The Rockwood Files: Back to school clothes shopping with a teenager

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I know I shouldn’t be surprised. I should’ve known this was coming. But I honestly didn’t expect it. I thought I was special. And now I know, I’m not. Because it’s back-to-school clothes shopping time, and I’ve officially become my mother.

This realization snuck up on me because, until this year, my kids went to a charter high school with uniforms. A few weeks before the first day of school, I’d pick out a few new collared shirts in the approved school colors. Then I’d add a few pairs of new khaki pants to my online shopping cart, and that was it. End of shopping. No real decisions. No drama.

But this year, our youngest kid – the 14-year-old girl child – will be going to a different public high school where the rules say you can wear what you want within reason. She’s thrilled about this rule and has vowed to never wear another pair of khaki pants again. It’s like she just walked into a huge open buffet of fashion options after years of eating nothing but khaki bran muffins.

So, we went shopping. I led her through racks of clothes in the “Juniors” section of a department store. When I found something I thought was both cute and appropriate for school, I’d hold it out for her to see. “What about this?” I’d say, certain she’d be impressed with my decades of shirt-finding experience.

But she wrinkled her nose and shook her head, as if I’d shoved a piece of rotting fish in her face. After several failed attempts, I realized this was not going to go the way it used to when she was in 2nd grade and any unicorn t-shirt would do. So, I stepped back and said, “Okay, then you go find stuff you like, and I’ll stand here and wield my veto power.”

Off she went, plucking things off racks as if she’d struck fashion gold.

Her: Isn’t this shirt cute?

Me: It looks like it’s only the top one-third of a shirt. The color and pattern are cute, but where’s the middle and bottom of the shirt? Why would we pay full price for a fraction of a shirt? What happened here? Did this shirt run into a hay thrasher?

Her: (Looks at me like I just shuffled out of a retirement village.)

Me: (Looks back at her like she has lost her mind. Wishes we could go back to second grade’s unicorn shirts.)

While we stood there in this generational impasse, I flashed back 30-plus years to a day when I stood in a store with my own mother. It was the 80s and I was a teenager who knew everything. My back-to-school mission was to get a pair of Guess jeans. They had to have the little red and white triangle logo on the back pocket so everyone at school could see that I, too, was wearing the cool jeans and was therefore worthy of social approval.

When I found the pair I wanted and tried them on, I strode out of the dressing room like a Solid Gold dancer.

14-year-old me: Look! I found the right ones!

Mom: (Incredulous) These are the ones you like?

Me: Yes! They’re soooo popular.

Mom: They don’t even look new! They look all faded out and splotchy. Why would we pay full price for jeans that look a hundred years old?

Me: Mom, they’re acid washed. This is the style. (Then I rolled my eyes because my mom was so old and uninformed.) This is what makes them cool.

Her: Well, I bet I could make jeans look this terrible for way less money, but I’m not putting acid in my washing machine just so you can look cool.

I don’t remember exactly what happened after that. I think we compromised, and I got some regular Guess jeans that weren’t faded out or acid washed. I’m sure it probably put a dent in my high school social standing, but somehow, I survived.

So now I’m hoping my daughter and I will also find a way to meet in the middle – perhaps with a shirt that’s more than 50 percent intact. Prayers appreciated.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of Her book is available on Amazon.