Tuesday, September 23, 2008

You're twelve and you're buying shoes.

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.

(F) ???

9 comments:

James Moes said...

Encourage your twelve-year old to read flyers frequently and purchase on Boxing Day. That was how I got my cool & somewhat uncomfortable shoes when I was twelve. I read flyers & Consumer Reports & Zillions (CR for kids). Oh, what a capitalist hero.

James Moes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
emily said...

i think i would accompany the kid, but give him/her a budget to work with...like this is how much you have to spend, and then give him/her the freedom to choose how to spend it.

Jodi said...

Well....I'd go with A.

Even though I can totally remember being in this situation, my kid has to learn to make wise decisions when spending money, and I've got to be there to help them in that. However, I also think I'm a fairly cool mom who totally understands a kid's desire to have cool shoes (hey, I want the name brands for myself too) so I think I would be sensitive to that.

AND, I don't believe that we're all inherently destined to being dorky parents that our kids are embarrassed to be seen with. I think that if I can maintain strong ties of fellowship with my kids, and if I can always be respectful of what life as a 4-, 8-, 12-year-old, etc. is like, while also training them while they're young to always respect me, then my kids will be totally stoked to go shoe shopping with me. ;)

Hmm...that was a really long answer. Excellent portrayal of that situation, by the way. It was spot on. :)

Shannon Rush said...

It is really fun to see everyone's responses. I also really enjoyed reading Brian's post. It made me laugh out loud because I too think it portayed the awkwardness well.

I think it depends on the kid (is that a cop out?) While, like Jodi, I hope that my kids enjoy being with me and that I can try to stay relevant to their lives, I know that it probably won't always be the case. I think there is a point in every kid's life where they need to pull away a bit. Some of that "I know everything, and you just don't understand" teenage attitude is a necessary part of the maturing process. I am guessing 12 might be a bit young to go unaccompanied, but maybe not. After a few years of "buying shoes" together, I think it would be appropriate to release some support. Maybe be in the mall but not in the store in case they want to consult me. Then maybe the next time not go.

I don't think that I have to be present for my kid to learn to make wise choices. There is a point where they need to be alone to make the choice without me being present. I also think it is really important for them to have the freedom to fail -- maybe have bad shoes for a little while. Otherwise they might not really be learning and have to make that mistake as an adult with greater consequences.

Eastfield Faculty said...

Ummm...probably C. Or not. I don't like shopping anyway. Where's the e-bay option?

-calia

Anonymous said...

Once again, excellent writing! As the mother of three 20-something children I have one question. Was I the dorky mom or the cool one (you can be honest Shannon)? I need to get this right before my grandchildren don't want to be seen with me in public.

My approach to this situation was to allow freedom of choice while attempting to stay within a reasonable budget. As a child, Shannon had very definate ideas of what she wanted and would do without if we could not find it. Usually she did not want what everyone else was wearing, therefore creating a more challenging situation as those items were often not available at your average department store and seldom on sale. It was also important to me to be there with them to make sure my kids were safe. For good or bad we tended to make everything a family event, so you can imagine what embarassment that created. The kids quickly learned that if we split up and the child getting the new item went with dad, price became a non-issue. By the time Shannon was twelve I believe all three of them had this tactic figured out and the new system was working to their advantage.
I guess what I'm saying is "You'll figure out what works best for you as each stage presents itself." You are both wonderful and intuitive parents who love and know their child better than most already!

Love,
Mom G

Anonymous said...

HA. Mom you should write a blog! stories and lessons from nana. We totally wanted Dad to come shopping... hehe.

-alli

ps. i think our mom is kind of cool.

Dena said...

wow. I was just going to simply say "A. 100%...A" But now I'm feeling insincere reading everyone else's comments.

Sorry? :)

~Dena