I am a walking cliché. I went to university, got married, had children, moved to suburbia and now I spend all my time at the mall. Not all my time, but what feels like all my time.
This has driven me to detest the place, which is a shame because growing up the two of us had a positive relationship. A symbiotic one – I needed the mall and the mall needed me.
Initially, I loved going there. On errands with my mother, I would see other kids I knew, or bump into teachers. You never knew who you might spot. It was like playing a real-life game of jack-in-the-box, but with a different result each time. (Let’s face it: This would make for a better game.) It was exciting.
When I was old enough, I was allowed to walk to the mall with my friends. On good days, we would find a dime in the change slot at the phone booth, or a gumball that some kid had missed from the machines by the entryway.
Once, my friend pocketed a Hello Kitty eraser from the stationery store. We were giddy when she took it out to show me, quickly putting it away in case we were being followed by an undercover cop. But I threw up when I got home, and chose other friends for mall outings after that.
Besides the odd foray into criminal behaviour we weren’t just annoying junior delinquents – we were potential customers. We strode purposefully from Fairweather to Suzy Shier, letting our fingers graze the fake leather pants and neon shirts for which we pined. Come allowance day we were serious customers, provided we had saved up enough money.
There was so much to do at the mall, no wonder kids love it there. When we weren’t dreaming up outfits we were getting our hair trimmed, our photographs developed or buying soap on a rope for Father’s Day. There was never a dull moment.
Eventually school became more work and this cut into mall time. Then work became work and I had no mall time at all. But when my first daughter was born, I was back at the place like I’d never been gone.
In this altered state of motherhood, the mall took on new dimensions. On rainy days it provided a dry place to work out: I pushed the stroller back and forth on the glossy tiles. There was free underground parking, so I didn’t have to get my baby wet when schlepping her inside. I could buy diapers, get a movie, hit the liquor store, buy new underwear and go for a workout in one fell swoop – what more could any mother want?
On occasion I would catch young shopkeepers, their coiffed hair resplendent next to my unkempt locks, staring at me with a look that said, “Her again? Doesn’t she have somewhere better to go?” But I would think, “Just you wait, some day you’ll have a baby and you’ll see the mall as a new frontier, too.”
This was my mall heyday, as I now reflect. The pinnacle of our relationship. It was all downhill from there, but I shouldn’t ruin it for you – keep reading.
As with many things in life, what can one day be your salvation might also become your prison.
More children came along. I was dizzy with fatigue and the smell of formula. It was just so convenient, I was going to the mall every day. Whether it was for a new soother for the baby, socks for my husband or 80-watt light bulbs, my family was depending on me, and the mall provided it. Besides, it gave me something to do when I was tired of washing dishes.
One day, a delivery truck was stopped in the middle of the parking lot. I thought I had room to squeak by it, but it turns out I didn’t. I heard a loud scraping noise as I inched past, and was sweating bullets as I assured my children that the sound was just my side mirror clicking into place. I avoided the mall and its busy parking lot for a while after that.
It was a brief hiatus. It really is an unavoidable place if you’re a suburban parent, unless you have a personal shopper or are Angelina Jolie.
I try to reduce my carbon footprint by amalgamating errands, but as my three children get older the list of things my household needs gets longer and I find myself at the mall more than I care to admit. I sometimes lie about my whereabouts when my husband calls. I tell him I’m at the beach or at the playground, until he hears the register and asks, “What was that noise?”
Changing my stay-at-home mother status to Chief Mall Crawler would be more accurate.
Once filled with possibilities and distractions, the mall has become a concrete jungle intent on emptying my wallet of its waning cash and credit. Stepping inside its confines is always a costly venture, and materialism has long since lost its lustre.
Now when I enter its revolving doors I picture myself instead on my (free) favourite forested trail, watching the sunlight sift through tree branches instead of busy shoppers wilting under bags of purchases, pretending the smell of the food court is actually the pungent scent of moss and foliage.
My daughter has just reached her prime mall-crawling years. She came home with a Hello Kitty eraser the other day, honest to goodness, and was surprised when I shrilly asked her to see the receipt.
The mall has officially become my nemesis.
Deanna Regan Wigmore lives in Vancouver.
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