On Buying my Sister a Going-Away Gift

An exercise in futility

I could go to Target. Or maybe Kohl’s. Not Walmart. She would be offended about being forced to go to Walmart to return it. Returning gifts is always a possibility with her. We got that from Mom. From the fact that we had to return so many gifts she gave us. I couldn’t stand to go into a Macy’s. Really, I should go to one of those boutique shops downtown. The kind that spell “shoppe” with an extra ‘p’ and an ‘e.’ Better yet, I should have spent the last month in all the little boutique shoppes in all the downtowns I could go to, just so I can find that one perfect thing out of all the things that is uniquely meant for her. The one thing that shows how much I know, and therefore love, her. But the problem is I don’t know her.

Not that she knows me. Like the mint-themed party she threw me when she didn’t know about that time I swore off mint forever the morning after getting drunk on peppermint schnapps in college during that bad break up. She didn’t know he was my first love. I don’t know who her first love was, either. It wasn’t the high school boyfriend she married at 19 out of spite toward the rest of us. Perhaps it was that sexy Juan she dated after the divorce. He was first-love-worthy. She still thinks that I think she didn’t sleep with him. Juan, that is, not the high school boyfriend. We didn’t share that kind of information.

So I go to Target.

I am assaulted at the door with clothes. Long lines of clothing for which I have no descriptors. High-waist when I thought that low-waist was the thing. Short cardigans when I thought long cardigans in. And somehow they’re bringing back clothes with bows on them. I would like bows to stay firmly in the 80’s, please. Clothes are useless. I can’t make heads or tails of the jungles of a young and chic 30's-working-upper-class wardrobe, what with my “college-student-at-40-style.” Next. Maybe jewelry?

But at the jewelry department I am humbled again. When did gaudy become stylish? Am I really that old? None of this stuff looks even remotely like what my sister wears. But, to be honest, I don’t even see the kind of clothes and jewelry she wears on a daily basis. Just the things she wears to our family gatherings every few months. And I can’t for the life of me tell you what kind of jewelry she wore three months ago.

Maybe something for her kitchen. I think I remember her saying that she and her husband like to have dinner parties. Or, at least they did, pre-pandemic and pre-baby. Will they have more dinner parties now that they’re moving to hip and happening NorCal? Or, maybe, just being so close to his family, they’ll have more people over. She gave me a cutting board once that I liked. Maybe she would like one in return. But, now that I think about it, that cutting board is in the basement. Maybe something else. Pots? Pans? A really nice wok? Do they eat stir-fry? There’s some nice stemware. But do they drink wine? They have a wine rack in their dining room, but it always seems to be full of the same four bottles. And they drink local micro-brews whenever I see them. Maybe beer mugs? No, I can’t envision my upscale sister drinking beer out of a giant glass mug.

I know. Something for the baby. Clothes are always useful, and easier to choose than the wilds of retro-chic-millennial style. I know that my niece is 15 months old, but what size does she wear? I could text my sister and ask, but wouldn’t that be revealing my hand? Besides, my sister would be offended that I don’t already know that information. Toys, bath items, food items, baby stuff. Here’s all the things I liked having for my kids, but this is starting to feel familiar. I have a sudden flash of being at my sister’s baby shower where my “bag of useful mom supplies” was laid to rest in favor of the latest trends in mom-dom. Things like disposable diapers with cute covers. And the newest all-natural baby products, backed by scientific research, with tons of multi-syllabic, intelligent-sounding ingredients that no one knew until so-and-so commercial made it accessible and such-and-such celebrity made it trendy. And techno toys that make your baby do and say and learn everything you could possibly want them to do say and learn by the time they are one year old. Not to mention that my gift was pink. Apparently it’s all the rage to get neutral colors so the baby can choose to be their own person. Who knew?

I leave the baby aisle and the bad memories of being with mothers a generation and a social class removed from me.

I come to the home department, complete with small models of living rooms in case you’re a horrible interior designer. That’s me, but they assume that since people like me are horrible interior designers, that we want our home to look like a magazine. Or a store model. But we don’t. My sister does. She wants her home to look like a Pottery Barn. Is that even still a thing? Should I go there? My luck, they’re all closed and the next big thing has taken it’s place. Just as well. Target will have to suffice.

There’s an end table with a large golden ball on it. The ball is $30. It’s made of something synthetic and hollow. I don’t really understand what they’re going for, so I put it down again.

Here’s an entire aisle of candles, another of picture frames, yet another of pillows. I pick up a candle. Her favorite scent a couple years ago was coconut. But a candle feels pedantic. Too simple. Too generic. I look through the picture frames. But what picture would I put in it? One of our many perfectly posed sisters pictures? Where it looks like we’re all besties?

Pillows? Too bulky. Wall hangings? Too big. Alarm clocks? Lamps? Storage? Bath products? Sheets? Blankets? Towels? No, no, no, no, and no.

It occurs to me that whatever I pick out in this entire store will be wrong for my sister. Especially wrong for her new California home. I would be willing to bet that the Targets in California don’t even have the same inventory as those here in Colorado. That’s one reason she’s moving back. Like the time she told me my clothes were “so last year.” I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. She went on to tell me that it was OK because Colorado was behind the trend from California. I still own (and wear) those clothes.

And with that I come around to the clothing department again.

I’ve been through this whole store. I really should have gone for the “shoppe.” But now my afternoon is gone and I have to pick up my kids soon.

I make a decision.

I pick out a long cardigan. I don’t need it, but it would be nice to have one in this shade of blue to add to my other blue cardigans. I get pull-ups for my two-year-old, an adorable pink dinosaur dress for my five-year-old. We need garbage bags, so I might as well get those while I’m here. And milk. I’m out of tampons, my husband is out of his favorite iced tea. I should grab those cookies my kids love as a special treat. On the way to the check out line, I pick up a fall wreath that will look great on my front door. It’s only $5!

My Target run done, I am pulling out of the parking lot when I remember my sister.

The party is tomorrow. They leave Monday.

I’ll send cash.

Originally published at http://runninginshadows.wordpress.com on November 28, 2020.

Writer, educator, mom, coffee lover. I write memoir and creative nonfiction about psychology and mental health. Twitter @running_shadows IG @s_annewriter

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