in the back seat. I remember being angry at your nauseous cough because you had the luxury of being in the front seat. You would not even touch the diaper to throw it away.

And then half way through the trip, you had stomach problems. You would not tell me the details, but we needed to find a pharmacy open on a Saturday. For once, I was glad for your stoicism. But I had to help you translate. What you did manage to hear from the diminutive female pharmacist you could not understand. You later asked me if she was speaking English.

It was nothing serious. It was no wonder since you had taken to eating only dessert and coffee for lunch. You had a piece of cheesecake one place the width of a slice of pizza. I was resentful for having to take care of both you and the baby. I felt like everyone’s mother. It wasn’t true, of course. I just wanted our trip to be special; an adventure. And it felt like I spent all my time thinking about number two’s.

Parenting Memories: Enough is Enough

20 Aug bath by morethanexpat
20 Aug bath by morethanexpat

E is nearly eleven months already. As I brush my teeth, I look down into the bathtub and see it still scattered with the plastic cups she played with during her bath tonight. I bought those cups for her a few days ago and thought she’d like them. I think I read somewhere that stacked and nested things are interesting to and good for children about her age. And she does seems to like them. On overwhelming sense of satisfaction rushes through me looking down at those primary-colored plastic cups. I often think about how I would do anything for my daughter and that I want to give the world to this little impish sweetheart of mine. I tell her that too. “Pooh, I love you more than the sun and moon and stars above – more than the heaven and earth combined. That is how much I love you.” I say to her.

She truly feels like my whole world sometimes. I mean this in the best possible way. To see her smile and splash with the simple toy I bought her tells me that, yes, I am giving her everything she needs. I want to give her everything her heart desires and, in that moment, I am. I am successful in a way I have never known before. Her eyes are filled with pure happiness and she looks at me with out the slightest hint of doubt. I have not disappointed her yet. She knows no want. It fills my heart and could bring me to tears of joy. There is no greater sense of achievement than knowing your child is truly, plainly happy. I want her to have it all and, right there, in the tub with those plastic cups, she does.

Before she was born, I worried so much about doing the right things for and how I would know what to give her and doubted I would ever be enough for her – a good enough mother. It felt so complicated and insurmountable, but it is really quite simple, actually. It is the small acts and little deeds day in and day out. It is the feeding, bathing, laundry, and clothing. Most of all it is holding her and swaying her to sleep. With her bottom cradled under one forearm and the hand of the other arm gently holding her head in the nape of my neck just under my chin, I sway. Or I pat her sweet little back with one hand as we rock from side to side. She soon places her cheek against my collar-bone and starts sucking her thumb. Her breathing deepens and she eventually closes her gorgeous big eyes. I love that moment. We sway chest to chest and heart to heart. In those delicious moments, I am enough. My whole world is in my arms and I have never been so at peace.


We started a tradition this year of going out for brunch with my husband’s family. They have a small family – just his parents and his brother & girlfriend. It seems customary in The Netherlands to eat a brunch buffet at a hotel restaurant. We met everyone at a nice hotel nestled in a posh neighborhood of multi-million euro homes. Here, this means that you have a four to five bedroom house with a yard bigger than a postage stamp and your own driveway.

Picking out E’s outfit – a polka dot dress with white tights and green headband – took me back to my family’s Easters all those years ago. We went various places over the years and celebrated it in many ways, but I always initially think about when I was around eight years old.

I remember my huge plastic yellow Easter basket brimming with fake green grass and all my favorite candies – especially the  popcorn bunny and a Reese’s peanut butter egg. We would wake up ridiculously early, run downstairs to see what the Easter Bunny had left for us (he left our baskets next to the fireplace just like Santa did our stockings), zealously search the room for more hidden pieces of individually wrapped Hershey’s miniatures, and gorge ourselves on chocolate for as long as our parents would allow. The rest of the morning, not surprisingly, was a blur. At some point, my older sister, twin sister and I would begrudgingly wiggle ourselves into pairs of tights, coordinating dresses and flats.

Oddly, my most vivid memory is of brown water glasses and tortellini with orangish brown meat sauce. Along with foil wrapped pats of butter and tasteless slices of white bread, that is what I remember of our Easter dinner. Our family of five would pile into our blue Chevy minivan and drive what felt like hours through the most boring Midwest countryside to meet my father’s parents at a family restaurant. It was Eye-talian as my father calls it which, in Central IL, means pasta and fried chicken. The restaurant was dark – poorly lit with dark veneer panelling and tables decorated with burnt orange glass votives.

The meal, pre-electronic gadgets, was agonizingly boring. We covered our paper placemats in countless games of hangman and tic-tac-toe and suffered through meltdowns as we came down off that morning’s sugar high. We’d finally finish and run outside only to be blinded by the sun bouncing off the concrete sidewalk and, oftentimes, remnants of snow. Diving onto the back bench of the van, we’d kick off our shoes and pick fights with each other before finally passing out – my twin and I drapped across each other in a tangle of limbs. Aaah…the good ol’ days!