Ah, the things we do for love.
I wasn’t supposed to buy those new clothes. Even though I knew full and well about the tradition for Chinese New Year – that you should always start the year wearing new clothing.
Call me frugal. I’ve always been the sort of woman who sticks to her budget, who buys things carefully. Especially clothing, like winter jackets and coats. Growing up, we didn’t necessarily buy new ones every year. Instead, we’d just invest in a nice one that could last several years or more and get as much use out of it as we could.
Besides, this year finances were a little tight. I figured, why not save the money instead?
I was all ready to stick to my “no new clothing” plan for Chinese New Year. That is, until that evening at my in-laws’ house, when my mother-in-law pulled out two shiny new jackets for my husband. She had bought them from the local market, and beamed at John once he tried them on. One was a navy blue, the other a nice tan brown. Even I had to agree he looked handsome.
Yet a guilty feeling washed over me because of the money she spent. She shouldn’t have bought them. It’s something I would have rather done myself – except I hadn’t.
Then she said to me, “I could find something for you too.”
It’s bad enough when your mother-in-law spends her hard-earned cash on the husband you should have bought for, but worse when she does it for you too. I tried to discourage her with the practical realities of buying for me – namely, that she’d never find my size. Not in the countryside markets where she goes.
But her smile and determination wouldn’t budge. “I can find your size.” Pretty soon she was measuring me up and promising to go shopping the following day.
“Really, you don’t need to,” I pleaded with her, thinking she had better things to do with her time and money than shopping for me.
But, no, she wouldn’t hear it. She said that how you dress is important in the village. That people notice if you’re wearing new clothes or the same thing all the time. It reminded me of something she once mentioned during dinner – that what you wear matters more than what you eat.
And more specifically, it mattered to her. Why else would she have bothered to buy my husband clothes or offer to shop for me? How we look reflects on her. And if we make a nice appearance, she’ll look good too. To put it simply, donning a little new clothing for the new year would make her very happy.
It’s hard not to care about the happiness of my mother-in-law when, frankly, she spends so much of her time caring about ours. She always loads the lazy susan up with vegan dishes just for me (really delicious ones, mind you). She’s been known to get up early on weekends to make steamed bread from scratch for us, or stay up late on a Saturday to fry up flatbread that we can bring to Hangzhou to have for lunches. She has done my laundry more times than I’d like to admit, and often hangs my clothing out to sun. She doesn’t really criticize us that much. And let’s not forget how she bought us all of these necessities when we first moved to Hangzhou, things she totally didn’t need to buy.
In short, she is the most amazing, devoted and loving mother-in-law I could ever ask for. So if wearing some new clothes would make her happy, how could I refuse?
So I said, “Okay, you go out shopping for me.”
The next day, she set out with my husband to the market. (I had to stay home – my foreign face would have jacked up all the prices, since it’s all bargaining.) John sent me photos of jacket after jacket that my mother-in-law hoped to buy for me. They were, to put it nicely, not my kind of clothing. I basically cringed at the thought of wearing them or, worse, being photographed in them. My frugal side shuddered. After all, the only thing worse than spending money on a jacket you really don’t need is a jacket you’ll never want to wear. So I vetoed every single one of them.
But that meant I still had nothing to wear – which wouldn’t do for my mother-in-law. After all, I was doing this to make it a good Chinese New Year for her. I’d have to think of another solution, and fast.
I grabbed my computer and immediately started browsing my favorite online clothing stores – the ones that actually have stuff in my size. Sure enough, they had some lovely jackets on sale that would definitely fit me. I liked them and felt certain my mother-in-law would too.
I still can’t believe how quickly I scooped up those jackets into my online shopping cart. I’ve never bought anything so fast in my entire life!
That, my friends, is how I ended up with this powder blue down jacket (which was, thankfully, discounted 50 percent off the original price.)
So, my bank account is now out a few hundred RMB. But that’s okay. When I tried on that powder blue jacket the other night, my mother-in-law also smiled with such pride – and even complimented me on how I had an eye for choosing good clothes.
In short, she loves it. And I don’t think you could ever put a price on that.