01/26/2008 10:53 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Virgin in Hollister

Being a parent for the better part of two decades, I've gotten used to accepting the fact that my kids are attracted to things that I don't like.

When my son Evan was about four, he was shopping with me in a second-hand children's shop. Rummaging in the forgotten bits at the bottom of one of those boxes of toys that shopkeepers sometimes keep in the corner to keep kids occupied, he eventually unearthed a shopworn plastic figurine of Hulk Hogan.

It wasn't for sale, but we bought it anyway, and the minuscule Hogan, which innocent Evan sweetly named Kimby, instigated a love of larger-than-life heroes, rangers and comic book characters that has stayed with him in various expressions, even now, as he enters the downside of his teen years. In other words, no matter how much I advocated early on for Pooh Bear, he had his own ideas.

The truth is, we all want our kids to like the things that we like, to have the same sensibility, character, and good taste. But they are their own people, which some of them make clear more strongly than others. And, eventually, all parents need to get over the disappointment; we can only shape so much.

I was reminded of this again when my newly minted preteen decided that for her 11th birthday what she really wanted was a new outfit from the mall. Caroline is an inherently reasonable child; she does well in school, she reads for fun, she eats broccoli, and she brushes her teeth without being reminded. In other words, she is not the kind of kid who is prone to outrageous demands. She does, however, get a rush from good clothes.

If the mall were a mega-church to the god of retailing, there would be four demi-gods at the altars of which Caroline and her group of friends would worship: Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Aeropostale, and Hollister. Of these, Hollister seems the latest savior.

Hollister is a merchant of California surf-style clothes. Actually - if you are in marketing, you'd call it a "lifestyle brand." Despite its suggested surfer roots -- its logo is a flying seagull -- its first store opened in Ohio in July 2001 (Ohio seagull population = 10). Weirdly, Hollister is owned by Abercrombie & Fitch, which makes them at once rivals and compadres, caught in some strange mother-daughter catfight, a la Dina and Lindsay Lohan.

So the church analogy ends quickly. Once you step into Hollister, an entirely different kind of institution comes to mind.

First, at the entrance, there's a giant graphic of a brooding and shirtless lounging male, with killer California good looks. Then there's the loud music with a boost of bass. And the lack of windows, which makes it hard to know whether it's day or night. The stuffiness of too-tight racks (the hanging clothes, not on the models). The 53-inch flat screens with a live surfer feed from Huntington Beach. The bad lighting that makes it impossible to discern actual colors or (if you are the one with the credit card) numbers on the price tag.

In short, Hollister is more like a nightclub than a store. The young, nubile girls who work there circulate among the crowd or work the registers like barkeeps. It was 10:30 AM, but I momentarily had the urge to order a cocktail.

It was a brief trip. Caroline made her selection fairly quickly, and--surprise to me when the barkeep gave me the credit slip to sign--it was actually on post-Christmas sale.

It turns out that the place gave Caroline a headache, too. Or so she said. From the way she smiled slightly and walked with an extra bounce in her step when we were finally through the doors, I suspect that she kind of dug the whole scene.

She is, after all, 11, and intensely a voyeur of the older generation: the girls of 15 or 16 who come to the mall without their moms in tow, those who speak loud enough to be heard over the crow of Hollister speakers and each other's din, rather than in the close whisper that Caroline spoke into my ear.

So it didn't end badly, really. But as we left the Hollister store, we passed another gaggle of girls charging in, all dressed alike and laughing at a thing no outsider could possibly think was funny. And it occurred to me that we had arrived at the brink of a sort of passage, my girl and I. Suddenly, why am I the one who feels like the virgin?

At that moment, Caroline took my hand instinctively--still a little girl, for now at least. Which was nice. And I paused to appreciate what I have while I still have it. Experience tells me that this stage she's in won't last, and that's ok, too.

It's okay, I tell myself. Just like, I suppose, mothers everywhere tell themselves.