I saw a great ad for a new online children's store: "Shopping with kids. Maybe labor wasn't so bad after all."

Have you ever tried it? It should be a new Olympic category -- The Teenage Girl One Hour Shopping Event -- in which you are given sixty minutes to go through a mall and come out with an outfit that fits, that's appropriate and that your teenage daughter likes. That you should like it also is beyond the realm of what's possible and would probably require a dose of some mind-altering substance thereby disqualifying you as an Olympic contestant.

What is it with adolescent girls and shopping? It's definitely a female thing. I once took my son along. He watched in fascination the year-long deliberation over a pair of shoes, then began to roll his eyes and finally wandered the room searching for the item in the store most suited to being a temporary distraction. For him, shopping is an unpleasant necessity finished as soon as possible.

For the girls, it is a day's (at least) entertainment.

Since I'm still in charge of finances and transportation, I'm forced to come along.

I don't know who is more tortured by this experience, them or me.

Of course their preference would be that my supervisory role ended at the mall entrance and that I discharged my parental obligations by filling their pockets with cash, but I insist on accompanying them throughout the "ordeal." I don't know who is more tortured by this experience, them or me. I guess it depends if we run into anyone they know.

WHY I DO IT

Since it clearly seems that my best interests and theirs would be better served by my lack of continued participation in this adventure, why do I persist? It must be the thrills! You never know what mother-daughter struggle lurks around the next corner. You never know what scene they could make in an upcoming store. And the opportunity to test one's character under adverse circumstances ...

As tempting as those reasons are that's not why I stick with it. I'm not sure why they think I do it -- some perverse pleasure, they suspect, that I get in annoying and embarrassing them, but I actually persist for two reasons:

  1. One is because, much as they hate to acknowledge it, they still want my opinion. Even though when they ask me what I think it seems a futile dialogue -- because they think I have at worst lousy, and at best unusual taste -- nevertheless my female offspring insist on asking. So I refrain from pointing out this discrepancy in their attitudes and try to be as casual as possible in stating my opinion. And surprisingly enough they usually accept it. I guess it's not so surprising. I'm still holding those credit cards.

  2. But on a deeper level I join them, tormenting all of us, because I want to teach them something. (Am I fighting a losing battle? Should I just give up now?) I want to teach them that shopping should not be their greatest source of pleasure. It shouldn't be an activity. Shopping is a practical reality. You need clothes (or purses, or barrettes, or headbands, or bracelets) and you need to shop. But shopping isn't a goal and I don't want it to be the default Sunday afternoon experience.

I want my daughters to appreciate that in a life filled with meaning, in a relationship with our Creator, shopping is a means, and a limited one at that, not an end.

I certainly don't want them "hanging out" at the mall and there are even some stores I'd rather they didn't enter -- some stores directed at teenage girls with ads and offerings so sleazy that I feel the need for a ritual immersion if I cross their threshold.

THERE IS MORE TO LIFE

I want my daughters to draw on their creative resources to fill their time with learning –- about themselves, about the world the Almighty made for them, about their heritage. I want them to fill their time with activities promoting physical health, with activities promoting personal growth and friendship, and with activities demonstrating concern and caring for others (like babysitting for their younger siblings!)

So I continue to go. I trudge from store to store, sit outside dressing room after dressing room, trying to maintain a semblance of good humor and to communicate my message.

I don't know if it works for them. Okay, who am I kidding? So far it hasn't. But I do know one beneficiary. After hours in a shopping center searching for that perfect Passover outfit ("I'll know it when I see it"), I am cured of any desire to shop for myself or even set foot in a mall for months to come!