Confessions of a Target Mom

I am not a Soccer Mom.  At least I don’t consider myself to be one.  I am a Mom and my daughter did play soccer.  Well, she had a uniform, shin guards and cleats and she occasionally kicked a soccer ball if it came close to her.  She probably thinks I am a Soccer Mom. Still, I fight that label, even if I do drive a Volvo SUV.

If I must carry a label, then it should at least reflect something more consistent in my life and in the lives of women like me.  The sad thing is that the most appropriate label for me is “Target Mom”.

I love Target.  A lot of us do.  It isn’t just that we shop there or that we are particularly prolific shoppers.  We just like Target.  A lot.  (Did I really say “love” earlier?)

This unnatural and maybe unhealthy affinity for Target cuts across somewhat broad social and economic boundaries.  It is a common thread that exists between working and stay-at-home moms.  It is a subculture that seems harmless enough, but now that I realize I am part of it, I can’t stop thinking about why.

Every mom I know spends a lot of time at Target.  But so do a lot of moms I don’t know.  I see them there.  Some look like me.  But a lot don’t.  Moms from all different worlds, come together everyday in this sub-society.  Sometimes, we even make eye-contact.

I don’t mean to imply that all of today’s moms love Target, but there are a lot of us who do.  It might be interesting to look at who we are, why we all love Target and what that means – or could mean – in broader social terms.  Could we be an important political force?  Do our shopping habits impact the world (for better or for worse?), and if we changed them, could we change the world?

Ok, I am getting carried away here, but if Wal-Mart is taking over the world, maybe Target Moms can counter that in some way or another.  We could at least make sure we get more Targets!

I’ve thought about spending some time conducting an informal survey and talking to other Target Moms to see what we have in common, what we care about, and what, if anything, we’d be willing to do about it.  I’m marginally qualified to manage (but probably not to conduct) that kind of research project.  I’m at least as qualified for this as I was for the other things I did and actually got paid for.

Maybe this is my calling.  I’ve always wanted a calling.  Some people feel they are called on to explore the workings of our universe or the make-up of DNA.  Perhaps I am being called on to explore the social sciences related to shopping at big box stores – a universe unto itself.

Maybe I could use the information and experience to write a book or do something that will get me an appearance on the Today Show …or Ellen?  I don’t watch Ellen but my Mom who lives with me does and it seems funny.  I’m not the Oprah type, but maybe other Target Moms watch Oprah.  I really couldn’t turn her down if she called.  I need to lose 30 pounds before that happens.  Better go to Target to get some new exercise clothes!  Wait, when does her show end? Shit, too late.

I’m guessing that all of that research has probably already been done by Target and that is why they are so good at getting us to shop there.  Plus, I am afraid of what I might find out about myself.  What if Target Moms are monsters — mutant products of this competitive, consumption-driven society that I say I reject yet blindly buy into everyday.  What if we are hypocrites who think we care about the environment and human rights but aren’t willing to pay more than six bucks for a pair of flip-flops for those causes.  What if we are just suckers – hypnotized into buying crap we don’t need.

Perhaps I shouldn’t look too closely, or get too scientific.   Still, contemplating this is my new calling — or at least new task to add to my list of things to do at Target.

Why Target Moms and not Target People?

I am focusing my imaginary research on women.  I only use the term “mom” because we can use the kids as an excuse to go to Target more often than women without kids.  But men, they just don’t get it.  That is not to say they dislike Target.  They tolerate it because it is better than a mall and they figure it might save a buck, but they don’t get why we Target Moms spend so much time (and money) there.

Men don’t get it because they generally function on a single track.  My husband is a successful guy.  He is a smart lawyer who would be the best person to call as your “Life Line” if you ever end up on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” or some high-stakes game of Trivial Pursuit.  He knows a lot and can do a lot of things.  He just can not do any two things at the same time.

Every weekend he makes a to-do list and goes down it item by item – never thinking how he could accomplish two things at the same time, never realizing that he could probably accomplish three out of five of them at Target.  If Target had a dry-cleaners and a nap room, he could probably go there to do everything he needs to on any given weekend.

Women however, (or at least Target Moms) are multi-tasking beasts.  Target is, by its very design, a haven for multi-tasking.  We can do it all (or a lot of it) at Target.  Of course, that isn’t always a good thing when you go thinking you need two things but buy at least three more.  On your way to pick up q-tips, you pick up a few candles to make your bathroom more spa-like.  It will never really be spa-like but the candles can’t hurt, right?

So Different, Yet So Alike

I’m white and live in a very white world.  I didn’t grow up that way.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not like Michael Jackson or anything — I’ve always been white.  But, the community where I grew up was wonderfully diverse, so I grew up with black friends and Indian friends and all kinds of friends.  Where I live now is very white, so I need to spend time talking to Target Moms who look different than me.  I bet they aren’t that different than me because they seem to have a lot of the same stuff in their carts.

Despite the lack of ethnic diversity, I live in several divergent worlds – or at least divergent social circles.  They conflict in a lot of ways, but there is a common thread.  Clearly, that thread is Target.

My former career-driven existence was based in and around Washington, D.C. with long hours, lots of travel and little time for family.  I never made time for exercise or books or other things important to body and soul.  I did make time for Target.

Another of my worlds includes my long-time friends who live in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, with its charming cobble stone streets and quaint shops in walking distance from the million-dollar townhomes with no closets.  It is yuppie heaven where successful young couples socialize with the next generation of old money aristocrats.  At a birthday party for a three-year old, I spotted not one, but two $1000-strollers.  What exactly does a $1000-stroller do that is so dramatically different from say the $200 variety?  Does it change the diapers for you?  Does it look that much cooler?

Moms at the party – the party that included painting and pizza and other stuff that any normal three-year-old would certainly smear onto Mommy’s outfit — wore Lilly Pulitzer skirts and Prada sandals.  I thought maybe if I’d kept working I too could have, would need to have, the $1000 stroller.  Maybe that is why all those Moms are so thin – maybe the stroller helped them burn more calories to and from the playground. I felt like an alien looking into a very different world.  It felt that way until I noticed what those women did with their kids’ dirty diapers.  They wrapped them up in those tell-tale white bags dotted with red concentric circles.  Those women all shop at Target too.

My current life is in the rural exurbs where we say we live in the country but most of us are suburbanites in exile.  There are pockets of wealth and of near poverty, but mostly it is a community of upper middle class families who might have tightened their belts a bit to buy a chunk of land or to let Mom stay home with the kids or to let someone leave the corporate world to pursue their artistic inclinations.  There is less expendable income here than in the world of $1000-strollers.  Kids wear hand-me-downs.  The moms wear brands that are either not distinguishable or at least not noticed.  We drive 30 minutes to go to Target.

My daughter goes to school in the nearby suburbs.  (Yes, I commute into the suburbs.  I never said I wasn’t crazy.)  When I am in the vicinity of my daughter’s school, I go to another Target.  It is different than my Target, but still the same.  It is busier and more ethnically diverse, but otherwise, just like my Target.  The slightly more upscale and slightly more diverse mixture of suburban moms stroll the aisles between other errands.  Little Sally in her tights rides in the cart for the hour after her ballet class ends but before Timmy gets out of Kindergarten.   One Mom told me that she had been to two different Targets that same day.

How We Love Target – Let us Count the Ways…

1) Growing Necessities

It seems simple.  You go to Target to run an errand – to get something you need.  But this unfolds into a smörgåsbord of shopping.  You go to get one thing, but are immediately reminded that you need to pick up a birthday card for your Mom or that new DVD your kid has been wanting to see, or bubbles (because it is spring and kids love bubbles).  You appreciate that Target helps you remember all these other things that you might need.

Target is better than your Day Runner calendar. There is probably a Target ap for my iphone that I have yet to discover.  Target helps you plan ahead.  That bright new spring display helps you remember that Easter is coming (at some point) and isn’t it great that you can get ahead of the rush by picking out nifty stuff (its so cheap, it would be stupid not to get it) for Easter baskets, or holiday stockings, or birthday parties, or summer luaus, because you think you might have a summer luau some day and you’d better get those palm tree margarita glasses now or they might not be there come August.

Do you know anyone who gets out for under $50? I can’t get out for under $100.  You go for shampoo and end up with new towels or a new formal dress for your daughter (in the catalogues it would cost you $75…at Target is under $20 and maybe you’ll get her picture taken in it even if she doesn’t have any real occasion to wear it otherwise).

2) The Best of the Good Old Days

Target is a place to shop, but it is also an escape.  It is a bright, colorful place that wraps us in nostalgia.  Memories of a happy childhood (maybe not yours, but someone’s happy childhood) appear in all shapes and forms.  Preppy plaid skorts, bean bag chairs, jewel-encrusted bell bottoms, art deco clocks – every generation’s icons reappear and help us escape to a better time, even if we aren’t sure why or if it really was better.

3) Keeping Up with the J-Los

At the same time we are running that important errand, we are also getting our “cool” fix because Target is an easy way for the suddenly aged and uncool to keep up with new trends.  If Target is knocking it off, it’s gotta’ be hot somewhere.  And, it is a lot cheaper than the trendy stores at the mall, so you can afford to take a risk and buy those gouchos, even if you swore you’d never wear them again after that humiliating experience in seventh grade.

4) The Thrill of the Hunt

While shopping isn’t sport to me, I do like to find a bargain.  It is some weird badge of honor when you get something for next to nothing.  There is a slight thrill in it at the time of purchase, but the real satisfaction comes later when you can’t help but tell people what a good deal it was.  “That pottery bowl is beautiful.”  “Thanks.  I got it for half price!”  Our mothers would have let their friends think they spent full price, but not us.  No, for Target Moms finding a good deal is the real measure of our success. We love Target because it makes us feel successful, even when we buy stuff we don’t need.

5) Anything for the Kids

Target also lets us say “yes” to our kids more often than we could otherwise.  And we like saying yes to our kids.  I know that isn’t always a good thing and that kids need limits.  But it is fun to not always have to say “no”.  Yes, you can have those Hello Kitty clogs because they only cost eight bucks and they are so adorable and I loved hello Kitty when I was 9 and even if you can’t walk in normal shoes without tripping, I’m sure those clogs will work great, and they are only eight bucks.

I am trying to teach my daughter that she can’t get everything she wants right when she wants it. We experiment with different ways of her “earning” spending money and then she has to make the tough decisions about what she really wants to spend that hard-earned money on.  She prefers to spend it at Target, and I don’t blame her.  She recently chose a Barbie that didn’t put her back more than $5.  I know my first Malibu Barbie cost me $5.49, and that was more than 30 years ago.  She is getting a much better deal than I did and she knows it.

I guess that really doesn’t have anything to do with Target, but rather with the fact that the people who make toys in China have not had a raise (or probably even a coffee break) in 25 years.  I’d like to think technology has made it possible for them to crank out toys more efficiently than they did in the 1970s, but I imagine there is a darker side to her cheap Barbie.

Fortunately, it is so bright and colorful in Target that my mind seldom goes to those dark places.  Instead I see a happy kid who likes getting things for cheap.  She just needs to learn not to brag about that when she proudly presents someone with a gift I got on sale.


One response

21 08 2013

very funny!

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