The lights, the music, the smells…  No, not the carnival, though it often seems that way.  I mean the mall.

Growing up I loved the mall.  It was so convenient, so up-to-the-minute.  All the latest trends spread out for my viewing enjoyment.  It wasn’t until I got to be about 30 that I realized the mall is a trap.  The mall is designed to make us think that what we have isn’t enough, that we aren’t rich enough, we aren’t thin enough, we aren’t cool enough and we certainly aren’t smart enough.

Other than the Apple store, I haven’t been to the mall for myself in years.  I am much happier shopping online, via catalogs or honestly, at this super cute consignment shop in the next town over (They seriously have the best clothes at crazy great prices!) But the thing is my fourteen year old is graduating from 8th grade and she needs three, possibly four, dresses for the various events scheduled over the course of the next two months which means we need a target rich environment.  This could be a herculean task: three, possibly FOUR, dresses that meet several criteria, not the least of which will be adequately covering all the necessary parts not only for the Catholic school administration but for my father!

It seems a bit much to me too, especially considering I don’t even remember my 8th grade graduation.  But maybe back in the stone ages we didn’t celebrate every little milestone and that’s why I don’t remember it.  Though… it may have been a big deal and I have blocked out the details as I hated middle school.  The only things I remember with any clarity are humiliations, usually of me, sometimes my classmates.  The bad perm, the bad acne, the painful crush, and a horrible experience with white pants and that time of the month.  John Hughes films were written with my middle school experience in mind.

It hasn’t been the same experience for my daughter – thank you God!  The kids are all so kind and accepting of each other, especially of my sweet little introvert who would rather chat with the teachers than run across the playground after a ball.  Most of the 26 kids in 8th grade this year have been going to school together since they were 4 years old and some of them are more family than our family!  But even with these kids it is hard to be in middle school.  There is so much pressure to conform, social media, gigantic body and image stereotypes, plus my daughter is a wallflower.

Wallflower sounds kind of cool these days, I know.  But really, I don’t mean it a la “Perks of Being a Wallflower” or some Regency era romance, I mean it in the stand on the sidelines and watch a lot of things happen that you aren’t invited to, won’t participate even if you were and in general wish you were anyplace but right there because it feels oh-so-awkward.

The stars have aligned for my oldest to be insecure.  When people comment on it, I admit, I want to point to her younger sister and say, “She’s mine, too! I don’t know why they are so different.”  But I don’t.  A: They are both mine, God made them both just as He intended and B: where do these people get off commenting on the differences in random people’s children?  Rudeness I say.

Not only that, my oldest is fourteen, have I mentioned that?  We argue about everything pretty much from the time she gets up until the time she goes to bed.  We argue about what time to get up and what time to go to bed as a matter of fact, and pretty much everything in between.  It has taken me a while to realize that I should take this as a compliment.  She knows I love her so much she can argue with everything and I will still love her.  Not a bad silver lining.

Shopping with my fourteen year old is one of the few things we can do these days without arguing, as unbelievable as that sounds.  You would think that there would be fits in the dressing room; echoes down the aisles of “Mother!  Are you kidding me?”  But strangely, no, my daughter loves trying on clothes with me.  She loves waiting to see what I like and I think, more importantly, what we can agree and disagree on and the conversation we can have.  She loves being the sole focus of my attention, and I think, my pleasure.  When we find something we both like, she smiles, her eyes sparkle, seriously, I mean bedazzled.  And did I say she smiles?  Getting her to smile is worth the price of every over-priced item at the mall.

So this weekend.  She tried on about forty-eleventeen dresses (twenty) and we found two that were great.  Really great.  Modest enough for school, but fun and young enough for her.  We paid, boy, did we, and we walked out of the mall.

The hug she gave me was awesome.  The “You’re the best mommy in the world” was totally accurate.  But the mumbled “Now I won’t feel so bad” was heartbreaking.  Without appearing overeager, because teenagers are more easily startled than animals in the wild, I asked, “Hmm?”  She replied, “Nothing.” Such a teenage response… I asked again, “Sorry, I didn’t hear you.”  Then she said, “Well, I always just feel so, you know, ugly. But these make me feel pretty,” she added with an upbeat smile.

How is it that my beautiful daughter with gorgeous, and I do mean gorgeous, hair, her father’s beautiful eyes and her kind soul, feels less than pretty?  Why can’t I reach into her heart and show her what I see?  Why can’t I stroke her easily dented heart so the hurt goes away like some bump or scrape from when she was a self-loving toddler?

So, the mall…the over-priced, over-stimulated, over-stereotyped, mall may just prove to be a place where we can connect and perhaps even out some of the roughness of the teenage years.