There are approximately 487 things on my current to-do list, all of which need to be done by Dec. 25th. My list is like a sea cucumber, which is neither as salty nor as refreshing as its name would suggest, in that if you were to cut it up into a million tiny pieces, it would regenerate itself into a million tiny lists — each with 487 separate action items waiting to be checked off. It is formidable and daunting, and I’ll admit, almost completely self-induced. But it’s December, and this is the rigor we put ourselves through in the pursuit of “happy holidays.”
So because the happy holidays are nearly upon us, I’m going to make this short. I will not take up your precious time with rants or angry outbursts about how the holiday season turns people into crazed, stressed-out lunatics who will bite your head off if you appear in any way to be interested in the same retail item that they are interested in. I won’t go on about complacent, unhelpful and hostile sales associates (I’m talking to you, Walmart) or how every year the holidays seem bigger and more encompassing than the year before. Instead, I will tell you a story: a shopping story filled with some of the funniest — and most practical — holiday shopping advice I’ve ever heard.
Can we go now?
It was Black Friday so many years ago I don’t even think the term Black Friday had been coined yet. I was shopping in downtown Chicago with my dad and my sister. Our tradition was to go to Marshall Fields in Water Tower Place, and my dad, being the mench that he is, would buy us each a present for no other reason than going with him to brave the crowds — and because no one appreciates a good bargain like my dad.
On this particular Black Friday, we were making our way through a jam-packed Marshall Fields. The store was so busy that in certain places we were forced to walk single file. Tired, cranky shoppers held their heavy winter jackets and tried to shimmy their way through narrow aisles packed with merchandise, much of it breakable. The store was as hot as Hades, and people were mad and impatient and filled with bargain-induced mania.
My dad, sister and I were on our way out of the store after each seeking and finding our gift of the day. We shuffled through the women’s accessories department filled with gloves, hats, earmuffs and other baubles and followed the tide downstream toward the exit. Coming upstream in the crowd was a mom with her school-aged son. The mom was carrying at least five shopping bags, and the boy looked like he was ready to fling himself off a cliff. His posture, the all too familiar slumped-shoulders-jutted-out-chin combo, told us they’d been at it for a long time. As we came up upon them, I heard the boy asking his mom over and over, “Can we leave now?” “Can we just go?” “Pleeease, Mom, can we go home now?”
Sardonic 9-year-old wisdom
Just as we passed the boy, I saw him look over at one of the delicate trinkets on the hip-height table to his left. With a Mr. Burns-like expression on his face, the boy mutters under his breath in a voice just above a whisper, “I should just break something so they’ll throw us out of here.”
Probably no one in the entire store except my family heard him. And this observant yet sardonic nugget of wisdom made our entire experience worth the hassle. We laughed and laughed as we flowed along with the sea of shoppers out onto Michigan Avenue and walked home, our spirits buoyed by the hilarious, jaded misery of one 9-year old boy.
To this day, I cannot shop in a crowded store without thinking of that boy. His words of wisdom are like an escape valve, always giving me hope that if things ever get to be too much, I could always just tip over the display of glass ornaments and end the agony. I haven’t done it yet, but then again there are still a few more shopping days and 486 things left on my to-do list. (Write article is now crossed off.) Happy holidays to all of you wonderful readers out there. May your holiday shopping not make you want to get thrown out of anywhere!
Jill Orr: She is a stay-at-home mom of two (an odd title because she is rarely ever at home). In her pre-Mommy days, she graduated from the University of Missouri with an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master’s in social work, with an emphasis on children and family studies. She wishes she would have gotten a Ph.D. in What’s For Dinner and How To Get Bubblegum Out of the Carpet. That would have served her better. Read her blog at jillsorr.com, or follow her on Twitter @jillsorr.