My Mother-in-Law is a Closet Shopaholic

Shopper CrossingShe finally emerged from the closet -- all five feet of her -- looking like she'd just pulled a heist on a baby superstore. All that was missing was the stocking mask. Instead, there were baby bottles in all colors and sizes, at least two mobiles, three stuffed animals, a baby blanket and a baby quilt, things with Velcro and things with suction cups and what looked like a baby carrier big enough for twins. What came next was a very, um, pregnant pause. I was torn. Here was my mother-in-law standing before me so pleased -- so excited about her new grandchild. And equally excited about all the STUFF that would entail. But as much as I adore my mother-in-law, I just couldn't go along with it. Almost apologetically, I muttered, "Um, did I mention that I've gotten a lot of hand-me downs?" She just stared at me blankly. So I gathered up all the paraphernalia -- including formula dispensers, formula mixers, and far too many nipple varieties to count -- and headed back to the closet. She sprang out of the lounge chair where she'd taken refuge...but it was too late. In the avalanche that came next, I was almost knocked on the head by a thigh exerciser still in its original packaging. George Foreman headed toward me, smiling like a Cheshire cat from both a big rotisserie-type get up as well as from a food sealing gizmo. Mr. T was up in there too -- grimacing on the front of what looked like a slow cooker. I can't explain which was more jarring: witnessing the sudden collapse of the famous tic-tac-toe wall of Hollywood Squares (I'd always wondered how they stacked those stars so neatly) or the full, frontal accumulation, proliferation -- no, make that -- propagation of stuff that is my mother-in-law's closet. None of this made a lot of sense. My in-laws are very simple people. They have lived in the same modest home in South Jersey for more than 50 years. They have rain catchers in their backyard; they grow their own herbs and vegetables, hang clothes on a line, and compost regularly. This closet -- the space that receipts forgot -- put them in a whole new light. Where was this need to accumulate coming from? I had to ask. "Oh, my goodness," she laughed. "Honestly, I don't know." But I think I do. In her own way, this nod to consumerism is my mother-in-law's interpretation of how to live in America. From her native Japan, she brought all kinds of natural remedies and practices -- gobo root for this, kelp for that. Her spoiled American kids, my husband included, always gave her Old Country Solutions the big blow off. Buying things, even things she doesn't open, became a way she could fit in. I tried to explain -- gently -- that we didn't really have a want or need for the gifts she was buying and hoarding. Less is more. The simpler the better. I thought it was a touching moment. Then she jumped up and went to the kitchen pantry. "You can feed this to the baby," she said, holding out an industrial sized box of rice cereal. All I could do was take it and nod my thanks. photo: turtlemom4bacon

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accidentallyonpurpose