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Life with Liz: Shopping with grown-ups

It dawned on me when we went school shopping, and I realized that our “usual route” of stores wasn’t going to work.

My kids further hammered things home by each wandering off to their own separate departments while we were in Target and Staples.

They each stuck one more knife in my heart when they made their own decisions, used their own money, and purchased assorted items that they assuredly couldn’t live without, but definitely weren’t on my list of approved items on the school supply list.

My kids went into quarantine as kids, and they’ve come out as young adults. I was pretty much oblivious to that fact since we didn’t leave our cocoon much in the last year plus.

Even when we finally started to emerge, we were safely into summer clothes where it wasn’t painfully obvious that pants were way too short and sweatshirts were snug.

Since we don’t take many shopping trips to brick-and-mortar stores anymore, thanks in part to internet shopping options, as well as a rigid dress code that removes the need browse for stuff they like, when we do, my kids don’t have the same reverence for “the mall” that I used to have.

Our annual back-to-school shopping trip is more focused on important things like where we’re going to eat lunch and how much time we’re going to spend at Barnes & Noble.

Those treats come after I’ve inconvenienced them with trying on shoes and making sure everyone has underwear, socks and a belt. Basically it’s a lot of carrot and hoping I don’t have to use any stick while we’re out in public, and it has always worked.

However, when I started mapping out our typical route, I realized that no one in my house is wearing stuff from “The Children’s Place” anymore. Carter’s and OshKosh have long gone by the wayside, but I was still holding onto TCP as the last bastion of my kids’ childhood. Old Navy was another good store that allowed me to still hang on to the kids’ department, while I grudgingly moved into the men’s department as the boys started to grow.

Then, even before COVID-19, A sprouted up and could no longer get the super long pants his lanky frame required in the store, and we could only find them online.

This was all compounded by E coming into that awkward stage where she’s too big for kids’ clothes, but not quite ready to wear women’s fitted clothes either. Like it or not, we were going to have to go from store to store and try things on, a prospect that no one was looking forward to. I asked my friends with tween girls where they shopped and got a ton of recommendations, and warnings about everything from small arm holes to buttonholes that weren’t snug to poor fit and poor quality.

We were ultimately successful and now I have a whole wealth of knowledge about stores like Aeropostale, American Eagle, and the rest of the whole teen clothing universe that I wasn’t even aware existed.

I was also not prepared for the amount of time that we had to spend in the toiletry aisle. We were all of three minutes into our trip when E asked me to sniff a body wash, and as she squeezed the bottle to give me the essence, it exploded all over my shirt and I spent the rest of our day smelling like “Fresh Blue Lotus.”

While I previously had been able to get away with tossing whatever deodorant or shampoo was on sale into my grocery cart, the boys definitely worked out their preferred products. Suffice it to say, no one is buying any more Johnson and Johnson No More Tears.

School supplies were more of the same. By now, everyone has a favorite style of binder, a favorite type of notebook, and something specific they’re looking for in a pencil pouch. I held my ground however, on the Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils. My kids are not going to be the ones jamming the pencil sharpeners with their fancy wrapped pencils, or running out of lead in some sort of space-aged mechanical pencil.

While we were waiting for E to try on 500 styles of polo shirt, the boys gave in to their boredom, and for the first time in their lives, actually shopped for clothing.

I had a fun time raising my eyebrows at some of their more eclectic choices and was also mildly shocked when they wanted to buy something I didn’t agree with, and they pulled out their own wallets and purchased it anyway.

Between A’s first job, and G not going anywhere for over a year, they had quite a stash of cash and were feeling adventurous.

I supposed after a year of stasis, the change in them is suddenly much more apparent. I also think they’re feeling a little rebellious after such a long stretch of nothingness. Since I’m about as exhausted by being 24/7 mom, I’m pretty much ready to let them go. As I found myself alone in the bookstore, I ignored my first impulse to panic and instead wandered over to the cookbook section. I grabbed a book and moseyed over to a chair. Then, I proceeded to get lost in the pages of international cuisine and waited for them to find me for a change.

As we headed out to the car, the inevitable fight over who was riding shotgun broke out, and just like that, my mini adults were right back to being a bunch of juveniles. A tiny glimpse of my halcyonic future, immediately followed by the slap in the face that motherhood so often is.

I’d rather not think about the fact that next year, one of them will probably be using his permit to drive us all on our annual trip.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.