Whew, is Aubrey Blaskoski tired.
Two hours into shopping, the Centennial Lane Elementary School first-grader raises her hands to her small, round face and gives a big yawn as her mother fusses with the new outfit she has on -- a blue and maroon sweater and blue stretch pants, topped off with a bright red hat with a big daisy in the center and nice little price tag on the side.
There'll be more fussing and tugging before the August back-to-school shopping spree is through -- not only for Aubrey, but also for the more than 35,000 Howard County schoolchildren who are going through the annual rite of buying new shoes, new clothes and new supplies.
Aubrey's mother, Annette, couldn't be happier. She's having a grand time mixing and matching for her 5-year-old in colorful clothing at the Children's Outlet in the Mall in Columbia. Her other daughter, 3-year-old Amber, is in a world of her own as she runs up and down the store's play center and in and out of clothes racks.
"It's fun to dress her in cute clothes," Mrs. Blaskoski says as she kneels down to peel off the blue stretch pants so Aubrey can try on a one-piece knit dress. "I enjoy picking new clothes for her. It amazes me how much she grows. It's fun to see new fashions, new kinds."
Not all parents are back-to-school shopping with enthusiasm. Surrounded by three teen-age girls, two shopping bags of clothing and a handful of black jeans, Elaine Ebbe, a mother of five, says, "I hate school shopping."
The Ellicott City resident, a seasoned pro at back-to-school shopping, has her hands full. She's looking for jeans, plaid shirts and hair scrunchies for her daughters, as well as bedsheets, blankets and other items for her oldest son, who will be going off to college next month.
In two days of shopping, she's purchased 10 pairs of jeans, nine tops, one collegiate sweat shirt, one jacket and several scrunchies. And she says she's only begun.
"It's quite an endeavor," says Mrs. Ebbe, a good-natured woman who says she gets her share of gray hairs and Advil at the end of many shopping days. "I don't look forward to it at all. Going with four daughters in and out of dressing rooms with four to five jeans each, I'm stressed out."
Her trick? "We don't buy anything that's not on sale," she says. "[My children] look for certain jeans. They look for a certain fit. If they don't get it now, they'll get it in Christmas."
Her daughters, meanwhile, love it.
"I get a lot of new clothes," says 14-year-old Laura Ebbe, a Mount Hebron High School freshman.
Others, such as Linda McMullen -- with five daughters, three in elementary school -- have shopped yearlong, picking up notebooks and other supplies at sales and promotional events.
The price, she says, "is outrageously expensive. You're talking school supplies, and you're talking shoes and you're talking clothes. I'm suspecting several hundred dollars."
Back-to-school shopping is inevitable. Children outgrow last year's clothes, which may have seen the best year of their lives landing in mud and going down slides. And it's natural to start off a new school year with new stuff.
Bushey Park Elementary School second-grader Lucie Sargents loves nothing better than a spanking new pair of kick-around sneakers at Buster Brown in the Mall. She chose a red pair this year, as well as some white bobby socks because she felt her old ones with pink lace clashed with the new shoes.
Happy with her shoes, she wore them out of the store, but not before staring at Looney Tunes shoes, adorned with Tweety and Sylvester and other cartoon characters.
"They're fashion-conscious already when they're 7," says Lucie's mother, Susan Belsinger, who's shopping early this year because all the sizes were gone last year. "Their feet grow so fast."
Many parents say they can't wait to go back-to-school shopping.
"When you've had children home for three months, you're counting the days when school starts," says Gretchen Mour, a mother of three and PTA president at Dasher Green Elementary School. "And the children by the end of August are ready to go back."
She'll start hitting the malls and shopping plazas as soon as possible. "I personally try to start the second week of August, so I don't have to do it last minute," she says.