I ring mum everyday; yes, everyday. Without fail. Okay, unless there are things I absolutely cannot miss, and even then, I would make sure I inform her prior to time. Otherwise, we’ll be on the phone from half seven for three-quarters of an hour each evening.
We have maintained this routine for all of the 13 (no, nearly 14) years I have been away; it has become an abiding institution.
Now, I know what you must be thinking: the phone bills. Well yes (sheepishly), I do spend a lot on that.
It’s not that we haven’t considered Skype or Apple’s Facetime – gor-gor (elder brother) even bought me an Apple iPad specifically so that I could do Facetime with mum – but I have always preferred the good ol’ landline.
You see, I dread having to comb my hair, or cover up my (new) freckles, before I make each call — lest mum questions what I have or have not done to my fringe, or lectures me for getting into too much sun – and having to feel conscious when I put on a pound or two. It sounds crazy, no doubt, but it’s just one of those things; you know, one of those idiosyncratic things.
Still, mum is happy, as long as I spend time with her, whatever the medium, and I am happy as long as she is happy. And the bonding is worth every cent it costs me.
Speaking of bonding, however, nothing compensates for the sheer impossibility of doing things together, like sharing a meal, watching a movie, taking long pre-dawn walks, chatting over afternoon tea, laying my head on her lap…
Yes, Dad, you heard me right. And I hear you sigh: WHY am I not surprised?
C’mon, Daddy, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten how much this soul-saving, life-affirming activity was a preeminent enterprise to both mum and me, and I suspect, to many other women — and men — as well. Hey, even Hilary Clinton confessed to discussing shopping with other women world leaders in between their meaty talks of world affairs.
I used to think this (what you termed “brain-dulling”) obsession was driven purely by the innate pleasure people derive from buying things, by their natural desire to look good and feel good from wearing and owning those things, or simply by a visceral lust to possess. And so, sating that obsession is like fulfilling an obligation, like feeding a hunger, or satisfying a basic humanly need.
So, now that I am a bit older, and that obsessive need seems to have more or less petered out, I find myself blaming age (and physical decline) for the dissipation in my erstwhile passion — as years do to some physiological needs.
Don’t get me wrong, I have not become abstemious (you wish!), and definitely not ascetic; I still enjoy buying dresses and shoes and bags and dolling up. But gone are the days when I could move from mall to mall for hours and hours and hours. These days, shopping is tolerated in very small doses — the law of diminishing return sets in quickly and fiercely — perhaps a couple of hours in many, many months.
While it is true age has brought with it sense, and (social and cost) consciousness, and responsibilities, that seem to diminish the appeal of consumption, I have come to realise the real reason for this attitudinal change is probably more that the impetus to shop to fortify our family bond is simply not there any more.
Shopping with mum was always an exciting activity: we’d choose clothes for each other (and ourselves), and share the same fitting room, and ask for each other’s opinions. We’d sit down for coffee at the coffee shop to rest our feet and to make more plans for the remaining day.
Then, when we got home, we would sit you down, and start parading our purchases. Although you’d often (pretend to) frown at yet more frocks, more tops, more women’s trousers, I remember how your eyes would invariably light up when you approved what you saw.
“Guess what we paid for this, Dad.”
“$300?” you would massively exaggerate (if only to add to our triumphal euphoria).
“No, $50 – can you believe it?” Mum and I would giggle in delight.
Well, now that the armchair from where you watched us is permanently empty, now that mum is miles away from me, is it any wonder I have saved enough to call mum everyday?