Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mall Rats

Some of my kids' best -- and worst -- qualities can neither be tied directly to nature or nurture. Like my eldest's astonishing ability with money. That one was not inherited from either parent, although I'm grateful for it.

I'm much less grateful for our daughter's growing penchant for going to the mall with her friends.

Let me be clear: I like buying. I like grocery shopping because you never go to the grocery store just to browse. You go with intention and appetite, and you leave with bags of food. You might discover fun delicacies along the way, but really you know what you've come for. I like incidental Christmas shopping, whereby I keep in mind the people I need to buy for and randomly pick up gifts throughout the year when I find the perfect item. And, my dislike for malls has something to do with the fact that my back gets tired and easily sore when I walk too long on polished floors. But, even as I look back to my misspent youth, shopping was not a major feature.

I will also say that my daughter is a good shopper. She makes great choices, has fabulous taste and gets how a budget works. She has learned not to beg or whine along the way. She comes home empty-handed more often than not.

It's the lurking in the palaces of conspicuous consumption that I don't like. I remember when Chapters opened up in our city and lots of people made it a destination, to get a cup of coffee and browse for books. Or Ikea. Plenty of folks I know make Ikea a wandering destination.

People: a park is a wandering destination. Climb a mountain. Sit by the lake. Walk along the beach. Hold hands with a toddler and take an hour to walk a city block. Take a trail. Ride your bike.

A store is a place to buy things. When you need things, you go. When you don't, you live your life.

Yesterday, I dropped her off at school. She and her friends talked and then ran back to me. "Can I go to the mall this week?" she asked. I started to shake my head. "You don't need anything." "But I haven't been to the mall in two or three weeks!"

I surveyed the crowd. "Tell me why you don't want to be a mall rat," I asked. They all shrugged. They DID want to be mall rats. You can get feathers woven into your hair at the mall.

As the dog and I walked home, I thought about this and I tried to be fair. I know what appeals to her about shopping: it's a bit of freedom with your friends. It's the hunt for something novel and interesting. It's finding ways to express who you are through clothes. But I used to volunteer at Ten Thousand Villages and one of the things I learned there is that it's pretty much as much fun helping someone else choose something for their occasion as it is finding something for your own.

By the time I got home, I had concocted a dangerously elaborate plan: I would herd the group of mall rats to my house, teach them how to make fun crafts (they could even buy the supplies together! with my seed capital!) Then they would sell the crafts at my friend's Christmas bazaar. The funds they raised they could use for a shopping trip to the mall -- with a twist. Instead of buying for themselves, they could buy clothes, toys and gifts for a family in need. I contacted a friend who works with refugees - she has two families who came to Canada with the clothes on their backs. Bingo!

I said the plan was dangerously elaborate because it was a bit like a Jenga tower: one misstep in how I communicated this to my daughter and the whole thing could fall flat. After school, we sat in the backyard and I asked her to listen to the whole idea before she came to a conclusion. I told her she and her friends could adapt the plan, make it their own - that they didn't need to do my idea exactly. She listened and nodded. "I like it, Mom," she said. "Except I think my friends and I should keep the money for ourselves and go shopping."

[Insert sound of head banging on table here.]

All I said was that I wouldn't provide the seed capital in that case. I read her the profiles of the families. I said we could talk about it again later.

But I'm kind of perplexed. I haven't wanted to be one of those parents who insists on food bank donations in lieu of birthday party gifts, but we have tried to model generosity and compassion in a variety of ways. I know that a tween who wants to go to the mall with her friends is more typical than not, so it's not that I'm disturbed by this. I just wish I could shift the balance a little. Truly, she does not need one more skinny teeshirt in her drawer, and there are kids in our city who have only the clothes on their backs.

I'm just wondering how we get from here to there. Thoughts?


  1. Do the Canadian thing and compromise. Suggest they can keep a small percent of the profits after all the Christmas bazaar is a charitable event and buyers are attracted by that.

  2. I'm not sure I can offer advice, but I sure can offer company on the journey! I've puzzled over the same phenomenon at our house. I've been pretty strict about not using the mall as a social destination very often(or the school, long after school has ended for the day...or other people's schools...). I would prefer that shopping not be a hobby. My girls don't get it. One example among many these days when I find myself vaguely disappointed by their choices, even though I understand. I appreciate your creativity in writing about it and in coming up with fun (although perhaps not sustainable?) alternatives!

  3. And GivinGirl -- I'm not wrong, am I? I mean, I remember fun trips to the Eaton Centre, but it wasn't in any way the centrepiece of our social life. Unless possibly you count trips to that little store for gummi bears.

  4. Have you explored whether or not perhaps going to the mall is this group's way of sometimes fostering community with each other? Less about the shopping and more about being in our 'modern day version' of the town centre? (posted this at the end of the wrong blog entry) (Bonnie)

  5. Bonnie - I think you commented in the right place. And yes, I think that is definitely part of it - a part I want to encourage. But does it have to be at the mall? That's my question. If the mall becomes our modern day town centre, I'd like to resist that acculturation.