The Kids Are Going to Camp, the Parents Are Going Broke| June 12, 2019
Mindy has to feel good; it doesn’t matter that I feel bad
omebody has to talk about this.
Clothing prices today are insane. I am spending $2,000 on my daughter’s wardrobe and sundry items for four weeks of camp so she can feel like the other girls will like her. All the mothers I speak to agree that six pairs of footwear for four weeks is absurd, but there we all go like “sheeple” to the stores to buy two pairs of sneakers, two pairs of slippers, everyday shoes, and Shabbos shoes for four weeks. (I figured out that the money I make from this article will pay for one pair of slippers for Mindy for camp. If I’m lucky.)
Last night, after many months, weeks, days, and hours of haranguing on how much clothing she feels she needs and how much clothing I feel she needs, Mindy and I finally had it out. It was a moment of candor for her (or desperation) when she blurted out, “You don’t understand how judgy everybody is here, Ma. You won’t have any friends if you don’t dress a certain way. They all look at you when you walk in the room and see what you’re wearing.”
And my heart went out to her, this poor 13-year-old adolescent who feels like her life, certainly her social life, depends on her outerwear.
I remember when I was not much older than Mindy and I left my out-of-town community to attend high school in a big city that shall remain nameless. My mother was horrified at my demands for only brand-name, high-quality clothes. I recall the pressure I felt to conform, to dress and look like all my friends. A lot of the time, I bought my own clothes and toiletries — I didn’t have the nerve to ask my mother to buy a brand-name shampoo that cost five times what she would have paid for a generic brand. I pledged to myself that I would remember this always and understand my children if and when they went through this stage.
Yet here I am, watching my daughter struggle to feel like she fits in, and I find myself resisting. These prices are astronomical. Even if I were a millionaire, I would not want to pay these prices. The clothing industry is manipulating consumers. They’re robbing struggling families of their hard-earned money. Fathers wouldn’t be having heart attacks, and mothers nervous breakdowns, if they didn’t have to pay these ridiculous prices just to keep up with the Schwartzes, I think angrily. It would be okay to wear an outfit from last season. It would be okay to own just “Natives” and not have to purchase Natives and Native slides. (Don’t ask me, I’m just repeating my daughter, no idea what these are).
In our conversation, I said to Mindy, “I can’t bring myself to buy you a new set of hangers when we have perfectly good hangers at home, even though they don’t match. Why do you need high-quality hangers for camp, anyway?”
Why does she need high-quality anything for camp, when we all know it will just get ruined, and even if it doesn’t, she wouldn’t dare use it next season anyway? Do I really have to buy two new sets of linen for my daughter for camp? She is adamant she needs all this. She needs a caddy for the shower for her toiletries. She will not take the laundry bag her brother used for camp, even though to me it doesn’t look like it ever saw a dirty sock.
Labeling clothes with a permanent marker is passé. She wouldn’t be caught dead in a T-shirt that had “Adelman” in bold black marker on the label. No, for “only” $25 we have to buy a clothing marker stamp that’s custom made and will print, in Hebrew or English, the name of the child and the camp she is attending. What happens next year when she goes to a different camp? No problem — all those clothes will be thrown out, anyway.
So, I speak to my friends. I speak to my neighbors. I know I am old school. I myself am “fashion challenged.” I have no idea what happened to those high school years of being involved in every new Lancôme cosmetic product that came out. (Do they still have Lancôme?) Those years have disappeared like a wisp of a cloud in the sky on a bright, sunny day. I know I need to speak to younger and more “with it” mothers.
I speak to my married daughters. That, it turns out, is not a good idea. All the dirt comes out, how I neglected them and how bad they felt going to camp with only one set of linen. And not even a set, at that. Moving right along. I e-mail my daughter’s camp list to my fashionable thirty-something neighbor and ask her what she thinks.
“Her list looks reasonable,” she says. (Reasonable??) “Mindy has to feel good going to camp,” she says, “that’s the main thing.”
So, that’s the story, folks. Mindy has to feel good. It doesn’t matter that I feel bad, that there are many mothers and fathers out there feeling very bad about having to shell out money and go into debt to finance wardrobes for their children so that other children will like them and they will have friends. So they won’t suffer and be traumatized and feel neglected, deprived, and unloved.
There, I talked about it. Now, please excuse me while I dig out my dependable old credit card.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 764.
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