One October Saturday when I was 16, Mom and I went shopping. (Ah, those idyllic days when I actually enjoyed shopping! Little did I know that spending my own money would strip the joy right out of it.) During the course of the afternoon, I found a sweater I wanted. It was love at first sight. It was a chocolate brown, boucle-knit, cowl-neck, batwing sweater. (It was 1981, ok?) It was gorgeous, the most beautiful sweater I had ever seen, and made me feel pretty, sophisticated, and sexy. (I didn't tell Mom that last part.)
Somehow, Mom convinced me to wait, to look around some more. I was skeptical, and probably a little petulant, but I reluctantly agreed.
A couple of weeks later, we returned to the same store. I flew across the store to the rounder where that sweater would surely be waiting for me to love it forever.
I was heartbroken. And then I was mad at Mom in the way that only a 16-year-old girl can get mad at her mother. I was rude, I was snotty, I was insufferable. I whined and cried and castigated my mother for not letting me get the sweater when I first saw it. I swore that my LIFE was OVER, no one would EVER LOVE me, all the boys would think I was UGLY and I was SURE to get bad grades and NOT get asked to the PROM because I didn't get the chocolate brown, boucle-knit, cowl-neck, batwing sweater and she was the MEANEST, worst mom ever and it was SO UNFAIR!!!!!!!
Mom listened in stoic silence as I fretted and flounced back to the car. She pulled out of the parking lot and headed home, quiet against my dramatic railing. Finally, with the car stopped at a stop light, she turned to look at me. During a pause in my Oscar-worthy monologue, she said:
"The sweater is under my bed. I bought it the day after we were here before. It's a Christmas present for you."
That shut me up. I don't really remember what I mumbled in reply, but I'm sure it included "I'm sorry" and "I didn't know" surrounded by many tears but, really, it didn't matter. She put me in my place but good. I remember feeling embarrassed and sheepish.
Nothing keeps a 16-year-old girl down for long. Soon, possibly even later that day (I had some seriously stupid cojones at 16), I asked if I could have the sweater then, since I knew it was there. My mother said that because of my horrible behavior she wasn't sure she was going to keep the sweater...but if she did, I would not get it until Christmas Day..and I would not know until Christmas Day if she had decided to keep it or not.
I would like to report that I spent the next two months in a constant state of anticipation and mortification but I didn't. I do remember that I was curious about the fate of the sweater - and also that I still wanted it. It was a great sweater.
By Christmas morning, though, I was definitely on pins and needles. As we exchanted gift after gift, I would think "is this the one?" but my hopes faded with each opened box.
Finally, there was only one gift left for me. The box was the right size, the right shape, the right weight to contain a chocolate brown, boucle-knit, cowl-neck, batwing sweater. My breath caught in my throat and my heart stopped beating as I tore through the wrapping. I closed my eyes as I pushed back the tissue paper...
There it was. Chocolate brown. Boucle knit. Cowl neck. Batwing sleeves. The sweater of my dreams and of my humiliation. The sweater that showed that my mother loved me more than she disliked my behavior.
I wore the chocolate brown, boucle-knit, cowl-neck, batwing sweater to Grammie's that day and on many, many occasions after that. I really did love that sweater - to this day I remember the richness of the color, the soft nubbiness of the boucle knit, how deep the cowl and how wide the batwing sleeves...but more importantly, I have never forgotten the shame I felt when Mom turned to me in the car that day and showed me with a few quiet words how petty and self-centered I could be.
The sweater is long gone, of course, but the lesson has stayed with me for almost 30 years.