Shopping with a Tween

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ShoppingBagSHOPPING WITH A TWEEN has me befuddled.

Perhaps what has me so confused and dazed is the fact that not so very long ago, I could go shopping for my little princess and she loved everything I produced. She actually wore it – even wore it out.

My two sons were the same. No fuss, no bother. Such easy to please children, I’d smugly think. So grateful and uncomplicated.

And then my daughter turned 11 and things changed. She became what is commonly labelled a ‘tween’. Not quite teen, not quite girl. An ‘in between’. Suddenly the cool factor crept in and mom’s offerings weren’t so appreciated anymore.

So, deciding it was time for mom and daughter to connect, for her to display a little independence, freedom of choice and maturity, the two of us embarked on what I’d romantically labelled ‘a little bonding retail therapy’. Perhaps I could also nudge her out of shorts and T-shirts and into feminine little sundresses. Oh how wrong I was.

After the first half hour I had an inkling of how difficult the next two hours were going to be. Still, I remained positive, breathed deeply and even managed to offer a little stopover for a sustaining coffee and milkshake. It was clear, however, that I was in way over my head.

The manufacturers of this tween clothing didn’t help. ‘My Mom’s a Cash Register’ or ‘FBI (Finds Boys Irritating)’ emblazoned on T-shirts didn’t exactly bode well.

‘Whoever designs this clothing either has no children, or has an intense dislike for them,’ I muttered on discovery of yet another pretty pink t-shirt with a skull embedded in the logo.

I recalled a friend and mother of four telling me how she went shopping for her children at a popular chain store and in exasperation, ended up complaining to management that all their children’s clothes looked as though they’d been designed for pimps and prostitutes. I saw her point.

We soldiered on. Fortunately my tween wasn’t too keen on the gothic line. She also failed to see what was so amusing about Caution: Blonde Thinking. Hannah Montana was out, and so was High School Musical 2.

Note to clothing designers: While children may enjoy certain movies and television shows, they don’t necessarily want their star’s faces beaming up at them from a T-shirt. That’s called overkill. And while I’m at it, a note to teeny weenie pop stars: Stick to what you’re good at: Singing.

Perhaps we could try the women’s shops instead. The extra small may just fit. Not much help there either. Too long, cleavage too low…straps too long. Just wrong.

We leave, exhausted, irritable and empty handed. Not entirely true, because I did manage to find a rather appealing pair of shorts and some shoes for myself but that didn’t count. We were there for the tween, not the middle aged mom, (would that be a mam?).
Take Two.

Several weeks later, we embark, through a mixture of sheer desperation (daughter is now alternating three T-shirts), on yet another shopping excursion.

The second trip is even less successful. Worse still, I lose my daughter and my cool. A little mix up with shops of a similar name had me waiting in one spot and she in another. After passing an anxious few minutes, I could no longer restrain myself – a fertile imagination had her kidnapped, shoved in a dubious looking mini van with dark tinted windows by a Caucasian man in his thirties at which point I alert the shopping centre security giving a detailed description of my daughter, ‘petite, blonde, wearing shorts, Dunlops and an orange t-shirt….’

‘Mom! Where were you?’ interrupted my tearful rambling. My nonplussed daughter found me first.

So, suffice to say, my recent shopping experience with my ‘tween’ has not been the bonding, joyful experience one might expect of a mum and her only darling daughter.

Determined to overcome this minor obstacle, we embark on one final shopping expedition. Admittedly, a post-Christmas Sale time is perhaps not entirely suitable for a focussed, efficient shop.

The past experience had been bathed in a romantic glow. This was different. I knew exactly what I was in for. This time, instead of joyful expectation, there was a mixture of dread and foreboding. I ignored these feelings and imbibed two strong cups of coffee instead.

I took a positive approach, namely: ‘Please, Lord, give me strength.’

The shops are crowded with bargain hunters, re-invigorated by the Sale, Sale and more Sale signs. We try to remain focussed and resolute. I have, through previous experience, learnt to control my enthusiasm. Too much and she loses interest. Too little enthusiasm and she accuses me of being disinterested.

The trick, when asked one’s opinion, is to offer just the right amount of interest. A sort of casual ‘oh, yes, that might work – the colour’s lovely on you,’ and then to amble over to some adult clothing and pretend to be deeply engrossed in a sage green sarong. Keep it cool, keep it casual.

Finally, she spots something she actually likes. And surprise, surprise, I like it too. It’s a white, feminine top and it’s not a T-shirt! Oh the joys! She tries it on. It fits. She ACTUALLY LIKES IT! I want to leap around the shop in pure elation, telling everyon: ‘We’ve found it! We’ve found it! A shirt, we’ve found a shirt! And see? It’s a beautiful feminine lacy white shirt, it’s not a T-shirt!”

Of course, I am restrained, calm and borderline ambivalent.

‘Look, it’s on sale too, that’s great – should we go for coffee?’

We leave, my daughter clutching her first purchase in what has seemed like an eternity of shop trawling. We amble, the lovely daughter and her lovely mum, into a bookshop like lovely daughters and their lovely mums do. We wander into a shoe shop as lovely mums and daughters do. And then the lovely mum realised her lovely daughter is without her parcel.

‘Where’s the shirt? You haven’t lost it already have you??’ the now not so lovely mum shrieks.

And then the lovely mum turns mean, really mean. I think she said something along the lines of ‘I’M GOING TO MURDER YOU!!!’ and a few other things she chooses to forget. Of course, she apologised later, but given the circumstances, this little outburst was surely forgivable.

We retraced our steps. No-one has handed any parcel in at the bookshop counter. Perhaps customer service will help. Customer service cannot help. There is no parcel. Lovely mother is long gone. Angry, frustrated, murderous mother has replaced her.

We leave mobile numbers and stomp to the car, utterly defeated. Surely it cannot end like this?

And then, the phone call. They’ve found the parcel.

Lovely mum returns and embraces lovely daughter.

Tween shopping? Child’s play.

Copyright © 2009 by Lois Nicholls

Filed under: Family


Lois Nicholls is an Australian freelance journalist. She is also the author of "Aussie, Actually," which captures her heartfelt experiences as a South African migrant living in Australia. Her second book, "Bye-bye Bikini", published in August 2018, is a series of frank and humorous essays navigating everyday life from the perspective of a fifty-something former newspaper and magazine journalist. Her first children's book, "What Dog is That?" available in hardcopy from was published in May 2019. Her books on Amazon: