My mother carries a paper outline of my right foot around with her at all times. Initially, it was the sole of an old sandal she found abandoned in my closet when I packed up for college, which eventually evolved into a more flexible, less-worn version of the same concept. There was the cardboard model for a while, then the Dr. Scholl’s insert. In its most recent adaptation, my foot was traced onto a piece of beautiful Crane’s cardstock I gave her for Mother’s Day about a decade ago.
The process of stenciling my footprint was only slightly mortifying. Still, it was a necessary step that had to be taken.
She deploys this stencil every time she strolls through a shoe department having a sale. While I’ve never seen her in action, I assume the scene goes something like this: amidst the rows of overflowing racks, something catches her eye in a 7.5. She discreetly shoves my foot’s Flat Stanley in to check its size, sends me a picture, and on certain fortuitous occasions, a purchase is made.
Perhaps it’s a little strange – even marginally overboard – that as a 21-year-old, I still rely on my mom to pick out a good portion of my clothing. There’s a whiff of emotional reliance about the process coupled with the danger of living-above-one’s-means that I should probably stop ignoring. But I’d like to suggest, if only to save some face, that there is something grander at work here: a bonding activity that doesn’t make me childish, but rather, keeps us in contact.
Over the years, my mother has become my most trusted shopping partner. It took work to achieve our particular level of shopping telepathy. There were arguments, sensitive feelings, returned shirts, a few tears. But shopping has become a part of our ritual, like a passed-down tradition from grandmother to mother to me. If something is worth celebrating, we shop. If either of us is upset, we shop. If it’s a nice day, we shop. If it’s crappy out, we still shop. And the physical distance between us is nothing; we’ve turned Skype sessions into dressing room consultations and Facetime calls into proper fittings. Call us hopeless materialists if you want. I prefer to think of it as upgraded retail therapy.
Groups of friends bond this way too, of course — the idea of shopping companions is nothing new. But I’ve never been able to enjoy such team jaunts, however, because feelings of impatience and distrust lurk in my mind when third party judgements threaten to invade. It’s my mom, and my mom alone, whose dressing room opinion I trust.
Friends wonder aloud about my close relationship with my mother, vaguely hinting that it appears a large part of me forgot to grow up. Or, perhaps more ominously, actively refuses to. And I guess they have a point. This habit has turned me into somewhat of a helicopter child, entering adulthood attached to her both financially and emotionally. It can be hard to accept that at age 21, my mom still does things for me. Helps support me. My proverbial umbilical cord stretches through a cardstock cut-out and text messages about shoes.
The nice thing about moms, though, is that you can’t outgrow them. And besides, my feet stopped growing years ago.
Written by Emily Ferber. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, ELLE and The Atlantic.