It’s not often that I get one-on-one time with one of my daughters who are now 6, 8 and 10. Having three girls in four years means a whole lot of togetherness. They share most of the same activities, friends, and secret pacts. As it should be.
So when my tween asked me to take her to the mall to shop for clothes for her birthday, I jumped at the chance to hang out with her. But wait—did she say clothes? Not toys? My baby was officially a tween.
Let me preface this tale with the fact that for a long time I’d avoided the mall with kids. It conjured memories of a clunky double stroller (not like the sleek ones today), corralling little ones among clothes racks, and running someone to the potty—always in obscure locations, like the back of JCPenney’s after a tedious elevator ride since strollers aren’t allowed on escalators. Back in the pre-iPad days, I spent more time pacifying than getting anything accomplished.
Then it occurred to me that my stroller-pushing, diaper changing outings that had me tethered to the playland and needing caffeine were a thing of the past.
I could do this.
Especially for a whole afternoon of one-on-one time with my daughter.
As I looped the mall parking lot, she asked, “What’s Nordstroms?”
Oh…wow. “They sell clothes. And shoes.”
“Clothes, mostly. Macy’s too.”
“I know what Macy’s is, Mom.”
I detected an eye roll from the back seat.
As we lapped the mall a second time, she asked, “You mean this huge place sells nothing but clothes?”
“Why don’t they call it the clothes place then?”
We parked and wandered around. No stroller, no siblings to referee, just my tween and me. On the hunt. Only I had no idea where to take her. I decided to follow her lead. We’d go anywhere she wanted, for any length of time, and I’d sit in the dressing room hugging my bulky coat to my lap like my mom did.
First up, Abercrombie. She’d seen her peers at school wearing t-shirts with the store’s name on it. Brilliant marketing by the way. We entered. The music was so loud I couldn’t hear myself talk. I resorted to thumbs up or down to communicate as we browsed.
Probably not the coolest thing for me to do.
And, I might have been talking a little too loudly. I think she tried to lose me at one point simply because I “interrupted” the sales guy folding clothes so he could open a dressing room for us.
She tried on about ten things—only one of which worked, according to her—and we left empty-handed. That’s when I noticed the store was Abercrombie kids, and that the regular Abercrombie was located on the first floor.
Pink lured her in next. She remembered that our friend works for Pink in New York and was curious. We went in. We went out. We’ll be back in a few years—maybe ten.
J.Crew displayed kids clothes on mannequins, but after she found the small inventory in the back, it was clear everything was too small and babyish (her word). Justice was too neon or too sparkly (also her words, although she loves color). Macy’s was just plain overwhelming. The Juniors department wasn’t quite right. To be fair, I think our feet were hurting by that point and she just wanted to be done.
“Remember when you’d run around the playland with your friends?” I asked her.
“And you had your birthday party at Build-a-bear?”
“And I’d get you a cookie at the cookie place? I know you remember that.”
Turns out the cookie place has been replaced by Yo Place Frozen Yogurt.
I realized we did have good times at the mall, despite the chaos. It made me a little sad that they were over. But she seemed to enjoy me telling her about what we used to do as much as she enjoys hearing what I was like at her age.
Although at one point during our shopping trip I had teetered on feeling unproductive—knowing how rare it was for us to have each other’s undivided attention—I realized this trip was about more than just purchasing the clothes she needed. Sometimes I have to remind myself to set aside the goal and just enjoy the journey.
After sharing a smoothie, our last stop was Claire’s. Jackpot. She pointed out all of the accessories her friends liked, by friend and color and type. Bows are apparently the bomb. Who knew? I sure didn’t. She seemed so sure of her selections, but then couldn’t decide on anything.
I actually felt like a man—trying to be patient while she vacillated. But unlike a man, I knew the process could not be rushed. When I offered to buy them all, she hesitated, saying she wasn’t sure. She didn’t want me spending that much on her.
“Maybe I don’t need them all,” she said. “Do I have something to go with each bow at home?”
These questions plagued her for some time.
I was patient.
At last we wrapped up our shopping trip with a little bag of bows. Although she was excited about her purchases in the moment, I like to think that our time together was what mattered most.
And when I least expected it, she said, “Thanks, Mom.”
It occurred to me that being a parent is ever-changing and ever-challenging, but also ever-awesome. Just when we think we have it figured out, they grow up on us. The rules change. They express themselves in new ways, through the clothes they wear, their views on the world, and through simple adventures like a trip to the mall on a winter day.
I’ll take it all.
Whether we realize it or not, kids won’t be kids forever. And those winter days at the playland? I’d do them all over again.