Back 2 School Shopping

Strike a pose.

I love back-to-school shopping. I have two boys who claim they hate it. But this year, something magical happened under the spell of loud music in a fitting room.

The day started when I gave the command: “Wear shorts and crocs, something easy to kick off.”

This is almost, but not quite, an invitation to the beach. The outfit signals fun in the sun while their eyes signal JC Penney’s coupons. They are confused but compliant, unsure of why this feels like a good time already.

We hit the mall. They are 9 and 11. At this age, the teenage life is perfect bait. We enter stores we’ve never tread for them before: American Eagle, Aéropostale, The Buckle.

I am greeted with deafening music at AE. I assume the position of middle-aged soccer mom and start relaying my requests to the 14-year-old gal running the show, shouting over the music I don’t understand.

“We want the exact outfit on the mannequin up front.”

See that? Genius.

I’ve learned to trust these teenagers. I know they’ve spent hours crafting that headless man in the window and added that necklace at the last minute despite the elder manager’s horror. It’s nothing I would ever put together, but I need only take their hard work, swallow my protests, find it in the smallest sizes made, and reconstruct it in their fitting rooms.

My son puts it on. It’s a red-striped shirt, streaked jeans and a denim shirt.

Whoa, hold up. There are darts on the front of the denim shirt. I step out of the dressing room.

“Is this a girl’s shirt?” I inquire of the woman-child outside the door.
Kendall, my 11-year-old son, howls MOM at me with his eyes.

“Well, is it?” I ask, shutting the door behind me. No reason to have a witness to what is clearly a fashion misstep by the young lady.

However, she assures me that it is not a girl’s shirt.

I re-enter the lair and face my assailant.

“What?” I hiss.

Kendall screeches as loudly as he quietly can: “Why would she bring me a girl’s shirt?”

“Because it has darts!” It’s his chance to come to his senses.

“What are darts?”

Forget it. I tell him the real reason: “I thought maybe she brought the shirt for me.”

Silence. Hands stop mid-air. Hair flutters to a standstill. His eyes pop out of his head and roll across the fitting-room floor.

It never occurred to him that his mother could shop in a store like this. I do some quick math and realize it’s been over 10 years since I’ve done so.

“What?” I hiss.

This time he knows better than to answer me.

He puts on the ensemble: he looks fabulous. Nelson, my 9-year-old son, scores a shirt that is only one size too big and looks hip too. They look cool. I am taken back to the gory and glory of middle school.

A sweet nostalgia comes over me until I realize:

• I’ve got sensible shoes on and want the bench in the fitting room for a rest.
• I’m no longer intimidated by the outrageous fashion sense of the fitting room attendant. I’m now so much older than her that it’s clear I’m someone’s mother and she’s someone’s daughter. We are no longer born in the same century.
• I’m sick of screaming over the music. And—here it is—I think about asking her to turn it down.

What have I become?

I immediately try to conclude our purchasing. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve just traveled from trendy mom to nerdy seventh grader to crusty senior in about 35 minutes.

But it’s too late. I see the boys have caught the rhythm. They are posing in the mirror in their new duds. They are dancing, they are laughing, they are cooperating. And they can’t hear a word I’m saying. Indeed, I’ve found the key to back-to-school shopping.

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