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The New Girl Shopper

My daughter Lila is now eleven and proclaimed to me how much she loves to shop. I think that would be good if it were pertaining to food. When you think of someone “shopping” for food you think of the person trying to spread a dollar as far as it can go. When I think of someone shopping for clothes, I think of a person going from store to store trying to find just the right group of things that look good. That process, in my mind, may not be as dollar conscious.

I do have to admit that clothing is right there in between food and shelter in the commonly coveted necessities. I just don’t know if the preteen shop of “Justice” was originally in mind when those necessities were identified. It may just be me, but I think Justice was possibly developed by someone who was once stranded on a desert island as an eleven year old girl. Having been rescued she vowed to never be left behind again, and created an entire franchise of stores totally dedicated to enlist every possible color to adorn the cheapish third world produced fabrics. “Don’t get left behind, wearing bright colors of all kind,” may have been the mantra.

Lila told me that she thinks shopping is fun. She also let me know that it’s only natural that boys don’t like shopping as much as girls. “They just don’t get it.” So, being amused by the fact that I was watching Lila “shop” for the first time, I settled into the Justice store to see how she did her shopping. She let me know from the onset that shopping in the summer is more fun because you don’t have to have your winter coat on in the mall. I totally agreed.

Lila had received a gift card from her aunt Kathleen for the Justice store. Aunt Nicole produced a child (Lydia) who thinks the world of Lila. As far as aunts go, she’s good for a while. Every person needs a minion – until the minion moves on and gets a minion – and Lydia will end up having many minions. Lila’s cousin 5 years her junior will eventually head a benevolent military coup in some remote country. But that’s another story.

We forgot what amount was on the gift card. I volunteered to track an employee down to get the card scanned and know our budget. I could ask the grown-up or the high schooler. I thought the high schooler’s computer skills would be faster, but I went with the adult as a token of solidarity, even though the adult was not super adulty.

Once we found out that the card had twenty-five dollars we could now start shopping in earnest. I followed behind as Lila meandered though the clothes. It was obvious to me that she was a shopper learner, fresh to the scene. I stayed back then caught up. She had no plan of action. This was the interesting part to me.

She had no time constraints. She had a $25 limit, but that was not a concern for her in the beginning. Maybe this is what her mother looked like shopping before she had three children all pre melt down, before she had a husband ready to melt down, before she had college commitments, before she had a minimum wage job, and before she had developed tastes and opinions. Lila was at the purest form of shopping. It was slowly – 40 minutes – becoming aware to me that Lila was a blank shopping slate. I had a moment of terror as I watched this. How could this end?

I was almost ready to say something about leaving and waited. Then she asked me a question. She was looking at the jewelry and asked if the necklaces were on sale. Joy gushed from my bored numb body. She had acknowledged the sale. I could not be more proud. I confirmed to her that the necklaces were on sale. If you bought two you got a deal. I thought the goal was to buy clothes. But I remained silent as to not tamper with the great experiment.

She continued to peruse the merchandise. I only briefly mentioned something about what I called the “process of elimination theory.” – the idea of deciding what does not work and not look at that item again. She did not adapt. My life is based upon the process of elimination, but I’m ok. I remained patient. We looked at things more than once.

Finally, she seemed to be tiring of looking at things. This did not occur before I had to sit on one of the very few places to sit in this store. She came to my toadstool roost and asked me to come forward and review a few of the items she was considering. I dragged my wobbly licorice like legs up to a standing position and forged forward into the jungle of ick dubbed clothes.

Even though I thought we were there for clothes, I was a bit relieved that she was settling away from clothes. She brought me back to the necklaces. She picked out a necklace that was $14. The necklace was two halves of a heart ( or two separate necklaces) that magnetically connected to make to make one. Half said “mom” and half said “daughter”. I thought it was very nice that she had dug through the pile of island SOS material and found something that she wanted to share with her mom.

This would have been enough of a triumph for me. She asked how much money remained. I asked her to do the math. She did. She had enough for another item. Instead of buying another thing for herself, she bought two small overpriced things for her brother Hoyt and sister Iris. She made sure that they were the same in value and picked out something that would appeal to each. She had just become my hero.

My licorice legs turned into oak with a bounce. We went to the counter and I chose to let the high schooler check us out. Lila took the gift card and handed it over. After the discounts we found that she had seven dollars left on the card. This was a successful trip. What seemed like four hours was only really 50 minutes. Lila had navigated her first shopping trip in a thoughtful kind of way – thinking about sales and her siblings.

We left the store and I put my arm around Lila and gave her a hug like we were just rescued from a desert island. I told her I though it was great that she had thought of her mom and gotten gifts for her brother and sister. And, I said, “You have seven dollars left.”

She paused and looked at me with concern.

“What do you mean, seven dollars?”

I said, “That’s what’s left on the gift card.”

There was a look of disappointment on her face. Then I realized the problem.

I slowly and carefully asked, “Did you think that plastic gift card could be used for $25 this time, but there could be more times to use it – beyond the initial $25?”

She nodded a slow island morse code yes. Maybe even rethinking her generosity to her siblings while she nodded.

“I thought it was like your plastic cards and I could keep using and using and using them.”

“Ok, ok, ok.” Now she stabbed me with her little girl words, but I recovered quickly, remembering that I’m an adult plus. “No, it’s not like that.”

She was resolved. “Oh, ok.”

I said that I thought it was great that she got stuff and thought about her mom and siblings when she was using a gift card for her. She agreed and we quietly searched for the crumbs we had dropped to find our way out of the mall at the second level Macy’s entrance near a mannequin woman in a white jump suit.

This trip to the island of Justice had left nobody stranded – for long – and I got to watch Lila figure things out and work towards becoming a shopper. The good news for me and all my worries about shopping as a sport was that she seemed to be going in the right direction. She went in the direction of making it a necessity – thinking about her family – and I was proud of her. Although, in all honesty, I’d don’t want to be witness to the event that spends that final seven dollars. That’s looking like a mother-daughter bonding experience that I will be happy to read about in Cynthia’s notes.

Sadly yours,

Jason Spafford

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