One of the hall­marks of a mid­dle to upper mid­dle-class upbring­ing is an affin­i­ty for shop­ping. Most peo­ple I know my age had “their” mall they fre­quent­ed grow­ing up: the place their moms and dads shut­tled the whole gag­gle of pre­teens near­ly every Sat­ur­day. Now a few years old­er and wis­er, we’ve moved on to cool­er hang­out spots, like neigh­bor­hoods gen­tri­fied just for us (Wick­er Park, any­one?).

Recent­ly I had a job inter­view at the back­drop of my child­hood, Old Orchard Shop­ping Cen­ter, whose out­door glo­ry was mis­rep­re­sent­ed in “Mean Girls.” It was bizarre to see younger girls act­ing as I used to, perus­ing the stores with­out a care in the world. They could spend the entire after­noon wreak­ing hav­oc on the piles of skin­ny jeans and prob­a­bly-too-sex­u­al dress­es, leav­ing dozens of exhaust­ed sales­peo­ple to clean up in their wake.

How I long for the days of con­sec­u­tive Star­bucks, frozen yogurt, and soft pret­zels (dis­card­ed only half-eat­en, because ugh the carbs). After those pur­chas­es, we tried on every gar­ment we could make out in the dark­ness of Hol­lis­ter, observ­ing the changes (or not) in each oth­ers’ bod­ies under the guise of “no, you don’t look fat at ALL.” Our infant hips were a size 0 and yet we wor­ried about slim­ming down to a size 00. Often the clothes we tried on went un-pur­chased because they were too pricey, as if we cared about our par­ents’ .

How­ev­er, this new gen­er­a­tion of mid­dle school­ers was miss­ing out on some of the sta­ples of my Old Orchard expe­ri­ence. Gone are the famil­iar store­fronts of lucy (why no cap­i­tal­iza­tion?) and Unit­ed Col­ors of Benet­ton (a I was nev­er priv­i­leged enough to enter) and the ulti­mate in -mom, Cold­wa­ter Creek (I most­ly miss its func­tion­al indoor water­fall). Now I can pon­der the mys­tery of the many Gaps while eat­ing fries and drink­ing a milk­shake from Shake Shack.

As I left the mall after my inter­view, my nos­tal­gia fad­ed. I grew up tremen­dous­ly at Old Orchard, from learn­ing to take turns on the play­grounds to final­ly under­stand­ing what a prop­er tip is at The Bagel. Now, I can remem­ber those times an appro­pri­ate bal­ance of warmth and angst while look­ing for­ward to apply­ing my adult skills.

Malls every­where, we love you.

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