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  • Writer's pictureJulia Brady

Empathy Through Shopping

Updated: Dec 23, 2019

My last post touted the joys of non-traditional gift giving. Sharing meaningful words instead of presents. A beautiful gift that can be enjoyed throughout the year, but to be honest it doesn’t fully replace the joy of watching someone tear open a gift you thoughtfully pick out, purchased and hand wrapped.

With the run-up to Christmas, I recognize that the tradition of holiday shopping is an important one in my family. At 11 and 13, my boys are at a tough age when it comes to shopping for them. Topping their wish list is money, followed by gift cards. After much prodding, their dad and I uncovered a few other wishes, mostly sports related. That’s ok, I’ll still force a new book or two on them this year.

As they’ve grown they also want to be part of the gift buying process, giving mom, dad and each other a couple of things to unwrap Christmas morning. Last year they gave input on a few items, joined me for some of the purchasing, and had no interest in wrapping. This year, I decided to try a different approach. I spoke with their dad and he agreed they're old enough to create and manage a gift buying budget, keep track of several $20 bills, and do some shopping on their own. As luck would have it, I’m about 7 months behind on their allowance, so they both had generous budgets for purchasing gifts this year.

We began our Saturday afternoon with a discussion of strategies for shopping. A review of gift ideas as well as budgeting and store selection. After a quick visit to Dick’s Sporting Goods we landed at nearby Northbrook Court Mall. The boys had one hour to shop on their own, working from lists I helped create and their own ingenuity. I parked myself on a barstool at California Pizza Kitchen with a salad and glass of rose, iPhone at the ready to handle any distress calls.

I barely heard from my 5th grader. He spent much of his time in the kitchen store working off my list, and later remarked that, “They acted like they’ve never seen a kid shopping before.” At 4’10” and with an impish grin, Will encountered kind salespeople and had a successful outing. Never mind that he didn’t know the difference between a creamer and whisk. One was on my list, the other is what I’ll get under the tree.

My 7th grader’s experience was much different. As Will is my partner in the kitchen, John got my request for a “pretty sweater” on his list. At a lean 5’7”, John may have looked more like a high schooler shopping for a girlfriend than a 7th grader in search of a nice sweater for mom. As the text excerpt below indicates, this was not a pleasant shopping experience for John. He declared that, “Women are too complicated.” Then went on to text that “Lord and Taylor’s expensive as (bleep), it’s 100 bucks for a decent shirt.”

When we regrouped outside Corner Bakery for a quick bite before the Star Wars movie, (Did I mention that a couple of hours with boys at a mall is best paired with an adrenaline-filled movie?) John remarked that he never plans to shop for a woman again. Uh, right. That evening we talked about Wills joys and John’s challenges of shopping. Women are often tough to buy for. And many retailers prey on timid male shoppers with displays of overpriced items right up front.

While John would prefer never to visit another department store for the rest of his days, I have a feeling this resolve will crack the first time he has a serious girlfriend. The fact that he started his shopping education as a 7th grader will hopefully make him a more discerning and empathic shopper in the future.

Despite initial frustrations, with his brother's help John did eventually select a sweater for me. He proudly told me he found one within his budget, and was so excited he tried to get me to open it right there in Corner Bakery.

The shopping experience provided the boys with a sense of accomplishment and a newfound independence. And I can’t wait to tear into their gifts on Christmas morning.

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