Last Friday, I sucked it up, put on my big-girl panties, asked an old priest and a young priest to throw some holy water at my debit card, and took my girls school shopping at Target. Going school shopping is a BIG DEAL in our house. Bella needed a backpack and lunch box, Surrey really didn’t need anything, and Phaedra needed a to perform a live soap opera episode in the back-to-school aisle about the agony that is choosing a school lunch box.
Also, she also needed a folder.
To say that Phaedra has acquired a touch of drama as of late is a pretty big understatement. She is ready to cry at the drop of a hat right now over minute shit. If she was ten years older, I would shove a chocolate bar and a few Midols under her bedroom door and hope for the best. However, she’s only eight, and I’m hoping that being a privileged suburban eight-years-old girl is the only condition she is suffering from right now. Either that, or shit is about to get painfully real in about five years or so when she Hulks out on hormones.
Right off the bat, emotions were riding high for Phaedra as we entered the back-to-school aisles. “Uggggghhhhhh! Looooooooook! These backpacks are so cuuuuuuute!”
*side eye glance at me*
“I wish I could get one…”
Phaedra cannot get one, actually, because last March, when the strap broke on her backpack, I bought her a new one on eBay. Not just any backpack, though — it had to be cheetah print. And not just any cheetah print backpack — it had to be the one with little ears on the top. And not just any shipping time — it had to be the expedited 5-7 days from fucking CHINA, and not the 3-4 weeks it would take otherwise. So, right before I hit “Confirm Purchase” on a $45 back pack for my second grader, I made damn sure she was aware that this backpack would also count as her third grade backpack. There would be no Target backpack for her this year, because she was getting hers early. She agreed, because sometimes you say what you have to say to get your mom to spend an insane amount of money on a backpack when you’re eight years old.
As I watched Phaedra dramatically pine away over the sparkly cupcake and kitty-themed back packs on the wall, Bella got down to business. She grabbed a black backpack with a cosmos design, with big foam spikes sticking out all over the back. It was so perfectly Bella that I wanted to parade her around the store for everyone to admire. When she grabbed a hamburger lunch box I almost wet myself from joy. Even though she abandoned the hamburger lunch box twenty minutes later when we found a dinosaur lunch box, I’ll always have those twenty minutes of bliss, and for that I feel #blessed.
Also, I relented and let Phaedra grab a back pack, because I’m a fucking pushover. Besides, what are the odds that this would be the year that Phaedra’s glittery school accessory ship would come in? She grabbed a backpack with a cat drinking a milkshake and tossed it in the cart. Surrey had picked out a rainbow zebra print back pack that came with headphones, because that’s what every four-year-old needs to be ready for school. All we needed now was a lunch box for Phaedra.
Except that when you’re Phaedra, one doesn’t simply “pick out a lunch box.” It’s a process. It’s an ordeal. It means standing in the middle of Target holding a purple lunch box with 8 bit kitty heads wearing sunglasses and a lunch box that looks like a chocolate chip cookie and agonizing over the decision between the two. I’m not exaggerating or joking when I say at least thirty minutes were spent by Phaedra debating the pros and cons of each lunch box, all while Bella, Surrey and I picked out the rest of their school gear.
Finally, I couldn’t stand to be in the school aisle another goddamn second. It was time for Phaedra to make her final Sophie’s choice between the two lunch boxes. The drama had finally worked itself up a few Defcon levels, and now she was getting teary over the thought of walking away from one of the lunch boxes. I offered a third option: put the milkshake kitty backpack back, and I would buy both lunch boxes. I felt like I was being Queen fucking Elizabeth in the graciousness of this offer. She already has a kickass backpack at home, and with this option, she could have TWO cool lunch boxes AND a sweet backpack! But what I had really done is presented yet another option to agonize over.
I’m the worst.
Actually, this shopping trip was the worst, and only getting worse-er.
Finally, after my unhelpful offer and critiques of each lunch box, she finally picked the chocolate chip cookie lunch box. Then, about five steps later, she changed her mind. She rescued the kitty lunch box, slowly placed the cookie lunch box back on the counter, and walked away. I commended her for not turning around and looking back at the shelves, because a badass never looks back at the explosion, but she didn’t really appreciate my compliment. We walked at a dignified funeral pace down the side aisle, approaching the main drag and the checkout lanes all together.
“I think you made a good decision, honey.”
“Okay, so we’re all good? Good. Let’s go to the…”
“We’re not all good. I’m not good.” Phaedra had her arms crossed and stared straight down at the floor of the well-lit, air-conditioned, comfortable store. A floor she walked on while wearing comfortable shoes and clean clothes. Poor thing.
“Well, I know, honey.” Try to be understanding, Janel. “I get it. It’s hard making choices in life when you want something you can’t have. We all have to make choices in life. But hey, you got a new backpack! That’s pretty cool, right?”
“You’re lucky. You’re an adult. You don’t have to make choices. You can just buy whatever you want.”
Deep breaths. Deeeeep breaths.
“Not true. Just like you have to make choices, I have to make choices. I can’t buy whatever I want, because I choose to spend my money on you guys, on things like, for example, this cart full of stuff that’s not for me. I choose to pay bills and buy you guys things that you want and need.”
“You can just go to the ATM and take out money whenever you want. It’s not fair.”
Breeeeeeathe. Let the anger flow through you, young Jedi.
“Uh, false. There’s only a set amount of money in the ATM that I can take out. Money that I earn from going to work. Once that money is gone, it’s gone. I can’t get more. I have to make good choices to make that money last. So see? Life is full of choices for adults and kids.”
That was when she actually said:
“Life is brutal.”
I couldn’t help it. A laugh flew right out of my mouth before I could cover it and look the other direction.
“It’s not funny.”
“I know. It’s not.”
“Then why are you laughing?!”
I put my game face back on and assured her I didn’t think her outlook on life as she has experienced it thus far was funny at all.
As we silently continued walking towards the checkouts, I pondered how the hell I had managed to raise a child who held such fucked-up views on money and life despite forcing my kids to match socks and do all the chores I hate doing any time they want me to spend even $2 on a stupid app. That’s when Phaedra suddenly blurted out “I CHANGE MY MIND,” grabbed the backpack out of our cart and shuffle-ran back to the school supplies. We watched her as she hung up the backpack, picked up the cookie lunch box, and began walking quickly back to our cart.
“Yeah. I just couldn’t leave that other lunch box behind.”
“I get it, honey.”
And while I do think she’s sliiiiiightly more spoiled than I was at her age, I get it. I understand that irrational drama because that was me at her age. She’s 100% tired of hearing the story of the white skirt set I mourned for an entire week when my mom declined to buy her ten-year-old an outfit that was a size too small. She had to take me back to the store to prove to me that yes, the skirt would be too short and my belly would indeed hang out of the shirt. How indulgent was that, to drive me all the way back to the store just to prove that point to me? But she did it, because she knew it was the only way I would get over it. Because I was irrationally dramatic.
Sometimes you find just that tiny piece of your child’s personality that nobody understands but you. Sometimes you find that indulging this shared trait costs you an extra $12 at Target and a conversation about how money works. I’m okay with that.
Now, if someone could explain to me how to pack a thermos into a round lunch box, that would be super.
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