My Nightmare Before Christmas


It’s official.  I’m old.

Although 50 is around the corner; although I wince each time I hear ‘80s music on an oldies-but-goodies radio station; and although the sunlight reflecting off of the grays and silvers in my hair causes a halo effect — I never considered myself old.

Until I went to the mall to shop for some Christmas gifts for my 12-year-old niece.

She’s at an age when it’s difficult to buy anything for her.  In fact, she actually likes going to the mall — it’s the place to be and be seen for any young teenager (always has been, always will).  So my idea was to get a few small items and then a gift card from one of the stores she likes.

I consulted with my sister, and this was the list: Hollister (body spray); Claire’s (earrings); Victoria’s Secret (body spray).  My jaw dropped.  Since when did my 12-year-old niece discover Victoria’s Secret — and have I mentioned that she’s 12?

I knew a long time ago that I had aged out of the mall — but it’s always nice to be reminded that you just don’t belong there.

That was my exact thought as I entered Hollister.  It’s one of those hip stores for hip youngsters (and by youngsters, I mean anyone under 28 years of age).  Allow me to introduce you to my inner monologue:

“Why does it have to be so dark in here?  I can’t even see where I’m going.  And what’s with all the twists and turns and random tables of clothes blocking my way just to get to the cashier.  Where is the cashier, anyway?  I don’t think I passed the cashier.  If I did, it’s probably because it’s so dark in here.  Did I just get sprayed with Hollister cologne?  I think I did.  Hey, my eye is burning.  Did I just get sprayed in the eye?  Maybe that’s why they keep it dark in here, so you never know when you’re passing a vent that’s spraying out a steady stream of cologne.”

At last, I made it to the register to purchase a plastic bottle of body spray.  The male cashier, who looked like he stepped off the side of one of the Hollister shopping bags, said in his deepest dude tone, “Someone’s gonna smell nice tonight.”


“It’s for my 12-year-old niece,” I said.  My tone, though, was more like, “It’s for my 12-year-old niece, who will have nothing to do with the likes of you and your boy band haircut and your chiseled features with the one-day-old stubble.  And, for the record, flannel shirts should never be that tight.”

One purchase, done.  This was going rather smoothly, I thought.  Next stop, Claire’s.

I was familiar with Claire’s, because it’s usually a store I avoid.  From the outside, it looks like rack after rack of shiny jewelry and girly things.  From the inside, it looks the same.

To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.   I’ve never seen that much jewelry in one place in my life and all of it was on sale: buy one, get the second 1/2 off — and $10 seemed to be the magic price.  Lady bugs, peace signs, butterflies — I didn’t have a clue what my niece would put in her lobes, and I didn’t want to make the wrong choice and have my gift go down as the worst Christmas gift ever.

Blindly (probably a lasting effect of the Hollister spray), I found myself outside of Victoria’s Secret.  I wondered, how difficult could this be?  After all, I was buying body spray, not lingerie.  I stepped over the threshold and into a world of pink.  In front of me, a poster of a 15-year-old girl, blouse unbuttoned, playfully smiling and — I ran.  I ran as fast as I could, gasping for air, my eyes searching for any store that offered a scented spray for my niece.

How could I be looking at ladybugs and butterflies one second, and then at all of Victoria’s secrets the next?  Is this what it’s like to be a 12-year-old girl these days?  Cute, yet sexy?  Innocent, yet seductive?  What exactly are we selling our youth?  What message are we sending young girls?  Am I being too much of an uptight social worker?  An uptight uncle, perhaps?

I found my way to another scented-up store, and when the salesperson asked if she could help me with anything, I blurted out one very long word:

“IwasjustshoppinginVictoria’sSecrettobuymy12yearoldniecesomebodyspraythatshelikesandI’mhavingareallyhardtimebuyingsomethinginthereformy12yearoldniece.  Itjustseemswrongandinappropriate.”

The salesperson stared at me for a moment and said, curling up the end of her sentence like a question, “Um . . . We have some nice items at the front of the store . . .”

In all honesty, I stopped listening.  My nostrils were burning from so many aromas and there was a debate raging in my head — and I really wanted to get this shopping done.  I really wanted to get my niece something that she would like.  I really wanted her to be happy.  And so, against all of my principles, I caved and returned to Victoria’s Secret for the body spray.

Victoria's Secret

I phoned my sister as soon as I left the store, pink bag in hand, to say, “I just wanted to let you know that I have purchased my very first item, ever, from Victoria’s Secret.”  We both laughed.  “I feel . . . I feel that tonight . . . Tonight, I became a woman.”

In reality, I became an old man.  Anxious.  Crabby.  Panicky.  An oddity in a world devoted to youth — and I was very, very glad for it.  No, make that relieved — that I grew up when I did and that I no longer have to be 12, with all of its questions and confusion, conflicts and drama, choices and doubts, pressures from outside and in.

Yup, I’m perfectly okay with being a right not-so-jolly old elf, as happily out of place as a bright pink bag in a winter garden.

56 thoughts on “My Nightmare Before Christmas

  1. GREAT perspective and a very well written post! I did my shopping online this year, I don’t like getting hit with those perfume’s either. Sometimes I think they get paid per spray, so they hit you as many times as they can.

    • Hi Apple Pie. You know, I can handle the people who spray — that’s just a matter of bobbing and weaving. My problem is the spray that seeps through the ventilation system — that’s like chemical warfare! Happy clicking and buying. 🙂

    • Hi Kat. Believe me, it wasn’t funny as I was running from the store in a panic. I kept thinking of an adolescent Brooke Shields saying, “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins.” — and how tame that seems in hindsight.

      • In all seriousness, Kevin, the sexual themes, images and products promoted for teens and pre-teens (especially young women) is so disturbing. What it does to distort body image expectations so young is unforgivable. (Did the hydrangea curl up and die in horror at what you were promoting after you put the Victoria’s Secret bag next to it??! :-))

      • LOL. If it had, that would have been a whole other post. A traumatic one! But I do agree with you on the marketing to teens and pre-teens. I don’t really consider myself a prude, but at some point, is there still a line that can’t be crossed? It’s all very sad.

  2. I friggin loved this! You made me laugh out loud and I needed that. Can you tell me where that good looking guy works at? I just might need to go buy some underwear tonight. LMAO!

  3. You did the right thing. I have a daughter who’s fifteen, but I well remember twelve: in between child and teenager and impatient to grow up. The Victoria’s Secret fragrance (and the bag – be sure to give the gift in the pink bag) will be appreciated. And when she’s older, you’ll have to tell her the story about shopping for it!

    • Thanks for the support, Ann. I still find the whole thing strange. I work in a high school, so I am aware of what girls wear — but Victoria’s Secret for a 12 year old threw me for a loop. I’m just thankful it wasn’t a clothing item. 🙂

  4. I, too, am happy to be ‘old.’ Your story cracked me up. I hate the mall and will promise almost anything to my ‘driving age’ daughter if she will take her sister to it instead of me. Ick! And Holister drives me crazy. Ours plays loud music that makes it hard to think.

    • Hi Char. Ah, yes, the music. I think I forgot to mention the music because I was too concerned with negotiating the maze of clothing tables in the dark. It’s quite the gimmick. 🙂

      • Great post. This makes me happy we are on a budget and stingy which means no mall this year. Hollister is a store I have never been in and I hope is not around when I have children. It looks dark and scary in there. No thank you. I’m 28 and I still think… “Kids these days…”

      • Hi Jessica – thanks for restoring my faith in 28 year olds. 🙂 In all honesty, I commend you for sticking to your budget — and for avoiding dark and noisy stores. 🙂

  5. Love it! Gosh, when I was twelve, we played with my mom’s makeup but were never allowed to wear it out of the house – it was PLAY! Now, they sell lip gloss for little girls in the toy section. Sigh. They grow up too soon as it is, they don’t need any helping along. Now you know why the government wants to pay for birth control…… I have to admit, though, I do like browsing in Hollister. I like the music and the atmosphere and the photos (go figure).

    • Hi Joylene. Now your secret’s out! 🙂 In so many ways, my niece’s 12 is lot like the 12 I remember — but there is a bit of pressure for 12 to be the new 18. I think we all just need to slow down. What’s the rush?

  6. Well now I know we are definitely related! I too can not stand Hollister. I do not understand why it is so dark, you can’t even see if the colors match for an outfit. And let’s not forget about the loud music. I too am not sure when I got so old, but you can’t even hear yourself think in that place. Being the mom of that 12 year old, I have to say the hardest thing I had to do this Christmas season is log onto Victoria Secret and order some “I love Pink” clothing. What happen to the days of toys r us. It wasn’t that long ago. It is so hard to let them grow up so early, much earlier than I did. But unfortunately it is a different world. I want to thank you my dear brother for your story. It really made me laugh. Your niece will be very happy with your choices, and when she is older I am sure she too will find this funny. Merry Christmas! Love ya

    • Hi!!!! Glad I made you laugh — and I agree, I don’t know how she could be twelve when the rest of us are still so young. 🙂 I wonder what 13 will bring.

  7. Oh my! Love this post. Hollister is one of those stores I avoid because of the music and smells emulating from its darkened depths, but last year my son’s girlfriend had asked for a gift card from there. I walked right by the check out counter – too damn dark to see anything. I wonder what they’re hiding.

    • Hi Peggy. I know the feeling about missing the cashier. After I paid,I turned around to leave and couldn’t find my way out of the store. I was trapped in Hollister hell — maybe because I was disoriented in the dark or they rearranged the displays while my back was turned. Ugh!

  8. haha – You nailed shopping at the mall perfectly! That’s why I only shop online! But, girls ARE growing up too fast. My 10 year old granddaughter only wants makeup for Christmas – something she’s been wearing for over a year now!!! :O

    • There’s a lot to be said about shopping online — although there are some items that I need to see and touch before I purchase. Like you, I have to wonder: what’s the rush with growing up? Kids should enjoy being kids.

    • Hello and thanks for commenting. I’m not 50 yet — but it’s coming up fast. The weird thing is that I’m okay with being 50, although I really don’t understand how it happened — and so quickly! My bigger issues are the days when I feel 30 and the days when I feel 80. Is there a happy medium? 🙂

  9. Kevin I laughed so much at this! Especially the first shop, with the cashier. At the end you made it, yes you got home with your niece’s gifts but most of all you reinvented yourself and got over your crisis. Brilliantly.

    • Alberto!! Glad you had a laugh — and I now know how I don’t want to be reinvented: as a tight flannel shirt wearing cashier in a dark and noisy store. 🙂

  10. Poignant and funny at the same time! I remember my first time going in to Holister as an “old man” and you caught the whole experience, right down to the obligatory scent in the eye . . .

  11. This is a hilarious read, Kevin. I was almost with you in that store! I am not sure how to handle the fact that our kids are growing up so incredibly fast in a culture of seductiveness. I really don’t know how to interpret what’s happening. But you’ve given me a huge chuckle at the idea of you traipsing around in these stores. You must be a very popular uncle! My precious granddaughters aren’t quite as old as your niece, in fact the oldest is just in Kindergarten, but I’m going to blink and they will be wanting body spray from Victoria’s Secret…and I will probably cry!

    • Hi Debra! You can have a cry when that moment comes, but also be sure to find some humor in it. Besides, no one seems to be easing up on the pressure to have kids grow up so quickly. Parents, it seems, have a more difficult job with each passing year.

  12. Kevin, my stomach is still hurting from laughing, this post made my day! My sister’s 3 daughters, age 15, 14 and 11 have been asking for presents like these for some years now, but I do all my shopping online so I haven’t had the opportunity to visit shops like this – thank goodness! My own son had very basic wish lists for birthday and Christmas when he was in his early teens, it was usually the latest Nintento game. He is 26 now so it feel a long time since he was 12….you are not the only one who feel old at times, my 50th birthday is only 2 years till 🙂

    • Hello Helene. I may be approaching 50, but I would still be okay with a video game — just don’t make me go back into those stores. They’re a little icky. 🙂

  13. Kevin – omg – I laughed tilI cried. You have such a knack for writing.
    You were very brave to even attempt such a tricky shopping list! You did very very well and I’m sure your niece will appreciate the effort.
    But I think the trickiest part these days is actually being a 12 year old girl: so much pressure to be cool, to look and act grown up and to fit in. Give her the gifts and I’m sure she’ll love them but I bet she’d also love a little pocket of time to just chat with her Uncle Kevin. Kids really are unsure and scared even though they might seem aloof. Listening to her describe her world and what’s important in her life right now will probably mean more than the VS body spray!! That’s what she’ll remember 🙂

  14. You must love your niece an awful lot. Lucky girl. I can’t stand even bath stores where the scent is in the air. Victoria’s Secret though – wow, they must be marketing to young girls, even if its just a perfume that seems really off.

    • Hi Marguerite. They are certainly marketing to young girls — and there’s no way around the sense of inappropriateness. It’s a very sad message that we’re giving our girls.

  15. Kevin, this one was hilarious!!! I find the mall brings me near seizure these days. Too loud, too crowded, too light, too dark, way too many smells and most definitely too hot for a 57 year old woman. Agway is my store of choice. 🙂 You are a VERY good uncle.

  16. I absolutely love this post, Kevin! “Fabulous Fifty” is right around the corner for me too so I can certainly identify with you. Your niece has a fine uncle who braved the mall for her. I avoid the mall like the plague unless a trip inside is absolutely necessary. Thanks for taking us along for your nightmare before Christmas. It was most entertaining. Oh, it’s snowing on your blog! Love it! 🙂

    • Hi Beth. So glad you enjoyed the post — and we’ll face fifty together! As for the snow, I’m afraid I can’t take credit for that. It’s a WordPress thing — I’m just glad it doesn’t require shoveling. 🙂

  17. Hi Kevin,

    I can see that we are about the same age. It was very funny to read your post. I have a daughter who is 14, so I can relate to some of this.
    Here in Denmark we now have tons of snow. Very pretty, but hell when you have to drive to work. Don´t you ever have snow??

    • Hi Gitte. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. We do get snow here, but it’s never a guarantee. Some winters are worse than others. Because I live on an island, the surrounding water has a huge impact on temperatures — it could snow a little north of us, and Long Island will either have rain or a slushy mix. Then, there are those storm where Long Island can get more than 12 inches of snow. It’s too soon to tell what this winter will bring. It’s expected to be near 60 degrees today; tomorrow, in the 40s. And that’s weather on Long Island. Enjoy the snowy day in your part of the world. 🙂

  18. Oh, too funny! I hear you about the stores that are too dark (and why in the world do they play music so loudly you just want to run out of the store?) Being a woman, I can handle girlie stores like Claire’s and Victoria’s Secret (though 12-years-old, so young!), but I now find that shopping online is quite attractive to me.

    • Glad you had a laugh — we all need those. I like the idea of online shopping. It’s convenient — but maybe we also lose something while we click about: crowds, traffic, rude people, noise . . . ah, the holidays! 🙂

  19. Pingback: My Miracle Before Christmas « Nitty Gritty Dirt Man

  20. Kevin, this was a wonderfully written article! Like someone else mentioned, I felt like I was right beside you, lol. I’m decade+ older than you, but your comments about the sexualization of pre/teen girls has really disturbed me for some time. For 5 years I was a dv batterers ed program co-facilitator, and I was also a volunteer dv advocate for 5 years. Personally, I think that both boys and girls are caught in a media web that objectifies girls and women. How can a teenage girl see herself for the person she is when her peers (and probably she) see her primarily based on her sexual aspects. The rape of the girl in Steubenville OH seems to serve as an example. Ok, I’m climbing down off my soapbox 😉

    • I think that soap box is pretty crowded. 🙂 What strikes me is the number of people who see and feel the same way, and yet things seem to get worse. Sex has always been a selling point, but there was a time when some lines weren’t crossed. Individuals and companies just did not, would not, or could not cross them. Now, it’s anything goes. Very sad for children and the adults in their lives. See what I mean? That’s two of us on the soap box, now. 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

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