I was trying to decide between a khaki jacket and navy one when I noticed them. Right away, I recognized their look. It's the same one I get everytime I'm sent to the hardware store, or have to pick up a doozywhatsis at the auto parts store: total bewilderment, as if I'd just stumbled upon a secret alien planet right here on earth.
He looked like the typical dad - jeans and golf jacket, early 30's, expression hovering between deer-caught-in-the-headlights and weight room can-do. Each of his hands rested atop the head of boys who looked to be about 8 and 5. The older boy looked bored, the little guy leaned against his dad's leg and snuck his thumb into his mouth.
To their credit, they plunged in with resolute determination.
"OK, boys," he said quietly. "Let's find something nice for mommy." Like a small army, they moved along the racks, sliding hangers here and checking tags there. Dad held up a green blouse. Both boys shook their heads. They looked at a red flowered jacket on a mannequin but couldn't find it anywhere on a rack.
"What size does mom wear?" asked the older boy, fingering frilly top.
"Um, I don't know," Dad admitted. "She's always saying she's fat. . . "
"Mom's not fat," said the older son. "She's just right."
"I know, buddy. I agree. Hey, how about this?" He held up a black and white striped dress with ruching across the front.
"Not that, daddy," said the younger boy. "It looks like a prison dress!"
"No, it doesn't, you dope," said his big brother.
"Yes, it does," said dad, laughing as he slid the dress back onto the rack. Both boys cracked up.
I added a green jacket to my stack, and headed for the fitting room. When I came out, they had wandered over to a display of colorful plaid shorts and were checking sizes by holding them up to their dad. They seemed to settle on a turquoise pair and then located a tshirt to match. The dad held up both pieces in the air.
"Hmmm. . . maybe not," I heard him say.
"Why not?" asked his younger son. "Mommy looks pretty in blue."
"I know she does, " said dad. "But didn't she tell Aunt Jen she hates plaid shorts because they make her behind look big?"
"Mommy doesn't have a big behind!" protested the little guy, plunging his thumb back into his mouth.
"I know," agreed dad, ruffling his son's hair. "But let's try to get mommy something she would like, ok buddy? There's got to be something here. . . " he trailed off as the three of them turned around to scan the endless sea of clothing racks around them.
I picked two dresses off a rack along with a pink jacket and headed back to the fitting room. When I finished, I hung everything on the cart by the door and headed over to suits. On my way, I spied the trio hovering near raincoats. Dad had a gawd-awful shawl under his arm, and the younger son was holding a canvas rain hat.
"Hey," said the older boy. "How about a new purse for mom?"
Off they went across the aisle like hungry lions on the trail of food. There were shelves and tables stacked high with purses in every conceivable shape and color but they plunged right in. After much searching, they found a lime green bag with a cell phone pocket on the outside.
"This one!" cried the younger boy. "Mommy's always losing her cell phone. Let's get this one!" He stuck his arm through the straps and hoisted it onto his shoulder. It cleared the floor by two inches.
"Good idea, buddy" said dad. "But maybe we can find her one that's a little smaller." They went back to their task, inspecting flowered fabric bags, suitcase bags, hobo bags, clutch purses and a large purple bag trimmed in leather ruffles. Finally, the older boy held up a sleek black bag with an array of shiny buckles and clasps.
"How about this? She could keep her cell phone in one of these pockets."
"Hey," said dad, taking the bag from his son and turning it over. "This just might work."
"Yeah, " said the little guy. "It looks just like mommy's now purse."
Dad looked at his son and then squinted at the purse. "You're right," he sighed. "It looks just like mommy's now purse."
I found a sweet tan linen suit in my size and headed for the fitting room. To my amazement, it both fit and was on sale. Whoooeee. Now all I needed was the right accessories. I checked my watch. I'd been here 45 minutes and still needed to get to the grocery. A quick stop in the jewelry department and I'd be good to go.
That's when I saw them again. A little ragged perhaps, but enthused . . .almost renewed. And then I understood why. After navigating the baffling world of women's clothing and accessories, then forging through a universe of purses, they'd latched onto the one department that said "mom" above all the others: ladies toiletries. In this realm, you didn't have to know the difference between petite and misses. You didn't have to worry about size or pattern or the misfortune of giving a gift that made one's behind look bigger.
This was a sure thing.
And there they were, dad crouched down looking at a row of shiny bottles trimmed with flowers and lace. Some were housed in clear plastic bags; some in chrome baskets, others nestled in shreds of colored tissue. Everything oozed clean girliness. The little guy was sitting cross legged on the floor, surrounded by bottles. He'd pluck one carefully from the shelf, unscrew the cap to sniff the contents and then methodically screw each cap back on. The older boy and his dad were contemplating a kit containing bath salts, cremes and lotions.
I glimpsed some chunky wooden earrings and headed past them toward jewelry.
"What do you think?" asked the dad. "Think she'll like this?"
"I don't know," said the older boy, cautiously. "Mom likes all this girly stuff, but she takes showers. She doesn't take baths."
"This one!" cried the little guy, perilously brandishing an open bottle as he struggled to his feet. "Smell this, daddy. THIS is the one we should get!"
The dad but his hand on the bottle to steady it and slowly drew close to give it a sniff. He pulled his head back, then went in for another smell.
"I don't' know," he said slowly. Then he turned to his older son. "What do you think?"
The older boy took the bottle and smelled it.
"Yeah, that's okay, " he said.
"I want this one," cried the little guy. "This one smells like mommy on vacation!"
"What are you talking about?" scowled his older brother. "Besides, that says bath salts and mom only takes showers."
"I don't care. I want mommy to have this. It smells like when we went on vacation to Sea World and mommy got a flower behind her ear."
The dad looked at his boy. Then he looked at the bottle, and screwed the cap back on. "Well, it does smell good but mom takes showers so let's see if we can find something for the shower that smells like this. "
I located a necklace to go with the wood earrings and finally headed for the cash register. My feet hurt and I still had to get groceries.
As I waited my turn in line, the three shoppers got in line behind me. Each of them was holding a different bottle containing something pink. The little guy's bottle had bath salts in it.
"You sure, buddy?" asked the dad.
"Yes," the little guy nodded, looking at his bottle. "Maybe mommy doesn't take baths because she doesn't have the right stuff."
I couldn't help but smile as I remembered all the Mothers Days that I'd been blessed with bath salts and gaudy jewelry and clothes that didn't fit. I'd loved and treasured all of it, but never more so than now.
I drove passed them as they were coming out of the store. Three weary shoppers on their way home to wrap gifts for one very lucky mom.
I hope she appreciates them.