The Teary Expat Mom, Shopping

by Rachel Pieh Jones on September 4, 2015

A confession…

I am that woman who balances twenty boxes of shoes at the register in Payless. Four pairs of shoes per person. The same shoe in incrementally larger sizes for the kids. Buy one, get one half off.

I am that woman who, in late August, needs two carts at Target.

The Teary Expat Mom, Shopping

I am that woman who needs to drop off her purchases at the car mid-shopping trip because she can’t carry them all.

I am that woman who cries and makes unreasonable demands of her husband in the middle of Kohl’s. Demands like, “Tell me exactly how tall our teenage son will be in two years.” And, “I need to know right now what you plan to want for your birthday next November.” And, “How much peanut butter does one family eat in a year if they are using homemade bread and spreading it real thin and no, I don’t care that Kohl’s doesn’t carry peanut butter because I’m mentally weighing everything while we shop and need to know how much room we have for socks and underwear.”

I am an American expatriate, wife to one and mother to three, returning to a developing country in east Africa and I am a wreck in stores.

I am a little unstable because I am that woman who will not go shopping for another 12-24 months and I need to plan ahead.

The problem is that I don’t know whether it will be 12 or 24 months. If I knew it was going to be 24 months, I would maybe have had more shoes at Payless, another cart at Target, and fewer tears in Kohl’s. Because knowing is half the battle.

But I don’t know.

I don’t know how big Henry’s feet will be in December. I don’t know how fast Lucy will wear through the seat of her swimsuit. I don’t know whether Maggie will be a shorts girl or a skirt girl next spring.

Thankfully, I do know some things, now that I’ve done this all before.

Packing

I know that whites will turn gray in the first wash. I know that certain fabrics will get funny fades and stains by the second month. I know what kind of shirts are best for 115 degree weather. I can guess at the wear and tear on sandals and swimsuits.

And I know that even if our luggage doesn’t arrive, we won’t go naked or hungry.

Last Wednesday I did the first of many returning-to-Africa shopping trips because we had a great coupon for Kohl’s. We filled two carts and marched to the changing rooms where my family filled each room. One by one they tried something on and stepped out. I looked to see how much growing room they had, how much it cost, and checked our list. Then I vetoed or okayed.

Then I asked my husband whether we would be back next summer or not. Whether he would be back this winter to fulfill some work requirements or not. He couldn’t answer and I started to get a headache. I pulled string cheese and fruit snacks from my purse (tip to expat mom shoppers – bring snacks) for the kids and tried not to cry. I also tried not to think about the money. This was for five people for one (or maybe two) years.

I’ve had cashiers at Kohl’s or Old Navy look at our heaps of clothes and laugh and then I say, “We’re going back to Djibouti in a few weeks,” and then, because in Minneapolis they are often Somali employees, we have fantastic conversations while they scan our clothes. They’ll say, “Oh, this will be so wonderful in the heat.” And, “I hope this swimsuit lasts a long time in the ocean.” By the end of the shopping trip we’ve exchanged email or blog addresses and my tears disappear.

And it really isn’t all that bad, we make tough, frugal choices and like I said, none of us have yet gone naked.

What would you make sure to bring on an overseas move?

*image via Flickr

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.

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