Selective amnesia and men who hate to shop

Do you suffer from selective amnesia? Do you ever wonder why you can’t learn from experience?

A couple of years after I was married, I needed to buy a dress. I can’t remember why, but I clearly recall my mother suggesting that she go shopping with me to “help” me pick something out. Now, I had a happy childhood. My mother was an enthusiastic follower of Dr. Spock and never made us eat yicky things, or go to bed without supper. She had that invaluable mother trait of uncritical approval of much of what her children did. She was a good listener. We talked regularly and were friends. But, there was one dark spot in this tale of early bliss. I have terrifying memories of clothes shopping with my mother. (Mom, if you are reading this, my children all assured me that their scariest memories are also of shopping with their mother.)

But when my mother called, I had a sudden episode of selective amnesia. I told myself, “Gee. It will be a bonding opportunity. Shopping with her can’t have really been as bad as I remembered. And, even if it was, I’m an adult. I have my own credit card. We’ll shop together, and afterwards I’ll laugh at all those dark memories, and wonder how my childish fears ever got so blown out of proportion.”

Well, I don’t want to talk what actually happened. But I returned home that night pale and trembling.

“Please,” I said to my husband. “Whatever you do, don’t ever let me go clothes shopping with my mother again.”

I was thinking about this as I was Christmas shopping with my husband. When I first got married, I discovered something shocking about men. They don’t shop. Except for selected items. My husband will spend months reading magazines, searching the internet, even going to stores, to find the right stereo, computer, or bicycle. He will buy software or CD’s. Occasionally, he will enter a bookstore. He will even shop for clothes; every six years or so. On those occasions he arms himself with me or some other female who understands colors, and makes a blitzkrieg attack on the clothing racks, returning home with enough shirts, slacks, and suits to last; six years or so. But to get him to actually enter a furniture store, a kids clothing store, or a mall to do Christmas shopping, would require ropes, and chains. His tradition, during the fall months, was to play golf one weekend, leaving me at home with the kids, and “let” me go Christmas shopping, all by myself, the next weekend. He reasoned that we both got a day to ourselves to do what we wanted. And his day cost a lot less, and he never brought home anything that would have to be stepped over for months afterwards.

So one year, when out of the blue, he offered to “help” me Christmas shop, I was thrilled. I pictured a scene out of the movies. A happy couple, walking hand in hand, through the bright and magical world of 20th century retail Christmas, against a backdrop of snow and tinsel. But after trudging proudly though several stores, husband in hand, I suddenly realized something. There was a reason that he had decided to “help” me Christmas shop. It was to prevent me from doing any foolish. Like spending money on something non-essential. Non-essential being defined as everything that was not a stereo, a computer, a CD, or a bicycle.

This year, as we went into store after store at the Emerald mall, and he talked me out of present after present, I realized that once again I had succumbed to selective amnesia. As we left the mall empty handed, he said, with a fair amount of satisfaction. “Well, that’s my Christmas shopping for this year.”

“Yes, you’ve succeeded.” I commented.

“What?” he said, with an innocent, and aggrieved look on his face.

“You can read about in the Foxboro reporter.” I snarled.

And I made The Vow. Next year. I said to myself. Next year, I’ll remember. Next year no one will “talk me” out of buying everything I want. And then, right before my eyes, selective amnesia struck.

“I did have fun,” I said to myself, revising my story before I had even left the store. “I did go out to lunch. Not every conversation consisted of “No, they don’t need one of those.”

“Just most of them.” I argued back.

“And, maybe,” I continued, unabashed, “He’s right. Maybe the kids don’t need more superballs with insects in them, or another all-purpose jackknife tool that they will have lost before January first. Maybe that bathrobe will be 20 dollars less the day after Christmas. Maybe the kids really would rather have some new CDs. And,” I continued, not ever knowing when to stop, “maybe you really should try shopping with your mother again…”

Without selective amnesia, that part of us that remembers the good times, and erases the bad memories, the human race would be lost. Because no woman would ever have more than one child. But maybe we could get some shopping done.

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