Like every other pre-teen, I hung around at the local mall. This was pre-cellphone, so coordination was key. My mother would drop me off at the mall’s entrance, saying she would pick me up in an hour and a half. Throwing on my mini-backpack, I’d strut into the mall, bursting with confidence and enough loose cash to make life interesting. Shortcutting through Zellers, I’d make a beeline for the bookstore, where I’d spend at least forty minutes unashamedly reading magazines. The store owner tolerated my presence; after all, a literary kid might become a paying adult. Next, it was on to the food court, where I’d buy a bacon-cheese dog and a chocolate malt. Eventually, I’d wander over to the drugstore, where I’d buy press-on nails, vanilla lip-gloss, and butterfly hair clips. If I needed to call my mom, I would dial 1-800-COLLECT on a public phone. Why waste a quarter? When my mom picked up on her end, the automated message would say “you have a collect phone call from: ‘mom-pick-me-up-at-five-instead-of-six’”, and mom would sigh and agree. I had no schedule and money to burn; I was unstoppable.
The only thing that made shopping trips more fun was when my friends tagged along. We would roar with laughter, annoying everyone within earshot. Shop owners would scowl as we strolled in, since they knew we couldn’t afford much. Items were purchased by committee: if one friend bought the glittery body lotion, another would buy the glittery hair spray, so we could all share. Apparently, looking like a disco ball was stylish when I was thirteen!
I wouldn’t say this mall had many fashionable stores; most of them were geared towards middle-aged women. There seemed to be a lot of sweatshirts for sale that had either cats, flowers, or inspirational quotes on them. There was also a purse store that sold tacky clip-on earrings, and I’m chagrined to admit I bought many, many pairs over the years.
With the advent of online shopping, I haven’t spent much time in malls lately. Why would I bother getting in the car, drive around looking for parking, and schlep inside from store to store? I’d rather sit at home in my pajamas, clicking my computer mouse and wiping cookie crumbs off my face. It’s easier to find five minutes to shop online than it is to pack the kids into the van and try to keep everyone (me included!) happy and quiet for an hour. The best thing about online shopping is having groceries delivered right to my door! I don’t have to waste half a day pushing a wobbly shopping cart around a busy store, load my van up with dozens of bags, drive home, and then unload groceries, kids, and the dog. (Why did I bring the dog grocery shopping? Did I think he would help me carry the bags upstairs?)
There are limitations to the wonders of shopping on the internet, though. It’s tricky buying clothes online that fit properly; I found this out the hard way when I had to send and reorder a pair of pants six different times before I found the right size. I didn’t know it was possible to be banned from an online store, but I can never shop at Pants-R-Us again.
I miss the freedom I had when I was an adolescent, wasting my day in the mall. I didn’t have to worry about naptimes or meals – I could spend thirty minutes choosing a pair of earrings if I wanted to, and believe me, I did. These days, I feel guilty spending fifteen minutes in my office while the kids are in the living room. I should be teaching them! I should be singing songs about sharing! I should be creating precious memories with them, every minute they’re awake! Will I ever find the perfect balance between guilt and sanity, between quality time and self-preservation? Maybe the next time I need new pants, I’ll make the trip to my new local mall instead of shopping online. Who knows, maybe I’ll relive my youth and splurge on some vanilla lip-gloss and press-on nails! I might even buy some hideous bling.