Shopping With Daughters… or not.

I have mom friends who have sons instead of daughters, and almost all of them have said to me, at one time or another, that it must be nice to have someone to go shopping with. They imagine it is quality girl time, trying on clothes and pointing out pretty handbags in the windows, sipping on frothy Starbucks drinks. But if you take your daughter to a mall, what will mainly happen is you will hold her Starbucks drink while she tries on clothes–mainly overpriced jeans or shirts and skirts so tiny that you wonder if they are actually merchandise from the doll store. The person working in the store, which caters to upper-middle-class teens is staffed with people in their early twenties, will pay a lot of attention to your daughter, complimenting her necklace or the sheen of her hair, asking if she needs anything, supplying compliments and chit-chat with sentences that begin with Ohmygod… But you, not so much. You are the mom, the necessary middle-aged baggage of the youthful customer, possibly the owner of the credit card that will pay for the purchases today but nothing more. For you, only the most cursory of chit-chat is expected of the shop-person, as you stand there in a frumpy jacket, holding two Starbucks drinks which you have now polished off in boredom. Daughters are young, and youth is the second currency of this place, right behind actual money, so your daughter and her size 2 self are relevant and worthwhile. In the stores they shop in, they matter, even if they don’t buy anything; even if they are broke and wearing a dumb outfit and having a bad hair day; they matter. But the mom is invisible, which is fine, because even if someone did talk to you, you would not be able to hear over the pounding music, whose lyrics, when you concentrate enough to parse them out, are so nihilistic and depressing (but with a pounding beat that you can dance to!) that it causes you to chuckle, which makes you look crazy. If they do ask if you need any help, whether it is the beautiful blond girl with the nose stud who, inexplicably, seems to have actual disdain for you, or the immaculate, cheerful gay guy whose words are peppy but who looks past you when he talks, or the tatted, pixie-cut girl who has adopted an expression that says I am above this, there will be a note of condescension in it; they are asking because their manager would want them to. When you are finally paying, and they say (looking past you into the distance), “Did you find everything you’re looking for…” (they mean everything you were looking for, but they can’t be bothered to enunciate things like that so it comes out “you’re,”) you will say yes, rather than, “… well, no, I was looking for an outfit that would make my daughter look as smart and classy as she is, but we only found trashy tank tops and ripped jeans made with child labor. I was looking for a fun distraction, but your music makes me feel empty and sad…” etc. And yes, maybe they don’t like their job, we’ve all had jobs we’ve hated, especially at that age. And yes, you can leave the store and take your daughter(s) to, say, Talbots, or JJill or Chicos, for goodness’ sake, where they would pay attention to you, but there are no clothes for your daughter there, she is a size 2 and does not want to look like Laura Bush. So you bear this place patiently, though ten minutes in there makes you a candidate for Prozac or Zoloft. So. Not shopping with your daughter is what will happen next time, at least not for clothes. Christmas shopping for other people with your daughter might work, or possibly shopping for accessories in a place where either of you are likely to buy something, so the shop-person must be more… inclusive. But for clothes, in any store whose windows bear gigantic pictures of models and “influencers,” don’t bother. Skip it, go somewhere on your own, and meet your daughter for lunch in the food court. The people selling bourbon chicken and kebabs are not so judgy; they’ll be nice to you.