Why did shopping have to hurt so much?

I've been to a little place in parenting hell and its name is Hollister.

My sixth-grade daughter asked for a few new shirts to start the school year. She lobbied hard for a trip to Hollister because she heard they had "cute tanks" on sale. Since she had recently outgrown kid stores and cleverly showed price awareness, I relented.

Hollister, it turns out, is the slightly less perfumed spawn of Abercrombie and Fitch. It has a beach-themed façade and the clothes in the window displays are indeed quite cute. I could understand why my daughter wanted to shop there.

But, as I walked into the store, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the sound of thumping, booming, ear-splitting pop music.

I'm not noise sensitive. I'm actually married to a sound mixer and in my own line of work I have had to stand right next to speaker columns during rock concerts. I've videotaped airplane take-offs and I was even on pit road during the Daytona 500. But, none of these experiences prepared me for the deafening decibels I endured at Hollister. It was like a top-40 terror attack on my senses.

My daughter, unbothered by the rave-level beat, bolted for the back of the store where the desired sale items were housed. I tried to follow, but kept bumping into tables and clothing racks. Was I getting cataracts? The store was so very dark. Did Hollister forget to pay its electric bill?

I worried, what if I stumbled and fell, hopelessly injured? No one would find me or hear my screams, my body concealed by darkness and my stench of death masked by perfume.

Wishing I had night vision goggles to guide me, I reached out for the clothes to steady myself as I searched for my daughter. The workers went about their business as if they could see clearly. Apparently, Hollister found employees who were part mole-people.

Finally, I found her. I yelled over the music. "Did you find some things to try on?" Her lips moved as if she were speaking to me.

"What? Are you talking? I can't hear you." I screamed back.

Eyes rolling, she used hand signals to indicate she needed a dressing room. We found one, locked, of course. The omnipresent employees had suddenly vanished. In any other store I would have shouted, "Hello" or "Yoo-hoo" to get some attention, but here I would have needed a vuvuzela, the horn so popular with South Africans cheering at a soccer match.

We trekked to the front of the store and found a young worker. I mouthed the words, "She wants to try these on."

Amazingly, I could hear the teen's reply. "There should be sales people by the dressing rooms who can help you."

Really? Did she think that I passed workers standing idly by the dressing rooms and walked to the front of the store just to seek out her special guidance?

Knowing the worker would not have heard a sarcastic response, we returned to the dressing rooms and somehow found entry. While I waited, I saw fellow moms trying on clothes for themselves. Though I admired Hollister's offerings, I know my place and it is definitely not inside a pair of skinny jeans and a camisole. I wanted to shake these moms and demand that they exit the store, head 200 feet to their left and shop at a nice quiet place called Chico's. Because, let's face it, we are not Forever 21.

My daughter emerged from the dressing room holding three shirts and smiling. The clerk rang them up. "I thought you were getting the sale shirts," I said to my daughter.

"One of them was on sale," she offered. I wanted to send her back to try again, but knew that would only prolong my stay. Maybe this was some ingenious corporate strategy? They must know that moms, worn down and weakened of spirit, will pay anything for the privilege of being allowed to leave. Frankly, I would have handed over state secrets to make the torture stop.

As I paid, I barked at my daughter, "I can't stand this racket one more minute! When I get home I'm writing a strongly worded letter and you are not shopping here again — until Christmas!"

I instantly felt badly. After all, my daughter was thrilled with her choices and I was being a grouch. What's more, I missed noticing a transitional moment in her life: the choosing of feminine blouses over tomboy tees.

The clerk didn't need to witness my outburst either. The helpful teen wasn't responsible for the sound and lighting at the store. She probably had the job to pay for schooling or the clothes she bought with her employee discount.

I opened my mouth to apologize, but before I could, the clerk handed me my bag and wished me a nice day. My daughter smiled and asked if we could head for a frappuccino.

I didn't need to apologize. Turned out, neither one of them had heard my complaint. Apparently, the music was too loud.

KRISTEN HANSEN BRAKEMAN is a resident of La Cañada. She can be reached at Krisbrake@earthlink.net.

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