You’re trying to walk a little ahead or behind to make it seem like you're not actually with her, but some 18-year-old, uniformed salesman with too much hair gel asks if he can help her find anything. And your mother’s reply, of course, informs the entire store that, yes, you're related to this permed woman who doesn't belong in this athletics shrine.
There is a life size cardboard cut-out of Shaquille O’Neal (when he was still cool). The radio is playing your favorite techno song (when it was still cool). And the wall is lined with shoes, glorious shoes, each with it’s own little shelf, and track lighting making them shine like golden calves.
Your mother being practical wants nothing to do with the Air Jordans so instead asks where the reasonably priced and ever-so-versatile cross trainers are.
You survey the options. Knowing none of them will be envy-inspiring, you cut your losses. You spot the few pairs that will at least not provoke outright mockery. The salesman has acknowledged your presence by now but continues asking your mother the important questions, as though her opinion mattered in this decision. She tells him that you'll try on this one, this one, and that one in size 7. Salesguy goes to the back and leaves you and your mother alone.
You have a few options at this time. You can endure awkward conversation/silence with your mom in a public place. You can pretend you are looking at other merchandise, thereby avoiding the awkwardness. Or your third, and most advantageous, option: Sweet talk. Suddenly transform yourself into the most agreeable 12 year old she has ever known. But don't be too obvious. Your goal is to loosen her up for later when you try to boost your price range by 10 or 20 dollars.
Out come the rectangular boxes “We didn’t have this one in a 7, so I brought a 7 ½. “
You take the crinkly paper balls out of the toe of one while the salesman laces another.
This is game time. Your real bargaining power begins here. No mother would make her child wear uncomfortable shoes, would she? So, the ugly pair she insisted you try on—well, they rub you the wrong way. And the other ones that look okay but aren't Nikes, they just don't feel right. And if the cool ones actually don't feel good?? These are the things you do for 12-year-old prestige.
Your mother is powerless at this point. Her only bargaining chip, since she can't inhabit your foot, is the toe check. You know, that thing she does where she presses down twice on the toe of the shoe to see how much room there is?
You can't wait to get away from this situation and wear your gleaming white leather in front of your peers. Because on the playground everyone is willing to buy into the unspoken fantasy that middle-aged mothers in doily-fringed cardigans have nothing to do with the acquisition of your awesome shoes. And that the relative awesomeness of each person's shoes does not in fact depend on a parent's willingness or ability to drop $120 dollars on shoes that you'll outgrow in 6 months, but is in fact a 1:1 reflection of your coolness.
Some kids—they were rare—were given a clothing allowance and then permitted to ride the bus to the mall. Oh freedom of freedoms! The city bus! To be that kid!
Now you’re the parent. Your 12-year-old needs new shoes, do you…
(A) go with your child to make sure he makes a wise decision? You’re paying after all, shouldn’t you get the final say in the matter?
(B) go with your child to humiliate him under pretenses of goodwill and benevolent provision? Emphatically and publically reaffirming their dependence despite their greatest pubescent wishes to be independent?
(C) Go with your child because that's how you do things? This wish for independence is just a phase and they'll get over it. (It's not like they're gonna be writing about the experience when they're 28 or anything.)
(D) Let him go alone, empowering him to make decisions on his own and living with the consequences?
(E) Let him go alone, it’s easier that way.