I'VE HAD many adventures with my 11-year-old daughter, Eve.
When she was 1, I clutched my wallet in horror as she uttered the words "Da-da" and "Boom-ingdales" in the same sentence. When she was 2, she talked me into using her pink feather phone to converse with her imaginary boyfriend, Poo Poo. When she was 4, I videotaped her "Lifestyles of the Not Quite Famous" tour while 1-year-old Little Solomon yelled, "Superman!"
No matter how weird the situation, no matter how endless the talking, my experiences with my baby girl were always enjoyable. But on the day after Christmas, something changed. She took me into a dark and disturbing netherworld where nothing is what it seems. Where did we go, you ask? It was a preteen nightclub. Perhaps you've heard of the place. It's called Hollister.
I know they say it's a store, but trust me, Hollister is a nightclub, complete with dark aisles, hovering guys, and music so loud that you pray for a power outage. With beautiful people stationed at the door to lure young patrons inside, the only thing missing is a velvet rope and a bouncer turning ugly folks away.
Back in my day, teen stores were simpler. You entered a hole in the wall, a rude cashier took your money, and you walked away grateful for your overpriced Jordache jeans. But these days? Stores for teens are glitzy productions with creepy sexual undertones that make middle-aged dads like me uncomfortable.
So how did Eve get me there? She tricked me.
It started when I set out to catch the after-Christmas sales. I had it all planned out. I'd go alone, thus cutting three hours off the normal mall outing in which the wife tries on everything, buys nothing and leaves the husband and kids in "daddy purgatory" - otherwise known as the Lego store.
I knew I had to be dressed by 10 if I hoped to escape that fate. I also knew I had to pretend that I wasn't in a hurry, because kids can smell "leaving" all over you.
I told myself they were still groggy from the Christmas Day excitement, that they wouldn't be sharp enough to catch me. But when I halfheartedly asked if they wanted to go to the mall, Eve was waiting with a fiendish smile and the words, "What time are we leaving?"
As we piled into the car, I closed my eyes and hoped it would be like the old days, when I could satisfy Eve with a trip to Old Navy. Sure, she'd roam the aisles for an hour and take her time in the dressing rooms, but at least there would be lights.
Unfortunately, Old Navy wasn't good enough, and I ended up trapped in the mall.
As the minutes turned into hours, LaVeta saw my inner mall clock ticking. She tried to help by taking Eve to the girl stores while Little Solomon and I did the guy thing. That didn't work. The boy and I went to Macy's twice, visited a toy store, bought smoothies and then wandered aimlessly with the vacant stare of men who are forced to shop.
Through it all, LaVeta and Eve remained at Hollister. Finally, I had enough and went to get them.
Initially, I stumbled into Abercrombie & Fitch - probably because both stores look alike. The A&F entrance was staffed by model-thin teens in flip-flops. They were standing in front of what looked like a private club, and though I couldn't see what was on the other side of the wall, my face crumpled in horror when an employee handed me a coupon featuring a shirtless Justin Bieber look-alike staring into some girl's eyes.
I had to get my daughter out of there. But as I rushed through the dark aisles, choking from the scent of cologne, my cellphone rang. It was LaVeta. They were upstairs at Hollister.
We ran up to that store and encountered more model-thin staffers at a mysterious entrance. There was pulsating music and, in the aisles, zombielike mothers with daughters clutching Hollister clothing. We left carrying a bag that had a picture of a shirtless male model on the outside, and two pairs of Hollister "skinny" sweatpants on the inside. By then my hands were shaking. And that was before I found out the truth.
Apparently, Eve had searched the store's website before we left for the mall. "They said there were going to be hot guys there," she told us as we drove home. "They weren't, though," she added with a shrug.
I looked in the rear-view mirror, and that's when it hit me. My daughter's growing up, and I guess it's a good thing. But I've got to be honest. I long for that 1-year-old who asked to visit "Boom-ingdales."
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books, including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three has been featured on NPR and CNN, and has written on parenting for Essence and other publications. He created the literacy program Words on the Street. His column appears on Tuesdays. More at Solomonjones.com.