When I was about 12 years old, my dad took me back-to-school shopping.
It wasn’t just any ordinary back-to-school shopping trip — which, honestly, happened more often than not at Walmart because there weren’t that many other stores in his small north Alabama town at the time. But that year, it was different.
We drove to Huntsville, Alabama, to Madison Square Mall to shop at Limited Too.
I remember the excitement when I chose a pair of acid-washed cut-off jean shorts, a navy floral top and white crocheted bowler hat to complete the outfit. It was true early 1990s style, and I just knew it was going to be perfect for the first day of sixth grade. I still remember how luxurious the dressing room seemed — in my own 12-year-old mind—and how I was amazed that my dad was taking me to shop there.
I felt lucky.
It was my first real experience that I can remember of going shopping at the mall. Later, it would become a norm, especially when shopping with my mom. That Christmas, I believe, I received the interactive board game “Mall Madness.”
But my childhood self was a little in shock last week when I took my 9-year-old daughter back-to-school shopping for the first time. I told her we were going to go check out what they had at the mall.
“What’s the mall?” she replied.
At first, I didn’t know how to reply. I guess I’m partly to blame. I’m a millennial, although one of the oldest in the generation. Still, I prefer to do my shopping online. Need groceries in a pinch? I’ll order them on an app and have them delivered to my house. Need dog food? I don’t have to worry about it, that too is delivered to my doorstep on auto-ship. Books, shoes, or toys? All online.
When it comes to my kids’ clothes, I either order online or shop at a bi-annual kids consignment sale. I pick out all of their clothes.
But that changed this year, as my 9-year-old is entering pre-teen territory. She’s too old for smocked, boutique outfits and refuses to wear anything ruffled. I thought I could get away with Matilda Jane, but she’s recently nixed that, too.
In the weeks before school started back, my oldest daughter had a simple request: She wanted to pick out her own back-to-school clothes, and she wanted to shop at Justice.
I’m still trying not to recoil from the sheer amount of sequins, glitter and bright outfits imprinted with wording in that store. But it’s what my daughter wanted — I told her that we’d go look. I explained to her that it didn’t mean we would buy anything, but we’d see what they had.
As we entered the store last week, my daughter squealed. She jumped up and down with a huge grin on her face. You would have thought we were at Disney World.
She tried on a few outfits, items that barely fit her very thin frame. But after some negotiations, she picked out a long T-shirt with a moon and owl printed on it, along with matching leggings that also had the same mint-and-lilac printed owl motif. As we were checking out, I decided to let her choose out some owl earrings and a fluffy owl hairband to match. Why not, I thought.
As my fourth-grade girl excitedly took the bag from the cashier behind the register and we walked out of the store, she still had that big grin on her face and gave me a huge hug.
No, it wasn’t what I would have chosen for her to wear on her first day back to school. But in her, I saw a bit of my pre-teen self. And I couldn’t say no — I didn’t want to.
As my daughter walked into her elementary school last week as a confident new fourth-grader on the first day of school, we passed by younger girls in their precious dresses and big hair bows. It made me a little sad.
But as I watched my girl walk away and toward her classroom, taller, confident, almost looking like a teenager, I caught a glimpse of the girl she’s growing up to be. And I couldn’t be more proud.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.