Monday, March 4, 2013

The New National Pastime?

Toward the end of our drive home from Vermont yesterday, we found ourselves on Route 128, the beltway that circles Boston to the North, West and South (the Atlantic Ocean is to the East). We passed the site of a new mall in the neighboring town of Wakefield. It's going to be a huge, upscale shopping center, and there are billboards out already, trying to generate excitement even though the grand opening is many months away.

The thing is, this new shopping center is located about halfway between two others, both of which have recently become bigger and more upscale with the addition of a Nordstrom. All in all, we will now have three major malls within one sixteen-mile stretch.

This seems a little unnecessary.

Really, how many malls do we need? More importantly, how much shopping do we need to do?

Apparently the answer is "a lot."

Shopping has become the national pastime. Especially for those of us with teenage daughters. I think there are several factors involved, none of them particularly positive.

Most of our friends don't go to church (or temple or mosque) together on any kind of regular basis. In fact, clergy joke about people attending church for just three occasions now: baptisms, weddings and funerals — or, more poetically, to "hatch, match and dispatch." This is definitely true for our nuclear family. So, while our forefathers and mothers might have spent Sunday at church, followed maybe by a multigenerational family dinner, we don't. Instead, we have more free time ... and less ways to fill it. 

Where do we go? To malls. And, even that isn't a family activity necessarily. These days, I tend to do a drive by, dropping the teen and friends at the shopping center and then picking them up later.

What happened to hobbies?

What happened to ballgames, bike riding, field trips?

What happened to time spent together, a cohesive family, playing a game or relaxing in front of a roaring fire?

All of this togetherness has been replaced by hunts for the perfect blue jeans, amassing collections of tank tops, shorts or sandals, loading up on costume jewelry, cosmetics and bikini briefs from Victoria's Secret. I worry about my daughter growing up in such a culture of conspicuous consumption. 

Believe me, she has plenty of clothes! She would argue that it only seems like it because her closet is so small. Be that as it may, she is not exactly needy. Or naked.

So, we continue to worship at the altar of Abercrombie's, Hollister, Aeropostale, American Eagle, H&M, and Delia's.

But shopping stimulates our economy, you may say. I beg to differ. Nearly everything for sale at the soon-to-be three malls in our immediate vicinity was manufactured in Asia. So we're supporting off-shoring and questionable labor practices. And, many of the customers buying these sweatshop imports are doing so with credit cards, paying exorbitant interest rates for goods that they don't need and that will probably be out of style before they are paid off.

This isn't true for every shopper, of course. But, I fear that it is for many.

And what do we do with all that stuff anyway? We rent outside space because we run out of room at home. Really, the self-storage industry is one of only a handful that not only weathered the recession but grew faster than inflation.

What's wrong with this picture?

I'm just as guilty as any other mom. Yes, I confess that I have bribed my daughter with shopping trips. I have paid for her affection on more than one occasion. (Way more than one. Way, way, way more.) All of this went through my mind as we drove by yet another mall. I would have discussed it with my daughter, maybe used these observations as a teachable moment. But she was in her own world, earbuds in place, listening to Pandora on her iPhone in the back seat.

Needless to say, we did not stop at any shopping centers on our way back from Vermont. Instead, we unloaded the car and my husband made a nice fire. My daughter studied for her theatre arts quiz and I finished a novel I'd started over the weekend.

Once her test preparation was complete, my daughter brought my iPad over and snuggled up next to me.

"Can we order that shirt from Forever 21 now?" she asked in the sweetest possible voice. She has an assumptive way of making these little requests sound like ultra-natural foregone conclusions. She still had credit on a gift card she received for Christmas. It would be a shame to waste it. Right?

So, at the end of the day, there we were, a cohesive family in front of a roaring fire ... shopping.

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