I should have known better than to venture into Target last weekend, but I didn't recognize the signs. The full parking lot. The couples laboring behind loaded shopping carts on their way to SUV's. Free samples of shampoo as soon as I walked through the door. Teenaged kids shopping with their parents. Aisles stacked with boxes of microwaves and mini fridges.
Move in day.
I remember it well.
Forty three years ago I arrived in the same town to the same campus in the back seat of a Buick Skylark. Mom and Dad were in the front, and everything I'd need for the next year was packed neatly in the trunk with room to spare. It wasn't all that much.
Enough clothes to fill the three piece set of Hartman luggage that I got for graduation, a set of sheets, a popcorn popper, a portable manual typewriter, two towels, two washcloths, laundry bag, detergent, a dictionary, and bathroom and school supplies. As best I recall, that was it. Maybe my high school yearbook and a picture of the high school boyfriend. But definitely no rug, no dorm furniture, no egg carton mattress pad, no TV, no supply of snacks and soda.
We carried it all to my room in no more than two trips and no need of a dolly. We walked around campus a bit and then they left. As they hugged me goodbye, Dad slipped me an emergency ten (maybe a twenty), and Mom said, "You'll do fine. Call collect on Sunday."
Thirty one and thirty four years later, I did it with my own daughters. We drove across country in an SUV overflowing with clothes and stuff. And after we unloaded it (dolly and extra help needed), I didn't turn around and go home. We took the obligatory trip to Wal-Mart or Target for everything they needed, but didn't pack.
They were quick to figure out that this was a time when Mom would spring for just about anything.
"I don't know if I'll want diet or non-diet Coke," they'd say.
"Get both," I'd respond. "Maybe some juice too. And yogurt."
"Everybody says I'll need one of those mattress pads for my bed."
"Throw one in."
"Ooh, I like that lamp."
"Let's get it."
My guess is that those shopping trips were my way of extending the time before I had to leave. Or perhaps, in filling their nests, mine didn't feel quite so empty.
But as I left Target last weekend and watched parents pushing loaded carts out to big SUV's I couldn't help wondering whether the last words of advice we're giving to our kids as we send them out into the world might have changed from the comforting and liberating words of, "You'll do fine," and, "Call collect," to the mantra of our time, "Consume, consume, consume."