Back to School at the Mall

Back to School at the Mall

Wild Child and the Diva are headed back to school. When they arrive for their first day in a higher grade they will be kitted out in new outfits that say to one and all, “this is who I am this year”. I imagine it’s the same for kids across the country; they’ve grown over the summer and not just in shoe size, so they’re gearing up to start again as a new and improved version of themselves.

It begins with the back-to-school shopping trip. These days, we buy everything from pillows to power tools online but, come the end of summer, with growing kids in tow, we head to the mall like running salmon because there’s no online substitute for “*sigh* Go in and try it on”.

I hate malls. I hate what they represent, hate their climate-controlled artificiality, the pseudo bargains, the foot-tenderizing acreage, and the crowds. Even so, shopping with the Diva is a blast; with Wild Child, there are really good moments. But with the both of them . . . well thank god, it’s only once a year because it easily shaves that much off my life.

Fifteen seconds over the first threshold, Diva kicked things off by loudly proclaiming her disgust at the garment industry’s insistence on adding pink to everything made for girls. In store after store, rack after rack, carrel after carrel, she sucked her teeth and “tutted”, her fashion sense mortality offended.

“This one’s nice”, I say to her. “Yes,” she says, simultaneously cocking her left hip and her right eyebrow “except they just had to slap a peace sign on the front of it.” Okaaaay. Last year, peace signs were “oooh, so cute!” but I make a mental note; no pink, no peace signs. This turns out to be easier than expected because at ten, she’s already so tall that she can no longer wear girls’ clothing. Now while I could hardly be described as a prude, I note that many women’s fashions are really not meant for ten-year-olds. Naturally, it’s precisely these that she prefers. “Oooh!” she exclaims, like she’s just found a stray kitten, “isn’t this adorable?” “What? Where?” I say, “I don’t see anything. Oh that – I thought that was a couple of loose threads.” This earns me several moments of aggrieved silence.

Meanwhile, Wild Child is venting his boredom by crawling around on floor and hiding in the clothes racks. “Hey Iiiiiima – you can’t seeee me.” For his part, he made it clear he would consider nothing but t-shirts and he played skateboard with the cart until we made our way to those racks. For him, if it glows in the dark, smells like cookies when scratched or references video games or annoying sisters, that’s the shirt for him. And a hat. He’s got to have a hat. One of those gawd-awful hip hop hats that perches on one’s head like Papa Bear’s cereal bowl. There’s just no way to get through to him that as skinny as he is, the effect is . . . not really what he’s going for.

Which brings us to jeans. I have a pair of beanpoles; skinny jeans are kind of a cruel joke. “Do you have these in slim sizes?” I ask the sales associate. She looks baffled. “Nooo, they’re skinny jeans.”
In and out of the dressing room we go, my son’s tenuous grip on himself visibly unraveling. “Okay look,” I say to him, “try these ones.” He stands there. “Ima, those are girls‘.” “Yes, I know, but they don’t look like girls’ and they’re skinnier than the boys'”. “Ima…” his eyes shift left, then right. I’m starting to unravel a bit, myself. “Just try the damn things on – they don’t look any different.” Shoulders hunched, he slopes back to the dressing room. They fit. They look good. Great, in fact. And no pink anywhere.

Diva, meanwhile, has found the sneakers for her. The child who has grown three shoe sizes in five months wants a $75 pair of kicks. I calmly explain that such a purchase is madness. She’s thoughtful for a few moments. “How muchwere you going to spend on shoes?” “I was hoping about half that.” She smiles. “Well then, you spend that much and I’ll use my allowance for the rest. I really, really love them.”

Later, as she’s cooing over 3 inch heels, my son sidles over to me. “Ima,” he says quietly, “I don’t mind that they’re girls jeans.” “No?” “No. But, you said it so everyone could hear.” “I embarrassed you.” He nods. “You kinda do that, you know.” Mm. “I apologize. I will try not to do that.” He nods again. “Okay. Thanks.”

Yep, kids grow over the summer.

Wild Child and The Diva

My daughter is a rock star. That is to say, take away the wealth, the fame and the trips into and out of rehab, and whatever it is that makes someone a rock star, she has it.

The “new girl” in school doesn’t typically have an easy time making a friend and fitting in, but when Diva started a new school mid-year, the girls (and boys) began competing for her friendship. She’s not popular; rather – and we make much if this distinction at home – she is well-liked. She’s funny and fashionable, she likes everyone by default, and she’s kind. Ask her “which one is Sandy?” and she never says “the fat one” or “the one who’s already getting acne,” she says warmly, “she’s the one with the really pretty reddish hair who wears the cute sweaters”. I mean, she’d be fairly difficult for any kid not to like.

Except, that is, the shy, nerdy brother of such a girl, in which case, it’s pretty much preordained that he’s going to hate her guts.  Wild child and the Diva have rarely resorted to actual hitting, but shrieking and name-calling form the background music of our home with “JERK!” and “IDIOT!” followed with infuriating regularity by “IMA!”

The rivalry is intensified by the fact that he is the older brother. With motives both generous and vainglorious, my son had looked forward to being little sister’s guide through school and life. Like an advance scout, he would blaze the trail and point out where water could be found and she, in turn, would look up to him. Instead, he’s found it necessary to consult her on everything from body sprays, to texting etiquette, to how to dress and wear his hair. His humiliation is complete now that, in physical terms at least, it is necessary for him to look up to her.

Girls can be relied upon to shoot up and start breaking out in curves a good two years before the boys see any changes in themselves…and at least one year before they notice any in the girls. Many of Wild child’s friends are sporting hairier legs, but not all. Some of their voices have begun the descent into a more manly timbre and others still sound like Justin Bieber. His best buds tower over him – watch them coming at you down the block and they call to mind Kermit the frog with bodyguards. I’ve pointed out to him that at his very age, my brother began the school year at 5’2″ and ended it at 6’1″ – the same age, not coincidentally, when I had to stop punching him as a negotiating tool.

We reckoned that his entry into middle school might lessen their rivalry a bit as it would at least having them spending their days apart, but we were genuinely afraid it might just eat him alive. Middle school might as well have been hell for me and…well, everyone I know, but it has been surprisingly kind to him. Moving from classroom to classroom gives his fidgets a little workout. A larger student population has meant a larger pool of nerdy and/or ADHD boys that can relate to him so he’s made friends. The net result has been a somewhat calmer and more confident kid. On one particularly good day, he learned both that he’d gotten a part he really wanted and his grades came back – all As. He smiled broadly as he settled himself into the car seat and said, “Hey Ima, I think maybe my awesomeness is finally kicking in.”