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Small Talk: The chaos of shopping for kids clothes

Children and clothing. A wound and iodine. Ammonia and chlorine. Carbon and dioxide.  Can you tell I’ve been shopping for my children lately? Can you tell how well it has gone?

Suddenly the mornings are cooler. Suddenly the nights are cooler. Suddenly I woke up and found rain on my sidewalk. My children will need long-sleeved shirts and long pants. I have just spent a total of 10 precious hours during a one-week period, shopping for my children. Six of those hours were spent looking, comparing, guessing sizes and purchasing. The other four were spent returning everything, driving to a different shopping center, looking again, comparing again and purchasing again.

Guessing at sizes, you say? Well, surely you don’t expect me to take them with me? Had I been foolish enough to do that, those 10 hours would have become 20. We have hit “the year of having opinions.” I knew it was coming and I have braced for it, but it is not pretty.

My son, bless his nonchalant little heart, has given me six years’ grace. He has not, up until this very year, given two hoots and a darn about what he wears. Sunday church clothes have been a minor exception, but since he only has to wear them for two hours, I can win that dispute. I paled a little last week when he suddenly stated, “Well, be sure you get me things that are cool.”

“What exactly would be cool?” I asked cautiously, knowing that he is getting this phrase from his friends who possess older brothers. It turned out that “cool” meant T-shirts with pictures on them (as opposed to the classic solid or striped Ts and shorts I mixed and matched in the summer).

I managed, with a little effort, to find picture T-shirts we could both live with. It was worth the time, but I had to sort through a lot of cartoon hype and rude expressions. I expect junior high to be a pitched battle.

Meanwhile, I shopped four major department stores for my daughter, rejecting almost everything I saw. The truly infuriating circumstance this year is that she has crossed that vague line from little girl to slightly bigger little girl. For some reason, the designers and buyers have decided that once a child grows larger than a 6X, it’s OK for her to dress like she is 18 and blind. Do they really think a second-grader is picking out their own clothes? Bah! But once you hit size 7, you kiss goodbye sweet, simple jumpers, dresses with little white collars, solid-colored anything and any material except denim or ribbed jersey.

I have just not warmed up to the “bag lady” look where everything is draped in layers to mid-calf. She is fine with that. Where we differ vastly is on theme items and the “glitter” factor. She would like everything to have jeweled buttons, beads, fringe, lace, sequins or be a walking ad for the latest Disney movie.

But if I see another outfit with the brand name embroidered smack on the front in some obnoxious color, I am truly going to climb a bell tower in the New York Garment District and start throwing random water balloons.

Don’t forget that throughout this exercise I am juggling packages, wrestling with plastic hangers and trying to find any hint of size and price, always buried well out of sight. My search continues, and I will persevere. If necessary, I will resort to catalogs.  My creed is “they can’t wear what they don’t own,” and I have been known to make midnight raids on their closets, blaming it on moths. They’ll figure it out soon enough.

Next week join me for “The Search for Socks.”

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer and mom. Enjoy one from her archives.

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