There’s this store in the mall that is so dark, I feel like I should really get a spelunking hat before I go in again. I have the hardest time reading the price tags. The regular prices are stamped in grayish ink, but when you get to the clearance section (which is where I hang out), the faint, barely stamped, red ink is nearly impossible to see. I must look really charming as I squint and hold pairs of jeans or sweatshirts up in the air, turning their tags at various angles to try and find a stray beam of light. Perhaps this is why the pretty, blond thirtyish woman who calls it ‘her store’ treats me like I don’t belong there every time I set foot inside… even though I–not my teens–am the one with the cash.

But whatever this store lacks in lighting and friendliness, it makes up for in sound and smell. You have to shout if you want to be heard over the really hip music that blasts out from every corner. And when a new shipment of clothing arrives, the employees must do a cologne-spraying-assembly-line, because there isn’t one unscented item in the store. And when I leave, I’m scented, too. I leave a trail of scent behind me, telling everyone in the mall where I’ve been. (The other hint is that I’m squinting and blinking like I just came out of a cave.)

During a recent spelunking/shopping trip, I was squinting and yelling to my daughter about the sweatshirt tag I was waving in the air, when I almost tripped over a baby stroller. This store is not set up for strollers, and the teenage mom behind it was clearly frustrated. I shouted my apology as she reached down to pick up the sweetest looking little infant–no more than a few weeks old–who obviously was not pleased with her shopping experience either. Just then, the baby’s father, who couldn’t have been older than seventeen, came over to them. The girl said something in his ear and pointed to the dressing room. He rolled his eyes, flopped his armful of jeans and sweaters onto the stroller and reached for the baby. All in all, they did not look like they were enjoying their little family outing.

A little later, someone turned from the checkout counter with a huge, bulging bag. I couldn’t help but compare this teenage father to the store’s almost life sized model on the bag. Both guys were about seventeen, trendy, handsome and muscularly built.

Obviously, the model on the bag was selling clothes. But he seemed to be selling something else, too.  And the boy holding the baby had bought the whole package–the clothes, the trendy image, and the sex. The funny thing was the baby. This dainty, seven-pound little girl looked out of place in this store. There was no place to push her stroller or change her diapers or nurse her when she fussed. But she was the end result of two teenagers buying everything being sold here.

I wanted to hug those two teens, and praise them for their brave decision of giving their little daughter life. But I wanted to cry with them, too. Because while their favorite store’s clothing price tags are hard to see,  the price tag on the rest of what it’s selling is nearly invisible. Caring for a baby is incredibly demanding and costly. Worth it, but costly.

Maybe if we turned up the lights and turned down the background noise surrounding teenage sex and the places that sex leads (either a maternity ward, or far worse–an abortion clinic), our teens could think more clearly about what they’re buying into.

Update: This post has gotten more attention than anything else I’ve blogged in the last six months. Are there some other spelunking parents who are seeing the same light I am? “Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Romans 13:12

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