I can see a Target out my window. In fact I’m looking at it right now.
Until a week ago it was a bulls-eye symbol of consumerism.
Now it’s taken on a different shape…
I’ve been treated to target sprees by three people in my life. My husband, my mom, and my mother-in-law.
My mom for years of school shopping and fun life moments, my husband when he sees the need for a target therapy day and I’m down, and my mother-in-law because she loves Target very very very much and treating people generously, equally so.
When you’ve been the beneficiary for a while and you see the chance to turn that around, you take it, or else miss the opportunity to pay things forward.
I had a conversation with a Musical Theatre student of mine at ChiArts who tugged on my gut in a major way earlier this month. This girl’s universe was crumbling and I couldn’t fix it for her. I could’ve done what we usually do…refer her to the counselor…contact her advisory teacher…provide my office if she ever needed to come up and talk…
I did do all those things, and knew I could be done with my part in her care. But I heard that radical tug of “let’s do something crazy and fun!” … it’s the same tug that led me down a wild ride for one student in LA. It doesn’t happen that often. Once every year or two. It’s much easier to let it go and not act upon.
But when has easy ever changed the world?
The Target doorway.
Task 1: Make this target spree like a fun game so that Carrie (name changed), lacking self confidence and recently sent to drift with other relatives and friends of relatives because mom is not in a state to care for her or pay for heat and gas bills, starts lifting her eyes off the floor and is able to tell me what she needs.
“Okay. It’s like this.” I say, “You have been chosen as the only person to rummage through Target and they’re getting rid of all this stuff. It’s going to go to waste anyway, so you might as well pick the things that catch your eye!”
She smiled, but her eyes stayed glued to the floor as we turned a corner to snake through the make-up isle. And there, like a glowing red sun in the distance, was the gaudy holiday merchandise. Carrie looked up, and so did I. To say a prayer of thanks to the commercial holiday god in his high CEO skyscraping tower worried about 2017 sales and hoping that the “Trump depression” made shopping more of a necessity for survival this year. Carrie’s eyes stayed up! The holiday sweaters and PJ’s off in the distance were hard to look away from.
“…Maybe I’d like to try some make-up? Cuz my face, I don’t like how it, well…” she trailed off, finally turning her eyes away from the holiday display.
She’d spoken a want! Yay! I steered us towards the make-up isle.
“Is there a brand you like?” I said, then stopped short, realizing that if she said she’d like to “try it,” she hadn’t ever worn it before.
I don’t shop for make-up, I grab and go. And I only ever purchase the same eyeliner and mascara. That’s as deep as my face painting goes, which didn’t start at ALL till half way through grad school. I’ve never formally shopped for my own make-up let alone someone else.
Being a storyteller comes in handy sometimes ; )
From the mouth that can tell you nothing about make-up came the following:
“So sure, here you have your two types of coverage systems. Some people go powder because it’s fluffy and that sort of thing, some people go liquid because it’s fun to squeeze out. And then there are your chapstick tubes that are for your face when you have like one big nasty pimple, there are the eye sparklies that go over the eye liner and mascara and that’s about all there is to it!”
As we stared at the color options, I knew from being a theatre kid that bases need to match your skin. None of these choices would blend with her lovely amount of melanin. This was eye opening and saddening, and embarrassing to realize in this way at this time. To cut the awkward silence that neither of us was willing to fill with “Hey…where’s the black girl makeup?” I quickly grabbed an eyeliner and mascara I like because “It won’t be itchy if you leave it on overnight!” I said with too much brightness and too much honesty about my makeup routine. I smiled. She nodded, then grinned.
I hummed show tunes as we continued to snake through makeup and finally came to the 2 by 4 foot display of deeper tones.
“How do we know which is the best color?” Carrie said, to which I began ripping off the little silver aluminum top covers saying, “Oh you just squirt them and see!”
We still weren’t sure if Amber Honey, Café, or Hazelnut where the best blend, but I didn’t want to loose momentum because I could see indecision clouding Carrie’s fought for joy so I said, “Definitely Café!”
She smiled again. They were getting more frequent and covering more territory on her face.
“Now, remember Target has to get rid of all this stuff and it’s up to you to take as much as you need and want!” I said, reminding her of the game.
She paused and her look got unfocussed again for a moment so I blurted, “Boots! Do you have winter boots?”
“Nope” she said, and off we headed to shoes.
On the way, an amazing thing happened.
We got closer to the holiday stuff and … A GIGGLE!
“Look at those!” she said excitedly, pointing to the holiday PJ’s. Everything from penguins wearing ice skates, to hippster plaid, to a Santa suite.
“Those are great!” I said logging this excitement.
No boots caught her eye after walking up and down all the shoe isles.
“So, if you’re not getting boots, we should probably replace that purchase with some holiday PJ’s,” I said with a serious look.
“Okay!” she said, picking up the pace and going right for the reindeer collared PJ’s with little green trees and navy background.
“Oh man, those are amazing!” I said, knowing that I couldn’t fix her mom but that comfort in sleep was a little more solvable.
PJ’s were now in the cart.
“Do you need socks?” I said, thinking we’d grab a pack of those white athletic socks.
“Oh!” she said running to a corner of color. Soon we instead had six pairs of the one dollar silly graphics socks – one of which I gushed over and still regret not buying myself – a bowling ball with pins knee sock.
All six pairs of silly socks were in the cart.
“Okay, and what about your theatre black uniform – should we get something movable and black?”
“Yes,” she said, “And some jeans, I do need those,” her confidence and joy was growing. Speaking up and valuing her own needs meant Carrie had pushed through an invisible ceiling.
Off we went to get black clothes and jeans. Done.
Then, I couldn’t help keeping the game show part of the event alive.
“Carrie – 3 minutes to run and grab a shirt you like – go!” to which she nodded and took off, coming back with a pink sweater in less than a minute. “This would look good with the black jeans?” she said. “Absolutely!” I said.
Snacks. Snacks we’ll add to her special stash in my drawer for her in my office.
Fruit snacks. Check.
Cliff bars. Check.
“Oh!” She said as we were leaving snacks, “And these?” her look was now more appropriately impish – the kind a happy teenage girl has decided to believe in abundance. She held up those awful tasting little hostess muffins.
“YESSS!” I said, “Put them in the cart!”
We headed to the front of the store to check out.
“Now,” I said, “you go over there and wait while I ring up!”
I didn’t want her to see prices being the sensitive kid she is. I wanted to keep in the game show mode too. Continuing the rule that this was all free and she needn’t feel badly for wanting or getting things.
We walked to the car and we both had HUGE smiles on our faces.
One moment stuck out to me as we listened to nerdy show tunes on our way to where she was staying. Half way through our shopping spree, Carrie had started putting her hand on the cart – like a child would while a parent pushed it. A quick and fleeting moment where she didn’t have to carry the weight of her unsteady life, and someone else could push.
I can’t wait for her next homework assignment: To show me her fun socks when she wears them to school.
The game show had worked. And thank goodness for the gushy holiday displays Target pushes on all of us. The Target, the red bull’s-eye we all see lots of times from the road, and for me my apartment, looks a little different now. It’s a little rounded twice at the top and a little pointed at the bottom and affirms that when the crazy radical ‘giving’ voice whispers, I take action. For really, this adventure was not so much “teacher helps student” story, but so much more about “teacher answers the call to adventure story” (the first part of the Hero’s Journey if you interested in nerding out on story structure with Joseph Campbell and I). How can I say I helped when this experience gave me so much? Everybody go be a little kind so someone in this holiday season, even if it’s a bit radical. Alright. Enough sappiness.
(P.S. for anyone concerned that I go rouge to help students without covering my bases, I do cover them. Written permission from Carrie’s Aunt, and our school principal gave the okay ; )