Rediscovering the Magic of the Mall

My ten-year-old daughter had her first full-fledged Mall Experience over spring break. To me, it felt like a seismic shift, a sudden lurch forward towards adolescence and the teen years, with her eventual departure for college suddenly rearing up just around the corner. Then again, I can be a bit overly dramatic. To her, I suspect it just felt like an awesome day with her mom and her grandma.

We’re not big mall-goers in my family. I can remember making the forty-five minute drive with my girlfriends a few times while I was in high school but it certainly wasn’t a go-to spot for socializing – or for wardrobe enhancements, for that matter. But perhaps it was the very rareness of the experience that made it memorable. There is something undeniably exhilarating about strolling down the wide halls with a couple bags on your arm and a phalanx of giggling girlfriends striding along with you, all of you supremely aware of your own fabulousness.

I was a teenager in the late 90s and there was nothing better than finding a really great plaid flannel shirt on a clearance rack. Add in a giant pretzel and you had yourself a perfect day.

As I got older, the trips to the mall grew fewer and farther between. By the time the kids arrived, I was a committed bargain-hunter and did most of their clothes shopping at local consignment sales. This worked well for a while. The kids would rejoice in the giant basket of clothing I’d procure and would gleefully paw through the treasure trove.

With age comes independence, however, and my firstborn no longer trusts me to select her wardrobe. Or perhaps I’ve just lost my ability to predict with much accuracy what will strike her fancy. She’s also a twiggy wee thing – long and lanky – and finding clothes that fit her now requires patience and a dressing room.

Thus it was that I took a day off work to do some serious shopping with my girl. Never have you seen such bliss as a ten-year-old turned loose in Old Navy for the first time. She loved it all – the thumping soundtrack, the stylish mannequins, the racks of coordinating accessories. She judiciously balanced comfy knits and flip flops with a few swankier items, trying on outfits and modeling them for my mom and me, brimming with sass and sparkle.

She bargained, cajoled, and ultimately helped fund a jean jacket that she simply couldn’t live without. It took most of the contents of her piggybank to make it happen, but she has no regrets.

We lunched in the food court and even that experience seemed to dazzle her, as we pooled our waffle fries and watched the throngs of people go by. After a couple more stops, we were all starting to drag – what is it about shopping that is so physically draining? – so we made a final stop at Joseph Beth Booksellers before calling it a day.

That place will revive the flagging spirits of a young bibliophile any day. I swear to you, walking through the doors of that store is a religious experience. So many books, so many opportunities to learn something new or lose yourself in a magical new world. It makes me dizzy.

All of my children have inherited the familial affection for good books and while we may not visit the mall regularly, we’re in and out of the bookstore all the time. In minutes, my daughter was hunkered down in a corner, surrounded by several stacks of books – all candidates vying for the great honor of being chosen as new recruits to her vast library. A bookstore is one of my favorite places on earth, and it thrills me to share this love with my child.

My heart loved our day of shopping. My wallet was somewhat less enthusiastic, reminding me pointedly of why I shop second-hand. So I don’t know that this is the start of a new regular ritual for us, but as a one-off adventure, it sure was fun.

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