M ran directly from her friend’s minivan into the house and to the computer. A beeline to our computer can only mean one thing: there’s something that she wants to buy.
We have entered that very special time in a young girl’s life when a great deal depends on whether you have That Thing That Everyone Has.
I first noticed this several months ago, when I overheard two moms talking about buying gifts for a friend’s birthday. “I figured we’d just go to Justice. . . ?” the guest’s mom asked. “Of course,” birthday girl’s mom answered. “She’ll like anything from there.” Huh. Where had I been? It turns out, I really don’t mind Justice. They have pretty good messages, which is important to me. I just went to look for some samples: “Be Yourself,” “Friends Are Sweet,” “Smile Everyday,” and “I <3 to Hug My Brother.” Nice. Unlike some other places (I’m talkin’ about you, JC Penney! I’m glad that you stuck up for Ellen, but I am still mad at you).
Next, it was the Christmas list, which included a fuzzy purple North Face jacket. You may recall that M considered it a Grave Injustice that I didn’t just buy the jacket because of my Deep And Abiding Love For Her. That, my dear, is what doting grandparents and Christmas are for. However, shortly after the our store encounter with the North Face jacket, I realized that everywhere I turn there are children wearing North Face jackets. How had I missed this? And then I’d see random kids tossing their $100 North Face fleeces onto, say, the damp and dirty floor near the ice rink. And I was simultaneously fascinated and appalled.
Anyway, as M started tapping on the computer keyboard, I hovered to see exactly what was so important now. She’s a slow typer. “V-e-r-a B-r. . .”
“Vera Bradley?” I asked. “A Vera Bradley something?” I have heard of Vera Bradley. I’m not a shopper, as we all know, but I know that there are moms who like Vera Bradley. I have purchased exactly two purses in the last ten years, and both were on sale at Target, but I’m vaguely aware of general purse culture. There’s, like, Coach and Kate Spade, right? I learned about Birkin bags from Gilmore Girls. But, whatever. The truth? Vera Bradley bags have always seemed pretty-but-matronly to me.
“Yes,” M answered. “A Vera Bradley lunch bag. I really need one.”
“Oh. Well, you don’t need one. You have a lunch bag. But you want one?”
“Okay, whatever. I want one,” M answers. She’s irritated, because I’m quibbling.
She looks and settles on the perfect bag, the one that she needs, a lunch bag in Ellie Blue with elephants on it. No one has the one with elephants.
“So, your friends have these bags?” I ask. She proceeds to point out the various styles. Look, this pink one is what her friend just got for her birthday, and that’s her second lunch bag.
“Well, it makes sense, then, that it was a birthday present. You don’t need a lunch bag, but you could buy it yourself, or ask the Easter Bunny,” I suggest.
“Easter! That’s it!” M’s psyched. “. . . Wait, when’s Easter again?”
“April,” I concede. I feel a little bit bad about it, really. I can tell that a need this urgent cannot wait for six weeks.
She is wavering about whether or not to purchase it herself. I ask, “So, do a lot of your friends have bags like this?”
“Oh yes,” she answers, and there’s a long list. Several friends have one, a few have two, one friend has three different styles of lunch bags, one of which is “this very sophisticated leather bag.” Ah. Even M is willing to concede that three bags is excessive.
But this inventory really gets to me. How does it happen that every mother and child is aware of the latest trend and has jumped onto it with such wild abandon? Is there some sort of newsletter that I need to start getting? I’m not saying that we need to get everything that everyone else has, but how is it possible that six different households have the exact same item, and I haven’t ever heard of it? Seriously, are there meetings for the parents of tween girls so that I’m not oblivious of, like, everything?
“And how long,” I probe, “have all of your friends had these bags?”
“Forever!” she answers, and the injustice is causing a squeak in her voice. “For years! For years I’ve wanted a bag like this!”
“Wait a minute,” I say, “I bought you a new lunch box thing this fall when your old one was getting all nasty. Why didn’t you just say that you wanted this one instead?”
“I tried!” She swears. “I asked you and you said no.”
“Oh no, I didn’t. I was not even aware that such a thing as a Vera Bradley lunch bag existed. You have never mentioned this item to me in your entire life.”
“I did!” she protests, “But you just went ahead and bought that other one.”
“Okay, that’s not how it happened,” I say. “Why would I buy something for you that you didn’t like? I asked you about it, you liked it, and I bought it. I’m pretty sure that it was even more expensive than the one you want now. If you’d asked me for this lunch bag when you actually needed a lunch bag, I probably would have bought it. But you didn’t.”
And even as I’m saying this, I’m racking my brains. Because, did she make some sort of weak protest about another style of bag? And I liked the kind we’d had before because it included loads of Bento boxes? It’s possible, but if she did, she didn’t say much. I’ve seriously never heard that there was such a thing as a Vera Bradley lunch bag. And, in any case, I swear that she did approve the lunch box we bought, and when it arrived she was happy with it, absolutely.
“Okay, well, I’m buying it myself,” she’s decided.
And then, because it kills me that she’s getting something that everyone else has, mostly because everyone else has it, I start Googling about, looking for other fabulous and attractive lunch carrier items. But it’s a colossal waste of time. She’s emotionally attached to the elephants by now. She’s not changing her mind.
She goes upstairs for money. It’s $34.
“Plus shipping,” I remind her.
“Oh, but Mommy-dear-I-love-you-so-much, maybe you would like to pay for the shipping out of the goodness of your heart?”
“No, I wouldn’t,” I say. “So that’s actually $42.” She sighs heavily and heads upstairs for more cash.
“Do you have change for a fifty?” she asks. The girl has a fifty. This is not a hard life that she has.
Moments later, I’m calling to her again, “Honey, sorry! I forgot about tax! It’s another $3 and change!”
“Ohhhh,” she moans, “Can you just deduct that from my allowance, please?”
So the bag is coming. And life will be complete. Until the next trend.