I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s on a small farm in south-central Nebraska. Most of my friends grew up the same way. We were all middle-class families who worked hard during the week and went to church on Sundays.
We wore hand-me-downs from older siblings. A typical family vacation meant a trip to Omaha or Colorado.
I loved my childhood and I wouldn’t want to trade anything except this one, small, insignificant frivolous thing.
There was a store in the nearest city, about 30 minutes from our farm, where everyone shopped. It was in a mall at a time when malls were cool. And full of people. And food courts. And the movies played on the big screen because handheld devices weren’t a thing yet.
Let’s set the scene.
The year was 1994. I was 13 years old. My friend’s mom drove a group of us to the mall to see a movie. We filled our bodies with sugary pop and those ridiculously delicious pretzels with cheese. And then, of course, we shopped.
There was a dance coming up. Junior high dances were definitely a big deal.
We walked into a store — their favorite store — where my friends shopped for big events, like holiday celebrations and first dances.
They shuffled through the racks of clothes, casually pointing out the shirts they owned and what they planned to wear to the dance.
Even though I knew about this store, I had never been in it before. Because there was no way my mother would spend so much money on a name-brand T-shirt or, worse, a pair of jeans that “won’t fit you next year.”
Our shopping center of choice was my sister’s closet or the half-price store down the street from the mall.
I left the store empty-handed.
To the dance my friends wore jeans with rhinestones and cool pockets and silky shirts. I wore an off-blue, cotton ruffle shirt that we bought from the discount rack.
I want to say it didn’t bother me. I want to say I was a confident young teen who didn’t care about dumb things like fashion or money. But that would be a lie and mom always told me to never lie.
I walked back into that store this weekend. I’ve been in a few times, but rarely buy anything for myself. But this time, I brought my 12-year-old daughter, Ella, with me. She’ll be in seventh grade this fall.
“Would you like to try on a pair of jeans?” the sales rep asked.
“No, thank you,” I told her. “I have plenty of jeans.”
Plenty of jeans from the discount store, of course.
And then she looked at my daughter’s sweet face and went in for the question, “Would you like to try on jeans?”
Ella looked at me, I looked at her, and my inner 13-year-old self couldn’t say no.
“Oh, sure, Ella,” I told her. “Let’s try on some jeans.”
She tried on several pairs. Most were too big for her tiny frame, but one fit just right.
“Mom, please? Can I have these? They are so comfortable.”
I looked at the price tag and cringed.
“Who would spend this much money on a 12-year-old who will outgrow these jeans in a few months?” I thought to myself.
Me. I would. I did.
“Ella, take good care of these,” I told her. “Your sister is definitely wearing them when they no longer fit you.”
“Thanks, Mom. I will.”
“Maybe you can wear those to your first dance this fall,” I told her. “And we might even pick out a cool shirt, too.”
And then, she went in for the hug. “Mom, that’s a great idea!”
Worth every penny.