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Schooled in Shopping

I have friends who can while away hours at a mall and come home perfectly content, having bought nothing other than lunch. These people have kids and jobs and grimy bathrooms, just like me. They are shoppers; I am not.

As a girl, rummaging through the hand-me-downs of four older sisters was about as close as I ever got to clothes shopping. Years later, I found my wedding gown at the first boutique my mother insisted on taking me to. It was also the first dress I tried on, though I will admit, not the only. As I posed on that platform in front of the tri-panel mirror, bridal attendants busily buttoned and bustled and pinned. I remember thinking that if I were to have a daughter one day, she might wear this same dress – thereby eliminating the need to shop for a new one. Cool.

As the family’s primary purchasing agent, I approach most of my shopping with this same mindset. In the cereal aisle, I keep my eyes averted, careful to avoid the brands with yogurt balls or unidentified crunchy stuff or dried fruit. In the early days, my daughters would ransack the lowest shelves, and present boxes with names like Fruity Rings and Choco-Puffs for consideration. Now, if they sign on for grocery duty at all, they shuffle like drones down the aisle on their way to retrieve “what Mommy always gets.”

And so it was, with this sort of shopping enmity that I first ventured out in early August holding the hand of a little girl, who was holding a very long list. Pencil box, marble composition books, blunt-tip scissors, two boxes of crayons, pocket folders, glue sticks, washable markers. We’re talking school supplies, my friends, and lots of ’em.

That first year, my rising kindergartener and I managed to find everything on the list at a single store. With the addition of two school-aged sisters, however, and exponentially longer lists, the notion that one store could possibly sell everything the Schwartzkopfs needed for the well-stocked desk or locker soon became absurd.

Target, for example, was historically the destination for sports-themed notebooks and folders. Staples, on the other hand, specialized in patterns and flowers. And then there was the binder. To zip or not to zip? That was the question. Along with: Soft-side or plastic? Do you really need a handle? What about a shoulder strap? Three-ring, two-inch, large enough for five subjects – but light enough not to cause your child to tip over or list while walking home from the bus stop.

(Oh, and about that shoulder strap? He won’t use it, and it’s detachable. So if you need one, we have a few to spare.)

It’s all we can do now to keep our school supplies shopping trip contained to one day, much less one store. It has become, at the very least, a shopping extravaganza – including lunch.

So anyway, I’ve known for a long time I need to work through my shopping aversion. While I can’t see myself as the kind of woman who will never choose to spend hours at the mall, I am realistic. I have three girls after all. I’m sure there are some absolutely lovely (and alternately horrible) mother-daughter moments in our future that will take place in a dressing room or in front of a sale rounder of way-too-short, strapless prom dresses. Why, just a month ago, I discovered how much more enjoyable swimwear shopping can be when your 14-year-old is the one trying on the bathing suits.

But for now, we’re all back at Staples, up against a wall of notebooks and folders, where my youngest daughter is absolutely befuddled. School colors or soccer balls. What will it be this fall?

The good news is, this year we know exactly where we’re going for lunch.

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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