09/07/2012 12:37 pm ET | Updated Nov 07, 2012

Dadmissions: Back To School Shopping

We locked ourselves in there and weren't coming out. It was a standoff. There we were, in a four- foot by four-foot room with a mirror on one wall and a coat hook on the other, right in the middle of a frenzied pack of people moving back and forth. It was mom, dad and the girls jammed together like we were trying to break some Guinness World Record for people in a small, confined space. We were shopping for back to school clothes and it was gonna get ugly. Now, there aren't too many things on the family scale where the kids' emotions can be so radically different from the adults' emotions as back to school shopping. The girls were jumping out of their shoes, doing the happy dance, literally shouting in excitement as they went from rack to rack, while I was getting sweaty palms, grabbing my stomach in pain and clinging to my wallet.  

According to numbers from the National Retail Federation, the average family with school-age kids will spend $688 bucks this year on back to school stuff... up from last year. I knew we were in trouble even if we watched our budget. Eventually, we had a large pile (small mountain) of clothes stacked up, cheap graphic shirts, uniform outfits, dresses, furry things (faux kid stuff) whose purpose is still unclear, and jeggings. Apparently those are jeans that look like leggings... jeggings. All I know is they're stretchy, they're popular and they're ten bucks a pop.

Once we had built this pile -- looking, I'm sure, like a family out of Hoarders -- we went and locked ourselves in the dressing room. Both girls then spent the next hour trying on each piece of clothing in meticulous, little kid detail, finishing each outfit by doing a twirl in the dirty dressing room mirror. I'd gaze into the mirror, count my gray hairs and nod in approval. I know for a fact people were knocking on the door because they had kids who needed to try on their own clothes. But we were mid-runway show. We'd just stop talking, keep quiet and wait for them to go away so we could continue.  We had three piles: "keep it," "toss it" or "keep it but go get a new size dad." As you can see, I was the go-fer who'd fetch the new sizes and then weave my way back to the dressing room, do the secret knock, get back inside, then lock ourselves in again. The "keep it" pile was huge. The "toss it" pile was tiny. Once in a while, when they weren't looking, I'd try and kick a couple of items into the "toss it" line.  What the heck, they wouldn't notice.  

After about an hour and a half, we took the mountain of clothes and made our way to the checkout. The lady started telling me about their bonus coupons. "Oh great, we're on a budget so this sounds good," I thought to myself. She told me I could get 20 bucks back for ever 40 bucks I spent if I came back another time and spent at least 20 bucks. I wasn't sure I heard it right and actually tried to repeat it back to her. I think it was a pyramid scheme... make 20 if I spend 40... and then come back and spend 20... something like that. In any case, there was no physical savings today unless I signed up for a credit card at 24% APR, and then I could save 10% on my purchase. So we passed. Eventually, the cash register started smoking because the sale was just too big. We broke the cash register and walked out with a few big bags of clothes and you'll be glad to know the girls were still eyeing clothes on their way out the door. It took about 24 hours before the girls first complained that they had nothing to wear. But those 24 hours were super sweet. Yes, back to school shopping is a rite of passage, but it made me think that hand-me-downs may need to make a return to the Dadmissions house... or maybe the girls need their own Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants... where pants travel from the store to the closet and then from one sister to the other.

Thank god that back to school shopping only comes once a year.  

One day, I'm gonna drag the girls to do three hours of back to WORK shopping and they can watch ME model dress pants and button down shirts and more pants and more shirts, and more pants and more shirts. Then THEY can pick up the tab for good measure.