I have been following the middle school girls around the mall for an hour, pretending to admire the endless racks of branded t-shirts and hoodies that pass for fashion in the seventh grade, when they finally wander into a store where everything doesn't look like part of a Little League uniform designed by The Gap.
"This is cute," I say, drawing something from the racks at Forever 21. "Look at this."
I make a few other suggestions, which they do not even pretend to consider. They head across the store to search out novelty t-shirts and hooded jackets. What is the point? They talk fashion, but they dress like clones.
I browse the $5 treasures strewn across a lace and candelabra covered table and come up with a forearm's worth of cheap bracelets and a dangly piece of third-world craftsmanship to hang around my neck.
I am at the register when I feel their accusing glances. Over my shoulder I can see them murmuring. Each holds a small yellow bag containing a t-shirt.
What? I say.
"Mom," says the 12-year-old. "We can't shop here anymore if you're going to shop here. It's uncool."
"You call that shopping?" I say. "You bought a t-shirt."
I pull the tags off and proceed to accessorize right outside the store. They pretend to be mortified. I pretend that $10 worth of costume jewelry makes me a fashionista.
Then I buy them each a snowcone and everything is cool.