Thursday, September 13, 2012

'School Shopping"

Josie's last 'first day of school' (note Eli's t-shirt...)

School shopping.  I can’t tell you how many times during the last weeks of summer vacation my daughter Josie asked me when we were going ‘school shopping’. 

I kept putting her off.  I’d say “I don’t know” or “We’ll see” or “Let me talk to Papa about it…”  I employed every standard, classic, well-worn avoidance technique each time the subject came up.  That’s because…I hate to shop.

I don’t just dislike shopping, I hate it.  I know that’s a strong term to use, but so is “two hundred bucks” and “waiting in line”, “trying on shoes”, “standing outside the changing room” and… “Does this make me look fat?”

I stalled as long as I could, until an edge of panic began to creep into Josie’s voice.  Apparently, “TIME WAS OF THE ESSENCE!”  I’ve always wondered what dire emergency would actually justify making such a declaration…and now I know.   My daughter was terrified that she might have to begin her senior year of high school dressed in something clean, neat and stylish-- but which “everybody has seen, before!”

I hate shopping, yes—but I’m not a cruel mother.  I couldn’t make my lovely daughter suffer such a torturous and humiliating start to her final year at Carrabec High School.  I capitulated at last and planned an evening trip to Augusta (where, I was told, there are ‘good’ stores.)

The afternoon before our planned excursion, Eli looked at me morosely.

“Apparently,” he said in a dull monotone, “Josie’s gonna make me go school shopping with her.”  He sounded as if the Grim Reaper was standing over his shoulder.

“Yep,” grinned his big sister, “I’m gonna pick out his clothes…no more boring jeans and black or gray t-shirts.  He’s gonna look cool this year!”

I glanced at Eli.

“I should just put you out of your misery now, huh?”

In truth, it felt good to have a co-sufferer.   Misery loves company, after all.

We drove to Augusta the next evening.  Josie wanted to go to ‘Goodwill’, first.  I didn’t know where it was.  She’d ‘googled’ directions for me—thinking that would solve the problem.   To this country girl, her directions were useless.  I like to do things the old-fashioned way.  I stopped at an Irving’s to ask for directions-- and we arrived at Goodwill about 8 minutes later.

Eli, of course, found nothing to strike his fancy.  I’d expected Josie to shuttle him around, forcing him to try on various non-Eli apparel, such as button-up shirts, khaki pants, plaid shorts and t-shirts with popular sports’ logos on them.  But… nope.  Josie was in “Josie Shopping Mode”.  Nothing and no-one else mattered.

She flicked through the racks, tossing tops, skirts, flowered dresses and little jackets into her cart.  Eli came over and shuffled his feet.

“There’s nothing here that I like or that will fit me.  Can I go sit in the truck?”

No way!  If I had to tag along behind his sister, he was going to have to do the same!   His shoulders drooped. 

“I’ll be down back—looking at the bikes.”

Josie stormed the dressing room and after much wiggling in and out of clothes and turning this way and that in front of mirrors, items were relegated to ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ piles.  Her arms were too long for this jacket (said she) and her ‘chests’ were too exposed for that shirt (said I).  The louvered door closed and she disappeared again.

“Can’t I go sit in the truck?”  Eli, having returned from the back of the store, mumbled under his breath as a buxom lady elbowed him away from the rack of purple smocks.

“We’re almost done.”  The words were said in desperation, but I tried to sound confident as a woman bumped me aside in an attempt to snatch a coveted suede jacket off the rack beside me.

“How’s this look?” she asked.  Eli’s lips twitched and he quickly strode away.

“Nice.  It’s…you.”  Her?  I’d never seen her before in my life!  How did I know it wasn’t ‘someone else’?

“Josie!” I barked.  “I’m leaving in five minutes!”

Ten minutes, nine articles of clothing and $40.00 later, we were on our way to the Augusta Marketplace…where the ‘good’ stores were.  Eli, a young man with discriminating tastes, asked to be dropped at Wal-Mart.  Josie was hot on the trail of shoes, however, and couldn’t be bothered.  She urged Eli not to buy ‘lame stuff’.  I told my son I would return at precisely 8:00 and drove Josie to Payless.  Forty minutes, seven ‘try-ons’, two purchases and $70.00 later, she wandered to the pink store next door.  I made her promise to stay there while I went to pick up her brother.

Eli was out front, two plastic shopping bags in hand.

“I’m done,” he announced, throwing the bags into the back seat.

“Done?  What did you buy?”

“A pair of jeans, two t-shirts, socks, underwear and some school supplies.”  Gawd, I love this kid.

“Josie’s not going to be happy,” I warned.

“Well, one of the t-shirts has a picture on it.  I got it to shut her up.”

“Oh.  A picture of what?”

“Skeletons or something.”


I drove back to the pink store.  We parked out front.  Waited. 

“Go get her.  Tell her it’s late and we’ve gotta go home.”

“Why me?”

“Because I don’t want to go in there.  It’s pink.”  (Okay…maybe I AM a cruel mother.)

He rolled his eyes and grumbled, but didn’t argue.  I smirked—definitely feeling cruel.  Just moments later, he emerged from the store and re-entered the vehicle.  Surprised, I said, “That was fast.  Where’s Jos?”

“In the changing room.”

“How do you know?”

“I looked around, didn’t see her,” (I’d forgotten that he is almost 6’4” and could easily see his 5’9” sister over all the racks in the store) “so I went to the dressing room doors and hollered ‘Hey, Jos….Mum says ‘Hurry up!’’”

“Did she answer?”


Okay, then.  But Josie wasn’t finished.  She wanted to ‘hit’ Kohls.  It was ‘right up there’ so—to keep the peace—I drove right up there.  This time, I followed her—determined to speed things along.  This time, I let the boy sit in the truck.

I perused the displays of sunglasses while waiting for Josie to find that ‘certain something’.  I plucked a pair off the $9.99 rack.  Josie was nowhere to be seen, but the lights were going off in the store so I figured the management team would soon do my job for me.  I took my purchase up to the counter.  A pleasant cashier rang them up in the semi-gloom.

“That’ll be $15.76,” she smiled.  I considered telling her that they’d come from the $9.99 rack but decided it wasn’t worth the effort.  I just wanted to go home.  I handed her my cash.  She printed off the receipt, placed it on the counter in front of me and circled some numbers.  “You’ve just saved $13.23!” she proclaimed proudly.

Lucky me…what a deal.

I wandered back to the truck, where Eli was listening to music and contentedly eating “Mike and Ikes” that were stashed in his Wal-Mart bag.  We peered through the store front as the lights went off, one row at a time.

“This is hell, isn’t it?”

“Yep.  Want some?”

We sat there in companionable silence under the lights of the parking lot, eating candy and humming “Waitin’ on a Woman”. 

I’ve gone ‘school shopping’ every year for the past 25 years.  I hate it as much as I ever did…but one day soon--I’ll miss it.

That sounds dumb…but if you’re a mother you’ll know exactly what I mean.