WE SET OFF TO THE MALL to buy tennis shoes. Not just any tennies - the shoe every 14-year-old girl in suburbia covets this season.
"They're Etnies," our daughter Ashley tells my husband and me at the dinner table the night before. They cost $84.99, and her friend Lauren got a pair at the mall.
"Huh?" Her dad asks. "Eddies? What kind of shoes are they? Whatever happened to Nike and Reebok?"
"E-T-N-I-E-S," she spells out methodically, with the roll of the eyes reserved especially for uninformed parents. "They're white and blue, and they're skating shoes. Everyone has them for skateboarding."
"But you don't skateboard," he protests. "Why don't you get a shoe that no one else has? Be an individual."
She turns to me, too familiar with this conversation. Apparently I'm better qualified to translate why she must have the Etnies. I shake my head and shrug. "It's a teen thing."
When Ashley and I arrive at the mall shoe store, she pounces on the Etnies rack. There's a lot more selection than she anticipated.
"Can I help you?"
I look up from the shoe rack to see a lovely girl about 19 with red spiked hair, a black leather dog collar around her neck, and a diamond stud in her left nostril - our saleswoman.
"Um, yes," I say. "My daughter wants a pair of these Etnies, but she's not sure which color yet."
That's a half-baked truth, since up until five seconds before Ashley was fixated on the blue and white ones. The ones all her friends apparently own.
"Oh, cool." She looks at Ashley holding the blue version.
I peek around her spiked hair. "I like the yellow."
"Yeah, everyone gets blue." Our saleswoman grins. "You should be different, start a new trend."
"I really did want the blue," she mumbles, as though to the shoe. "But I like the yellow a lot. I guess the yellow. Size 7."
"Excellent choice." Our spiked-hair saleswoman beams. "Be right back."
"Do ya skate?" Spike asks when she returns, lacing up one of the yellow shoes for the test run.
"No." Ashley shakes her head. "I just like 'em."
Spike nods in understanding.
With the shoe on, its laces tucked under in proper teen style, Ashley gets up and strolls, one-shoed, around the carpeted store checking for comfort or coolness - I'm not sure which.
"They feel great," she announces. "Are you sure you like the yellow, Mom?"
"Yeah, I love them."
"You'll be a trendsetter," Spike says. "I don't think I've sold a pair of yellow ones yet."
I squish my eyes shut momentarily, thinking Spike has lost the sale. Ashley doesn't want to be a trendsetter; that's clearly why we're here.
But she surprises me.
"OK," she says. Yellow it is.
The transaction clenched, we pay and she carries the bag out into the mall with a glow familiar only to women snagging a new pair of shoes.
"So, you're happy with those, then?"
"Yes, I love them."
"You know your dad will call them Eddies from now on?"
"Yeah, I know," she says.
"And none of your friends have the yellow ones?"
"Nope, I'll be the first one." She smiles, her braces gleaming.
Then she swings the bag beside her and absentmindedly swipes a lock of blond hair behind one ear. Funny, I think I actually see a glint of individuality in her eye on our way out to the car, lurking somewhere just beneath the surface. The yellow Eddies, a baby step.
Then I'm reminded of Spike, some mom's beautiful flame-haired daughter, who's expressing her unique individuality back at the shoe store. There's no hurry, I decide.