Taking kids shopping when you are travelling is like teaching fish to ride bicycles.
It’s infuriating because they keep slipping away.
We’ve almost lost them in the labyrinthine souks of Morocco, the ubiquitous outlets of Hawaii and the gleaming malls of Manila.
But the most embarrassing incident happened in the Versace store on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, where I was pretending to be browsing gowns for the next ball season, gawking at stuff I couldn’t afford.
Like a lawyer, I issued a caveat at the front door: “Grace, if you touch anything in here, you’re not getting dessert tonight.”
I was fondling furs (fake, I hasten to add) when the wind whispered my name.
Well, I wish it was a whisper. When it comes to volume, kids only know how to go from zero and 10. “Mum,” she said. Then, with urgency, “Mum!”
I turn to see my daughter with her head up a dummy’s dress, screeching, “I can see this lady’s vagina!”
After walking out, pretending she was someone else’s child, I came up with a new plan.
If threats won’t work, what about bribery?
So for Christmas, we gave the kids a small amount of money to spend in each city on our Griswold European Vacation, having kinda figured this would buy their silence for when we wanted to go shopping. Well, it had the opposite effect, turning them into crazed capitalists.
Upon arrival at each destination, they blew their money on crap at the first souvenir shop they could find.
Glow-in-the-dark rosary beads from the Vatican; a bobble-headed dog wearing a beret in Paris; and a Buckingham Palace snow dome.
Then they’d flap around us in a frenzy asking what there was for kids in the adult clothing stores.
I used to allow them into the dressing room with me, until Grace said loudly one day, “Your bum looks MASSIVE in that skirt!”
And don’t get me started on airports. Long layovers can be costly when the nagging volume reaches 11. (I know. I should say “no”. But jetlag is a special form of insanity).
We learned our lesson by the time we got to Singapore, telling the kids:
a) if they wanted to buy rubbish they could spend their own money,
b) it’s better to spend it on entry fees to attractions and the photos you can buy to keep of the experience,
c) the snow domes/bobble-heads/beads will break after a week anyway.
While money is the root of all evil, it can also be used for good.
In Saks Fifth Avenue in San Francisco, a lovely lady leads you to a private catwalk to model your clothes, plies you with champagne and treats and shepherds your children away to who-knows-where.
For a time, I swapped the children for three frocks, a pair of shoes and a nice necklace.
(I asked whether the exchange could be permanent, to which the manager replied, “I know we have low wages here, but we abolished child slavery more than 70 years ago”.)
If you have any advice on regaining my sanity shopping with kids while on holiday, contact me on the email below.
In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to train those fish.