Several days ago, Ella asked me if we could please go to the dollar store. She’s requested this before – usually when she’s been given money by a grandparent or perhaps found some loose change lying around – and always seems truly thrilled to be able to shop for whatever she wants in what is, clearly, The Greatest Store Of All Time.

“Mom! Everything is only a dollar! EVERY. SINGLE. THING!!!!”

I’ve tried to impress upon her that whole you get what you pay for adage, but still, the dollar store is her Target. Or, given that it now carries a hefty selection of frozen and canned foods, maybe even a Super Target. Eight year-old shopping nirvana.

I’d protested that I didn’t want to spend money on junk lovely trinkets that might break within five minutes of purchasing them, but then she reminded me that both she and Annie have their own allowance. When she also reminded me (after pulling out her official allowance ledger) that Nick and I hadn’t actually paid either of them their allowance since last October – so we were just a teensy bit overdue – I felt the guilt take over and agreed to make a dollar store pilgrimage.

Ella was positively gleeful – and her glee even rubbed off on Annie, who had decided against joining us on our previous dollar store visits. The two of them rummaged through their ledgers and each chose a crisp $20 bill. After running a few other errands, we were ready to go. I checked my watch; we’d been gone for only 30 minutes, and so between what would undoubtedly be a quick jaunt into the dollar store, followed by pre-lunch-hour grocery shopping, I estimated we’d be home within an hour and a half. Perfect.

The instant we entered heaven The Greatest Store Of All Time, Annie made a beeline for the school supplies, saying she wanted items to create a “play school” at home. Prior to going in, the girls had settled on buying nineteen items apiece, so that their now-wadded-up twenties could safely cover everything (because, as Ella sagely noted to Annie, “They always add some extra cents onto the twenty dollars”).

Within five minutes of bursting through those pearly gates — I kid you not, FIVE MINUTES — Annie had accounted for all nineteen of her items (after reluctantly putting back the party pack of clip-on earrings, because I’d informed her that they’d break after only one wearing), and then proceeded to roam the store trading things in and out of her basket to maintain her under-twenty status. I encouraged her to be a bit more careful — to maybe check out the other aisles before blowing everything on the first display she encountered — but she held fast to the incredible marvels she’d already collected.

When not roaming, she used the super-skinny squirt gun as a walking cane. Or a tape measure. Or a magician’s wand. Or, really, anything at all, so long as it involved swinging it around madly and nearly decapitating other customers.

Ella, on the other hand… Ella was far more discerning. By the time Annie had found her nineteen treasures, Ella had managed to put three items in her basket. She walked up and down every single aisle a minimum of five times. She’d remove the merchandise, examine it as if holding a holy relic or perhaps looking for crime scene evidence, and then carefully put it back, saying it wasn’t exactly what she wanted.

Never mind that she has no cell phone to put inside this exquisite dollar store case…

Socks were pored over. Which size? Which color? Would they itch? Did they match her clothes at home? Perhaps she wanted some hair accessories. Should she get a pack of glow sticks? If so, how many? After the 287th time of cheerfully saying, “Whatever you want, sweetie!”, I remarked to her that she seemed to be having a very difficult time with these decisions, to which she replied, “I know I am, Mommy. I need to get every one right. It’s just the way I’m made, I guess.”


After thirty minutes of “shopping,” I texted Nick and told him to send help. Twelve minutes later, I asked him please say some prayers for me. Under other circumstances, I would have hurried Ella’s butt right on out of there… but I’d just read this blog post last week, and although I’m often sick and tired of being told to slow down and savor the minutes (because, really, dollar store minutes are not the ones I’m going to be fondly recalling over the Mai Tais Nick and I will be sipping in Hawaii after Annie heads to college), I tried, just this once, to let Ella do her thing. Truthfully, we had no other plans. The grocery store could wait. There was no reason to rush her. Patience, mama. Patience.

As our “brief” excursion neared the hour mark, however, and as Annie began threatening to put the filthy squirt gun in her mouth, I started trying to encourage Ella to maybe speed it up a bit. Not actually hurry, mind you… No. Smell those roses, baby. Examine that sunglasses case for the fourth time. No rush; I love spending the morning in the dollar store. Patience is my thing. But perhaps – just perhaps – if you haven’t found anything you want by now, after having spent so much time in here, the Royal Baby may well have been born, left the hospital, been christened, and started teething… perhaps you don’t actually like what’s available here, so you don’t need to spend all twenty of your dollars.

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, so very wrong.
Those dollars did need to be spent, every last one, on essential, important, glorious items. She just didn’t know which ones yet.

At long, long, looooooong last, Ella completed her shopping. By now, of course, the previously-empty checkout register had four other shoppers in it. And, of course, we three shoppers (I’d managed to pick up a few things, too, if only as a sanity-saving measure) could not just lump our treasures on the conveyor belt and pay together. No, no, each girl needed to have her loot rung up separately, reverently forking over her $20 bill as though it were the Dead Sea Scrolls, and then I could place my items on the belt.

By the time we finally exited the pearly gates, I glanced at my phone to see if we’d make it back home anywhere near my original 90-minute mark and discovered that we had spent an hour and six minutes inside. AN HOUR AND SIX MINUTES. IN THE DOLLAR STORE. SIXTY-SIX MINUTES. Sixty-six minutes that I will never get back, but which Ella will remember gratefully and lovingly, forever. She can even put it on my tombstone: Beloved wife and mother; patiently sacrificed her sanity so I could enjoy the dollar store.

After getting home and carrying in the groceries, the girls put off eating lunch to spread out their newly-acquired bounty across the dining room table and adoringly describe each purchase to me. Ella’s scrupulous shopping had resulted in a relatively coherent collection: hair accessories, sunglasses and case, plastic cup and cup holder, and a couple of assorted toys.

dollar store loot2
Those socks? The ones she agonized over? Wrong size.
But the “really super bouncy ball that can bounce, like, to the ceiling” does, in fact, bounce all the way to the ceiling – and can almost take out the chandelier with it. Dollar store, FTW!

Annie’s purchases, on the other hand, while supposedly all “play school” related (save for the squirt gun, although she did say she could use it as a white board pointer), had a distinct Mardi Gras flavor to them – and not just because she bought a plastic string of gold and purple comedy/tragedy beads. There were pens and pencils and drawing supplies, sure, but also coins (to practice counting), jewels and other trinkets (for the mystery kid prize box), and lots of gigantic play money. Plus, most importantly, her favorite item: a glittery pink wand “that won’t break like those cheap earrings.”

dollar store loot1
Except? The wand? Look closely… Bejeweled 15 in the middle of the heart…
Yep. Annie just purchased herself a quinceañera wand.
It’s now officially my favorite purchase of the day, too. ¡Muy bueno!

They both took a good five minutes describing every last one of their nineteen hard-won items, after which we had lunch… and then they gathered their booty, took it upstairs, and – presumably – set up the school. Or maybe they’re hanging out of their windows and throwing their beads at imaginary Mardi Gras floats. They’re not hanging on me happy, and that’s what really matters.

When Nick got home, he took the girls to get new golf gloves, and then announced that the three of them were heading over to the elementary school to hit golf balls, and did I want to come? I told him maybe later, because, as enticing as that sounds, I’m a terrible golfer, and hitting golf balls requires a lot of concentration. And coordination.
And patience. Lots of patience.

And, right now, mama is fresh out of patience.

4 thoughts on “Virtuous

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