The packages appear unannounced. But they arrive at a steady clip, twice monthly on average. They are emissaries of fashion and a phantom umbilical connection impossible to sever.
Within the cardboard boxes might be a blazer and a pair of cordovans. There’s always a torn-out magazine page included to indicate that they might be worn with a pair of jeans or a plaid shirt. Often there’s a tie included—less as a suggestion than commandment. Even my doormen have arched their eyebrows in commiseration before slipping in some side-eyed judgement.
“Another package from mom,” they’ll say.
I am a married, gainfully employed man who has completed three full decades on Earth, and yet, here I am accepting shipments of designer boxer briefs or a pair of “work slacks” from the woman who bore me. It’s not only UPS doing my mother’s dirty work; sometimes when I’m back at my parents’ house in New Jersey during holidays, I’ll find a clothing display on the dresser in my bedroom, a king’s ransom worth of items for me to haul back to New York. “I got you a little something,” she’ll say.
Before anyone accuses me of being spoiled, let me clarify: my mother, Cindy Urken (aka “Cindles”), is a bonafide shopaholic. In my childhood, I used to justify this otherworldly obsession by the fact that she’s from Neptune—that is, until I realized she was just born in Neptune, New Jersey by the Shore. She ran the interior design section of my dad’s hardware store, and her aesthetic interests extended to her infatuation with clothing. For herself, she’s long had a predilection for YSL pantsuits and Steve Madden fever pumps. For me, she’s into a selection of work and casual outfits. Yet I’m hesitant to reject these generous gestures—despite their infantilizing consequences—because I so loathe shopping.
“I got you a little something,” she’ll say.
During my youth, my mother often dragged me to Marshalls and T.J. Maxx at a local strip mall in my native Princeton, New Jersey. I read the entire canon of YA literature, from the Hardy Boys to Redwall, sitting in the “man chair” at the Quaker Bridge Mall Nordstrom. All those days I spent waiting in shopping centers—escaping the confinement and boredom into a fantasy world—perhaps imprinted upon my psychology a need to avoid the pursuit of sartorial consumption.
Even in the age of e-tail, I rarely shop for clothes, a fact I attribute to post-traumatic stress. In fact, beyond my bespoke wedding suit, an odd pair of sneakers, and a baller Missoni wool tie I got in Florence, there’s not a single item of clothes I’ve bought for myself in the last few years.
Maybe there’s cause for an indictment of my generation in observing my blithe acceptance of my mother’s gifts. Yet I defy those critics to throw shade on a mother’s supreme gesture of love, especially given my otherwise pitiable fashion sense. If it weren’t for her, I’d probably be walking around in a baggy pair of pleated khakis, an ill-fitting slogan T-shirt, and (the horror!) Crocs.
But my mother’s habit is not just symptomatic of materialistic excess and parental altruism; it’s a calculated psychological game to wield influence in the family. Nothing gets my wife, Tiffan, more jealous than when I don a piece from the Cindles Collection. It’s a double-edged disappointment—that she didn’t receive a gift, and that some other person is showering her husband with attention. Tiffan retaliates with a Hart Schaffner Marx trench and a J.W. Hulme bag. And your fashion-challenged protagonist is, in effect, doubly blessed.
My mother’s choices are also filled with subtext. If I’ve gained five pounds, say, I’ll get a new installment of Puma and Nike workout clothes, “just in case you want to go to the gym more.” Through her clothing dispatches, she brandishes an impressive degree of emotional power.
But the Cindles Collection cannot go on forever.
My sister, whose wardrobe does not depend on this influx, sat my mother down for a stern talking-to with a spreadsheet and all. There was some actuarial discussion: Factoring in Social Security and current market conditions, it’s clear she can’t keep buying her son boat shoes and chinos.
But my livelihood, my sharpness, depends on this bounty. When I caught word of this consultation, I let forth a twelve-letter invective: Et tu, Nicole? Regardless, my sister stands firm. Of course, my mother hasn’t behaved.
“Cindles has gone rogue,” go my sister’s texts, alerting me when my mother has confessed she’s taken a recent trip to DSW or Bloomingdale’s on my behalf. And sure enough, the packages will arrive a day or two later.
How you present yourself is vital to success, my mother always told me. “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression,” she’ll say.
We’re supposed to do a Mother’s Day meal in New York CIty. I know how this will go. I’ll walk into my building the day before, and my doorman will twist his eyebrows into little circumflexes as he hands me a parcel. In it, I’ll find a new polo shirt. And inevitably a Merino wool sweater.
“This shirt might work well at brunch,” Cindles will write. “And bring the sweater in case it’s cold.”
From: Esquire US
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