Today I was feeling pretty ambitious, so after I got back home from teaching my morning yoga class, I packed the kids up in the car and drove to the mall. On a Saturday. A mere ten days after Christmas. What was I thinking?
My mom’s birthday was January 2 and I still hadn’t found a moment in my jam-packed schedule to get her a present. We had a dinner reservation in just a few hours so it was now or never. I didn’t want to show up empty-handed to her birthday dinner with some lame excuse about how busy I am, so to the mall we went.
On our way there, my mom called and announced that she was still in pain from a back injury she sustained on New Year’s Day. In addition to her back pain, her car was still covered in snow from last Thursday’s snow storm, it needed to be cleared off before she could drive it, my dad didn’t feel like taking care of it, and she just didn’t have the energy to be out and about–so she would prefer it if we could postpone dinner to another day. Could I blame the woman? It’s winter time, which means that we should all be hibernating. Her back is hurting, so she doesn’t feel like clearing all that snow off of her car herself. No argument from me. “Well,” I said, “I guess I’ll get a hold of the restaurant and cancel our reservation.” We hung up the phone.
I felt really disappointed. This was the second time this week that we’d have to cancel mom’s birthday dinner reservation. The first cancelation happened New Year’s day when my mom threw her back out. Both times I had built up lots of anticipation around spending time with my family and being served delicious food that I didn’t have to prepare myself. Something about becoming a mom and having to prepare meal after meal after meal, day in and day out, has greatly enhanced my appreciation of food that is just served to me, food that I didn’t have to go out and procure from the grocery store, recipes that I didn’t have to select, ingredients that I didn’t have to combine, vigilance that wasn’t required from me to make the dish turn into something edible. Just sitting at a table and having food brought to me is a beautiful, relaxing, precious thing. No restaurant tonight? So. Disappointed.
I’m driving in the car turning things over in my mind. Really? My dad doesn’t want to clean the snow off the car? Well, I’m not going to see my mom tonight, so why should I bother dragging the kids to the mall and looking for a present? If I do get her a present, when will I actually be able to get it to her? Maybe I won’t go to the mall after all. This is pointless.
No, we should go. We’re already halfway there.
When we got to the mall’s parking garage, I drove around a good while looking for just one little parking spot, and could feel my blood pressure rising with each passing second. I was growing more and more irritated and disappointed about having to call the restaurant and cancel a second time. I was pitying myself for having to make alternate dinner plans. And people just ahead of me were getting all the good parking spaces, leaving nothing for me–ME with TWO children! I see able-bodied lads hop out of the cars they parked in the convenient parking spots that were clearly meant for me, and I begin to grumble. Goddamned post-Christmas returns. Goddamned winter weather driving everyone indoors. Goddamned everybody taking my parking spot. Goddamn.
I finally found a place to park, dialed the restaurant, and canceled the reservation. The woman who answered the phone was sympathetic about my mother’s situation and wished us well. I managed to get the second-born child into the stroller, and the firstborn’s hand held tightly in my own, and we slowly made our way into the mall, which has been synonymous with hell, for much of my life.
I generally don’t like crowds. I like to wind my way from point A to B with speed and strategy, and I find crowds to be slow-moving amoebic masses that pose a great impediment to my plan of getting things done quickly. My type A personality doesn’t handle people on cell phones not noticing that I’m trying to get somewhere with two kids, three coats, a diaper bag, a purse, two sippy cups, one stroller, and a PMS induced bad attitude. After decades of feeling inwardly anxious, impatient, and doubtful of humanity’s inherent goodness whilst doing my business in these crowded centers of commerce, I have decided there must be a different way. Something healthier, more enjoyable. In recent years I’ve slowly learned to approach the mall as a fertile opportunity for self-reflection.
A lot of the time I’m successful in reminding myself that waiting behind a slow moving mass of people is an opportunity to step back from my normal frantic pace, to radiate good will toward my fellow human beings, to take in all of the rich sights and sounds that a palace of commercial delights can offer. But sometimes I end up feeling just really damn annoyed. When that one person steps out in front of the stroller and just stops to talk to their friend, or look at their phone, or rummage in their purse–it makes me want to scream “DON’T YOU KNOW YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE?”
Ok, so mall yoga. That happened today. After we finished lunch and I got the kids moving in the direction of the jewelry store, a young dude stopped right in front of the stroller without warning, causing a mini collision. He didn’t appear to notice that I had rammed one of the stroller wheels into his left ankle. He just sauntered off in another direction talking to his buddy, laughing and pointing at who knows what. I didn’t bother to apologize for my part in the collision.
All of a sudden, I became aware of the tension I was holding in my body. My shoulders were hunched up close to my face, and as I looked ahead of me, scanning a path through the sea of bodies, every other person in the mall had become a human obstacle. My jaw was set, and I was fuming.
Breathe now. Let your shoulders relax. Take another deep breath. Walk gently. Acknowledge the presence within these beings around you. All of them want happiness. All of them have friends and family. All of them experience joy and pain.
I slowed down and stopped fighting. I went with the flow. I was still my vigilant, strategic self, winding myself, the stroller and the kids through the crowd, but I was no longer looking at people as if they were deliberately trying to piss me off. I just saw people, sharing this mall space with me.
I felt more relaxed as I found some pretty citrine earrings for my mom, and then a couple of birthday cards. I didn’t react to my three year old’s impulse to touch every single thing in the store; I merely reminded her to look, but don’t touch. I applauded myself for being patient with her as we went through the never ending bathroom routine . My son’s diaper was wet, and I sang to him and goofed around as I changed it. No hurry. This moment. I felt calm as I got the kids back into their coats and car seats. I only fussed a little bit at the obscene mass of traffic waiting to get out of the mall parking garage.
Out on the road, I got my dad on the phone and announced that I was coming to clean off Mom’s car.
It’s a good day. I survived the mall. Why not keep up the momentum?
Thirty minutes later, I picked up my parents’ mail from the top of the driveway, and my mom came out to meet us. I gave her two birthday cards, two earrings, and one big hug. She gave the kids some chocolate.
It took me about ten minutes to clear the snow off of the car. I watched myself feeling judgmental about my father not stepping up and just taking care of it, and then I realized that regardless, it feels really good to help, and that I don’t have this opportunity to show up for my parents so often. I asked my mom to wear her earrings the next time I saw her, if she could remember. She laughed quietly.
On the drive home, sun shining directly in my eyes and illuminating the road with a golden fire, I felt this distinct sense of completeness. My son was snoring softly in his seat, and my daughter was quiet, watching the suburban landscape fly past her window. I reflected on the inner challenges I had confronted today. To an outsider, getting the kids to the mall, having lunch, and purchasing a gift might not seem like such a big deal. Coming to the aid of one’s parents following a snowstorm is to be expected. Such simple experiences, however, when viewed through the lens of self-awareness, can be the greatest of teachers. Where situations seemed so dark, and impossible, and heavy, now they are simple, workable, and light.
If I keep this up, maybe I won’t need to walk through the mall any more. Maybe I’ll levitate.