What's Inside

IF I EVER MADE a needlepoint pillow for my mother, I know what it would say: 

“En dag uten shopping er som en dag uten solskinn.” 

“A day without shopping is like a day without sunshine.” 

The next morning, I am up bright and early. But not as early as my mother. By the time I roll out of bed, she has set the table with breakfast from a local Dagligvarebutikk (grocery store), which we picked up on the way back to the apartment last night: berries, bread, boysenberry jam, smoked salmon, yogurt, pickled herring, and brunost, a crumbly brown cheese she hopes I will like. 

I don’t. It smells like old socks. 

While I was still asleep, she even began preparing tomorrow’s breakfast: øllebrød, a porridge made with pieces of dry rye bread soaked in beer for twenty-four hours, then served with milk, raisins, and orange zest. It smells delicious, but I’m surprised. I’ve never seen her cook Norwegian food before in my life. I’d always assumed she’d forgotten how. But maybe she just never wanted to. A reminder of a life she wanted to forget. 

As we eat, Dr. Liz is delighted to learn that Frogner, the area right behind the Royal Palace, is one of the best shopping districts in the city. Rather than waste a minute, we leave our dirty dishes in the sink and head out. She can’t wait to get started. 

“Here’s a quiz for you,” I say as we enter the first shop. “What’s the main difference between this store and most of the ones we know back home?” 

She looks around and thinks. 

“A lack of clutter,” she says. Good for her. She got it on the first try. I’m used to stores cramming things onto rods or stacking them up to the ceiling. But Norwegians like to give their wares room to breathe. A few simple sweatshirts sit on a glass shelf. A bunch of hand-knit fisherman sweaters hang from a pole, three inches apart. 

“In Norway, it seems you’re encouraged to browse, not just buy,” my mother says. “It’s like they want shopping to be more relaxed and fun.” Need I add, she’s determined to have all the fun she can today. My mother intends to hit every clothing, furniture, and craft shop 

from here down to the harbor, and she doesn’t want a slowpoke like me to cramp her style. 

So we split up. As she disappears into the next shop, my phone buzzes. It’s a new text from Richard: 

Alone in Paris. DAY TWO of the hostage crisis . . . ? 

I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry. Maybe a little retail therapy will distract me. I wander over to the sweater rack. 

“Lovely, aren’t they?” the salesgirl says to me in English. She introduces herself as Ingrid. “They’re all hand-made by Christl Riple, a marvelous knitter right here in town. Aren’t they wonderful?” She’s right. They are. And they’re all one-of-a-kind in shades of red, forest green, and navy blue. 

I pull out a red-and-white one filled with eight-pointed stars, snowflakes, and hundreds of red-and-white diamonds and squares. It fits me like a dream. I can’t resist. My first official Norwegian souvenir purchase. Dr. Liz will be pleased. 

I continue down the street, hoping to spot my mother at some point. But she’s probably holed up in a dressing room somewhere, so I don’t see her. My next purchase: a navy-and-white hand knit scarf with a Viking ship that extends from one end of the scarf all the way to the other. And, of course, a pair of matching mittens. 

Now I come to the most crucial part of any travel shopping trip: The Search For The Perfect Keychain. I’ve been collecting them for as long as I can remember, one for every city I visit. Naturally, I bought a mini-Eiffel-Tower one in Paris at a souvenir shop around the corner from our hotel. I’d love to find a less cliché one here, and already I see several that look good to me. But as I said, this is a crucial decision. Do I want a Viking ship? A moose? A moose whose mouth doubles as a bottle opener? A map of Norway? 

In the end, I opt for a copper-colored reindeer. As I’m paying, my mother passes by the store window, sees me inside, and taps on glass. She gestures for me to come outside. So I do. 

She’s smiling. “Here,” she says. She hands me a small pink box with a magenta ribbon. The box says Hilde’s Jewelry Studio. 

“For me?” I ask stupidly. “Why?” 

“I know how upset you are by that whole Richard fiasco,” she says. “I thought this might cheer you up a little.” 

How sweet! 

“You’d like the shop. Very arty. Hilde makes all of the pieces herself.” Then she says the eight magic words that made me miserable throughout my childhood: “I thought you would look good in this.” 

This time, I’m the one whose memories come flooding back. 

I thought you would look good in an ugly blouse that made a chubby middle-schooler look even chubbier. 

I thought you would look good in a pair of clunky old-lady shoes because the sneakers I loved didn’t give me enough arch support. 

I thought you would look good in a multitude of tops, bottoms, and dresses, each more hideous than the last. Saying no started an argument that always ended with the totally ego-crushing, “You don’t know what looks good on you.” 

Just for the record: none of them ever looked good on me. 

So when she hands me the box now, I am flummoxed. Her intentions are good. It’s something she handpicked. To cheer you up, she said. But what if it’s ugly? Will I have to wear it every time I see her? Is it something expensive, or can I donate it to Goodwill the day I get back home? 

But: surprise. It’s a pair of sterling earrings, classic Norwegian filigree design, with a playful modern twist. They are delicate and feminine. Exactly how I would love to think of myself, but rarely do. 

She smiles. “I had a feeling you would like these.” 

I take out the studs I am currently wearing and slide these in instead. She pulls out her hand mirror and holds it up to my face. I shake my head a little. The earrings sway and gently graze the top of my shoulders. They look great. 

“Thank you,” I say. 

So that’s how we end this shopping day. No arguing. No angst. No disapproving looks or name-calling or anger to tamp down and resent. Nothing but a loving mother picking out a lovely gift for her grateful daughter. 

I guess over the years, one of us has matured and the other has mellowed. 

Hard to say which is which. 

Read More Read Less


"Diverting mother-daughter tale.”—Booklist

“This feel-good story makes a convincing case for the importance of familial love.”—Publishers Weekly

Read More Read Less


“Every mother and daughter should have conversations that change their lives. This book will win your heart!” –Elin Hilderbrand, author of The Hotel Nantucket

A mother and daughter on vacation in Paris unpack a lifetime of secrets and hopes—with a giant Pattersonian twist at the end!

Every daughter has her own distinctive voice, her inimitable style, and her secrets.
Laurie is an artist, a collector of experiences. She travels the world with a worn beige duffel bag.

Every mother has her own distinctive voice, her inimitable style, and her secrets.
“Dr. Liz,” Laurie’s mother, is an elegant perfectionist who travels the world with a matched set of suitcases.

When Laurie surprises her mother with a dream vacation, it brings an unexpected sparkle to her eyes. So begins Things I Wish I Told My Mother. You will wish this novel never ends.

Things I Wish I Told My Mother Discussion Guide