shopping purgatory

The shirt in the window



I used to love shopping. And then I had a tween. #KillMeNow ~ My Facebook status yesterday afternoon


Katie and I are at the mall doing some early back to school shopping. This summer she’s officially entered shopping purgatory – too sophisticated for children’s shops, too conservative (thank God) to be interested in most of the glittery, half-shirt and skinny jeans tween shops and still just not quite there when it comes to junior wear. She’s determined, however to establish a middle school style of her own, so we’re trying to come up with a new group of stores from which to put said style together. We walk by Hollister and I suggest giving it a try.


She blanches – literally. “Mama,” she says, “I can’t.”


The music pulsates from inside the store, surrounding us even where we stand, a good ten feet from the entrance.


“Seriously, I can’t.”


I take a deep breath. We already left three other stores because they were too loud. Or too chaotic. Or too crowded. And I’d tried not to show my relief when she’d asked to leave them. But Jesus, we’ve been at the mall for two hours and she hasn’t even tried anything on yet. Eventually, the kid needs to get some damned clothes. And from the looks of the adorable blouse in the window of this place, it has promise.


“Sweetie,” I say, “I get it. I really, really do. But here’s the thing. We’ve got to work through this. And I know that you can.”


She looks at me, wide-eyed. “Mama, it’s SO loud. It hurts my ears from here.”


“OK,” I say, “then lets employ the strategies that we have for your sister. What would you tell her to do right now?”


No, I’m not missing the irony here. Thought that’s not what it is, is it?


“I’d tell her to cover her ears,” she says, her shoulders slumping.


“Listen,” I say, “I know this is not going to be a pleasant place for you. Me either. But let’s frame this, OK? Let’s just say, “OK, we know this isn’t going to be fun, but we’re gonna take a deep breath and do what we need to do to get through it. We’ll see if they have that shirt in your size and if you like it, you can create an outfit around it.”


She’s looking at me skeptically.


“I’m not saying it’s going to be fun, Katie. I’m just saying we can plow through together. Cool?”


“Cool,” she says with a shrug.


She looks miserable.


We clasp hands and walk in the door. It’s an immediate, full-on sensory assault. The music throbs through my chest and vibrates in my hair. The overpowering smell of cologne catches in the back of my throat. For a brief moment, I think I may gag.


Katie covers her ears and leans into me. “Mama!” she yells over the music, “It’s hurting my ears to push so hard!” I show her how to cup her hands to block out the sound. “Mama!” she yells again, “It’s not working! It’s not enough!” She looks panicked. She looks like she’s going to cry.


I can’t make her do this. I can’t do this. I would never make her sister do this. I drop the shirt in my hand and we all but run for the door.


The part of me left over from Before wants to be angry. The Before part wants to tell her to suck it up. It’s friggin music, kid. It’s the world. Wanna function in it, figure out how to work through it.


The part of me from After knows better. Get her out of here. Get us both out of here. We’ll shop online. This isn’t helping anyone. Why did you try to push this in the first place? What were you trying to prove?


The part of me from Somewhere-In-Between wants to fold her arms across her chest and sound smug as she says, “See? Now you know what your sister goes through. ALL THE TIME. Sucks, doesn’t it?”


And the part of me That’s Doesn’t Want To Admit It has a hunch that she already knows.



I hug my girl to my side and promise her that we’ll find the shirt online. We collect Luau and Brooke and get the hell out of the mall.

24 thoughts on “shopping purgatory

  1. I think this is truly one of only times I did not wish I had been there with you. Add me to the list of those that can’t handle those assaults. I’m sorry though that it was such a difficult time for both of you.

    Love you,

  2. Oh hello shopping purgatory — ugh. All of your personal experiences aside, I hate these places ….. the ones where the atmostphere is specifically engineered to make us shoppers do precisely what they want — the ones that rely on the crazy music and placement as opposed to a great produce and fantastic customer service. I also hate how they (and this is about Abercrombie but pretty sure applies to Hollister too) will have items on the rack “for the marketing team” that they won’t sell (at their hugely overrated prices) because it belongs on the rack for the aforementioned loud-musiced purposes.

    Anyway, I can tell you my daughter’s taste changed a lot after sixth grade — there was a dress code too so that influenced things. I also LOVE Plato’s closet – it is consignment that is limited to the brands from those obnoxious stores, at a fraction of the cost and without the crazy music.


  3. We entered a tween store a couple of weeks ago for my very tall 9yo daughter. Oh my gosh! The noise :: shudder :: we had a similar experience to you.

    Big hugs for the part of you That’s Doesn’t Want To Admit It has a hunch that she already knows.

  4. Ugh, I’m sorry. I feel the pain. I can’t even wal by Hollister. Too loud. Obnoxious bad smelling cologne. I can’t do it either. Shopping online sounds much more appealing.

  5. That girl is so smart. I’d have struggled through, miserable, making everyone else miserable, too. And spent years not recognizing the pattern (mall=anxious headache). Wait, that’s exactly what happened! And now, the bliss of online shopping. I feel guilty about the carbon footprint of boxes going back and forth, but the sheer relief of not having to enter a store, especially a store at the mall…
    p.s. My boys give me no scope for this, but I vote for J. Crew and Boden…although my favorite tween fashion maven is a big Hollister fan. : )

  6. I navigated Holliater with my very tall 9 year old ASD daughter when she outgrew the kids stores. We finally reached the end of the line for the dressing room to be told that only one person was allowed in the changeroom. Despite my quiet explanation of my daughters age, ASD and that she couldn’t manage changing on her own the young clerk would not let me accompany her. In generally we have such positive experiences in public that it hit me hard. Still looking for the magic store for a 10 year old who wears adult sizes.

  7. Wow. Jess. This is a powerful post. Maybe it hits home in a different way for me, because this is something I go through with my oldest who, while lacking an actual diagnosis label, has some definite sensory issues.
    At home, I’m much more lenient with my SPD middle guy: dinner smells/looks funny? Here’s your yogurt. For my oldest when he says the food looks funny or is too hard to chew? I tend to roll my eyes and tell him to try it anyway. It’s not a proud parenting moment for me. And I’m embarrassed publicly to admit that. But then I stop and I don’t force it. I want him to try where his brother cannot.
    I’m glad you shared this. Like so many of your posts, this one helped me. So much.

  8. What a stinky situation! I so wish the stores knew the sensory assault they creat is devestating to so many of us. I almost wish that maybe there could be a day or 2 hours a week first thing in the morning with nice elevator music, NO cologne and no blinking lights! Have you tried going to a “Plato’s Closet” type store (gently used clothing)? We go there to figure out sizes for different brands because I know the manufacturers are just trying to torture my girl (or me). We have even found brand new jeans with tags on there (hmmmm, possibly I am not the only mom that purchases multiple sizes to see if they fit then forgets/neglects to take the wrong sizes back because I fear the music, cologne and lights). I buy a LOT online but am always frustrate by sizing (especially junior sizing!) One more thing, I took my little lady and her NT twin brother to famous footwear. We chatted about it before going in. We did our social story. We were ready. Yes, she took off for the girls shoes and tried to get the light up skechers on her size 7 feet. Not happening Cinderella’s step sister! Anyway, her brother proceeded to try on 8 different types of shoes and she sat (laid) patiently on the mushroom. We finally trooped over to the ladies shoes where she had a deep desire to try on the 5 inch pink glitter platform only to realize that it is only possible to stand still. She oogled a pair of leopard print spike heels. We finally settled on a pair of black flat and leopard print flats! We ended up with 4 pairs of shoes, no tears, and I happily handed over the american express. It was our best shopping experience ever. And they are 14. XOXO!

  9. I can relate. Both from the being over stimulated standpoint and the standpoint of a mom who has all of those conflicting thoughts…shopping online is a great alternative to the stimuli…but I know that there is so much more to this than that.

  10. Jess,
    I can feel yours and Katie’s pain. I never got why stores like Hollister and Abercrombie made it so unpleasant for the kids and the “grown-ups”, the ones with the money, to enjoy the shopping experience. Like you, I have ran out of those stores without buying a thing.
    Now you know my daughter is a shopping maven and loves all of those online sites…..our UPS man knew she was back home just because of the increase in deliveries. Don’t give up on the shopping…Ali and I have spent years doing it and we love the outlets!! Of course we both have way too much in our closets!!Good luck!!
    xo Carol

  11. I am a huge fan of online shopping (born of necessity). My tween girl is 12 and while she wears a uniform to school, for her other clothes we have had great luck with American Eagle (excellent customer service), Old Navy (awesome sales, I purchase additional sizes and return what doesn’t work), and Nordstrom’s. Zappo’s is another great online source as they do free shipping both ways.
    Sending you both much love and light.

  12. My 19 year old won’t set foot in either Hollister or A&F. And she got around her ‘awkward’ too old for kids, too good for baby hooker stuff by adopting a uniform of basketball shorts and t-shirts. Which she still wears to this day in college (helps that she’s a jock, but at least now she can shop in misses for ‘nice’ clothes.) The multi-colored hightops she wore with her homecoming (short) dress were a hoot though…. 🙂

  13. I have written before about how I have some of the same sensory issues as MacKenzie. That said, I think we can get one more year in the girls section before we have to move to the tweens. PS: I carry a little tube of disposable earplugs in my purse for these situations.

  14. You didn’t ask for advice, but as someone who suffers from being overwhelmed by Too Much Noise, I can recommend small pieces of toilet tissue in the ears. And shopping online. 🙂

  15. Another online shopper here. I like They have a range for 8-16 year olds and their miniboden range also goes up to age 14. Also they have free shipping and returns.

  16. And that is the reason the Internet was created. I can’t stand the sensory overload of those stores. The loud music I can tolerate ok; the strong smelling cologne: no way.

  17. Hollister is just plain wrong, period. Don’t get me started on the ASSAULT to my senses from the cologne and music, and that’s from 6 stores over!

  18. I am right there with you. My daughter with special needs is 11, still lets me dress her, and all I want to do is put her in cute Hanna Anderson dresses and leggings…but then she won’t look like the other 11-year-old girls. But I hate that skimpy, glittery crap. We did find a few trendy, yet cute, things at garnet hill…which is catalog/online!!! I hope you found some things.

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