Photo by fotografierende from Pexels
Birthday Wish: A Pair of Silk Stockings
Kate Chopin's short story, "A Pair of Silk Stockings", invites us to judge a mama who dares to indulge herself. I couldn't help but relate to its central character today, but have written myself a happier ending.
The story is about Mrs. Sommers, a mother who spends her days caring for her children and budgeting every penny. One day she comes across a sum of cash (the story never reveals how) and she immediately starts thinking about what her kids could use. She goes to the store with the intention of purchasing children's clothing and while waiting at the counter, her hand lands on a pair of silk stockings. She is transfixed for a moment at the feel of them, as she had forgotten the thrill of personal indulgence:
...a young girl who stood behind the counter asked her if she wished to examine their line of silk hosiery. She smiled, just as if she had been asked to inspect a tiara of diamonds with the ultimate view of purchasing it. But she went on feeling the soft, sheeny luxurious things - with both hands now, holding them up to see them glisten, and to feel them glide serpent-like through her fingers. Two hectic blotches came suddenly into her pale cheeks. She looked up at the girl.
Mrs. Sommers proceeds to purchase not only the stockings, but new gloves and shoes for herself, then enjoys a fancy lunch and relaxes at a matinée. Afterward,
The play was over, the music ceased, the crowd filed out. It was like a dream ended. People scattered in all directions. Mrs. Sommers went to the corner and waited for the cable car. A man with keen eyes, who sat opposite to her, seemed to like the study of her small, pale face. It puzzled him to decipher what he saw there. In truth, he saw nothing—unless he were wizard enough to detect a poignant wish, a powerful longing that the cable car would never stop anywhere, but go on and on with her forever.
Today, I could not stop thinking of this Cinderella-ish story. Today is my 37th birthday, and I began it by going out for a haircut (which I only do about twice a year) and then proceeded to shop for items only for myself. That's right. No groceries, no diapers, no dog food. Not even any kitchen utensils or home decor. I bought sweaters, boots, hair ties. Then I went to Whole Foods and bought a birthday cake and some sushi. I sat there eating the sushi in seemingly obscene leisure, people watching, and feeling utterly indulgent. My days are spent rushing, fixing, wiping. Lunch is often eaten while standing over the kitchen sink. Wardrobe purchases usually consist of whatever I find at Sam's Club that can be thrown in the cart on top of the boxes of frozen chicken dinosaurs. My nerves are often as frazzled as my hair.
I think the reason people judge our Mrs. Sommers so harshly is because there is the sense that she 'falls' to the 'serpent-like' temptation of the silk stockings as if by enjoying herself she is disobeying some commandment. The last line is perhaps the most controversial, as her ‘poignant wish’ can be interpreted as the desire to never return to her family. But I don’t think that is what Chopin had in mind. I think Mrs. Sommers is in desperate need of balance. We mothers of children feel guilty when we take time or money for ourselves because we see a plus in our column creating a minus in theirs. Focusing on ourselves feels odd and wrong because we put our children first, as does Mrs. Sommers. But a little self-love creates more good than harm. At the end of my outing I felt relaxed, patient, present. Caring for myself helps me take better care of those for whom I am so very grateful.
I brought the birthday cake home where family had gathered and I blew out those candles around a full table with an even fuller heart. And I wouldn’t want my cable car to end up anywhere else.