Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jazzin' Saturdays

My mother was a wonderful, loving, fun, generous person. She sacrificed a lot as a single, working mom to make sure we were loved and cared-for. But had she lived to a ripe old age, it's likely she would have been diagnosed as a compulsive shopper.

The idea was unheard of during my childhood. All we knew was that Mom loved to shop. She loved to buy things more than she loved her marriage, her financial security or her peace of mind (or ours). Clearly, there was more going on than just shopping.

She and her sister called their every-weekend forays "jazzin'." As in, "We're goin' out jazzin' today!" Mom had really good taste (nothing like mine) but she didn't buy anything we truly needed or anything particularly valuable. She wasn't a collector or a connoisseur.

She just loved to acquire nice things. I remember the naughty look of delight on her face when she would display her latest take: Clothes, shoes, home decor, toys, furniture. It was the thrill of the chase more than the actual purchases that kept her going.

Her hobby was, unfortunately, also her downfall. Constantly in debt, she played a shell game with creditors, paying down one account while charging up another, opening new accounts here and getting fresh credit there. She hid bills from my father until one memorable day when he opened some unexpected mail and she got caught. She got older and did not have a penny of savings set aside.

To this day, I dislike shopping. It just flat-out bores and exhausts me. I avoid debt and save more than most Americans. Undoubtedly, part of my aversion is the negative conditioning of my childhood. But there may also be more to it than that.

Knowing there may have been some kind of predisposition (Mom often talked about her own mother's impulsive shopping sprees) makes it easier to understand what Mom went through. I adored her and still miss her, nearly a decade after she died way too soon. I just wish we could have had more insight into her behavior back when. Maybe we could have spared her some of the considerable anguish she went through feeding her compulsion.


  1. I do not want my bank knowing my genetic make-up, thank you. Oh god, more legislation.

    Another generous, heartfelt post. I have a relative who seems to have this gene. Through hard lessons, she has learned to channel it to thrift stores. It gives her great pleasure to shop; for her it's a creative outlet. But for a while there, it was some scary spending.

  2. I think it'll be a while before banks request - let alone get permission - to test our genes. But I wouldn't rule it out forever. Probably just not in my lifetime.

    If we'd have known that Mom had a real problem, rather than just being irresponsible, I think we would have had a shot at getting her counseling and maybe found a more positive outlet like your relative found.

    I have a friend who shops for nonprofits or to decorate houses that are going to be featured in home tours or as model homes. That would've been perfect for my mom.

  3. That sounds great. I may make that suggestion.