"Are you wearing a good bra?" my mother asked in a tone that made every woman in the store freeze and tighten her shoulder straps.

Mom's lessons extended beyond undergarments: Don't wear horizontal stripes. Order corned beef lean - but not too lean. They have all stayed with me, but especially this: Never pay retail.

On our shopping trips to New York's Lower East Side, Mom reveled in buying clothes for her girls (both of us over 40 by then) at the discount stores she loved.

In the communal dressing room, Mom sat on the bench, her back against the wall-to-wall mirror, asking helpful questions, as my sister and I tried on apparel that looked suspiciously like the items we'd tried on the year before.

"When was your last Weight Watchers meeting?" "How old is that bra?" "Really?" By the end of the day, one of us was crying as we walked down Delancey Street, body image sinking to new lows, despite our shopping bags brimming with clothes.

My sister and I went through this annual ritual because we wanted our mother's time and love, whatever forms they came in. Finally, we figured out that a Broadway show with Mom was the better alternative. We could critique the stars and the music without focusing on each other. And we could get our discount rush at the TKTS booth on Times Square.

Writing prompt: A lesson I learned from my mother.

Copyright © 2011 by Laura Deutsch

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