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As you may or may not already know, The Prompt’s Jillian and Kelaine Conochan are are sisters. Today’s posts are a complementary story from their childhood.

One day every summer, my sister and I jumped into my mom’s station wagon for the hour-long drive to the Philly suburbs, where we went school shopping at the Franklin Mills Mall.

Today, Franklin Mills has been redeveloped and branded as the more upscale, bourgeoisie “Philadelphia Mills.”

But at the time, it was a bastion of 1990s pre-internet glory: lightning bolts and wavy shapes. Copious amounts of teal. An indoor, fully air conditioned consumerist retreat, including a gigantic, friendly-looking Benjamin Franklin head suspended from the ceiling.

My mom was a legendary bargain hunter, who would never consider taking us to regular department stores at the mall five minutes from our house. Certainly not! What are we, made of gold?!

So, deb. set a budget, mapped out the four zones of the indoor shopping mall, and we’d walk around for hours in search of reasonably priced school clothes.

It was a one day school shopping marathon, and my mom was the undisputed winner.

I, on the other hand, was the loser. I hated every second of school shopping. Not because I was an ungrateful brat. I just couldn’t believe that anyone would spend an entire summer day indoors, meandering around dirty tiles, trying on button-ups or jorts when there were turtles to catch, obstacle courses to invent, or pools to jump into. Everything about school shopping felt like a violation of my deeply held values as a feral ragamuffin.

I spent the entire day dragging my feet, moping around, and asking when we could stop for food. “Just three more stores and then you can have a snack,” my mom would say, urging me onward. Does bribery count as negotiating with a terrorist?

“Fine,” I’d sigh in resignation, as I marched to Delia’s or Burlington Coat Factory. I lumbered with each step, every movement dramatic and drawn out, carrying my haul from the day like a starved mule.  When we reached Auntie Anne’s—one of my personal Stations of the Cross—I’d enjoy a cinnamon sugar pretzel and soldier on, humbled and miserable.

My sister and mom didn’t just enjoy shopping—they were also good at it.

Not just in a consumerist kind of way. They understood trends, value, and that a striped garment that didn’t match at the seams was likely poorly made. Not only that, but they were thoughtful.

Wouldn’t Lauren look great in that? 

Should we get this for Dad? 

Hey Kelaine—stop hiding in the clothes rack, we can see you—do you like this winter coat? You know you need a new one this year.

I took all their suggestions because the only things I understood were that neon colors were rad and that my only objective was getting out of that building as quickly as possible.

In my mind, shopping for school clothes was a punishment.

I just had to endure it. To make it to the finish line. To suffer through four colored zones of torture, 18 uncertain trips into fitting rooms, and six hours of merciless shopping. Then, at last, I could forget about it for another 364 days.

But my mom and sister enjoyed this experience. They celebrated great deals, sneaky good finds, and the perfect fit. They laughed at my endless, pitiful anguish. To this day, I still hate shopping and won’t understand how, but they made a lovely day out of it.

We didn’t get home until dinner time, carting bags on bags on bags of new clothes. Umbros and flannels and off-brand jeans and brightly colored parachute tracksuits. My dad would ask how it went and receive opinions from both sides of the aisle. Then we’d eat dinner, and I’d forget about my misery by playing Nintendo Power Pad or dancing by myself in the basement.

The next morning, I’d wake up and it would still be summer. Long, hot days that blend together—unremarkable in their perfection and guileless freedom. I’d put on a new pair of shorts, tuck my hair behind my ears, and do whatever the heck I wanted.

To read sister Jillian’s experience at the mall, click here.

Kelaine Conochan

The editor-in-chief of this magazine, who should, in all honesty, be a gym teacher. Don’t sleep on your plucky kid sister.

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