Craig and I took the girls to Denver for a long weekend recently, and we did the city thing for a few days. That involved a morning at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, a hulking building in which we checked out what the bottom of a stingray looks like, and Elle climbed on the back of a life-sized anaconda at the “Amazon Voyage” exhibit. While on “Space Odyssey,” a projector flashing images of the sun spitting out flames mesmerized Craig and Emme, but Elle was a little disturbed by the “astronaut” (a lady wearing a space suit) as she climbed around on Martian rocks behind a giant panel of glass.
Our next day’s outing took us to the Children’s Museum, where I’m pretty sure Craig was as ecstatic about the giant bubble-maker machine as was the 5-year-old boy squawking next to us was (although more silently so), and I secretly wanted to clamber around in the tunnels beneath the treehouse with Elle (but, afraid I might get stuck, I refrained).
Coming from a small town, as we do, these “big city” activities seem like such a novelty. If we’d wanted to, we also could have visited the Aquarium, the Zoo, the Botanic Gardens – with a whole slew of educationally minded activities for kids and parents literally at our fingertips.
But there was another place we just had to visit. An outing we simply could never re-create here in Telluride, and so we must carve out the time for it whenever we’re in a city.
We must go to the Mall.
Except for the four years I spent in college, I have never lived in a place that has a Mall. As a kid growing up in Telluride, I anticipated the Great Going to the Grand Junction Mall for Back-to-School Shopping Trip like I anticipated Christmas, or the start of the ski season: So many stores! So many choices! So much to buy! There weren’t any places in Telluride in the 1990s for a wanting-to-be-hip girl like me to buy a Hypercolor T-shirt, so yes, the Mesa Mall was truly that exciting.
Despite having long ago grown out of my Hypercolor clothing phase, I have not grown out of wanting to go to the Mall whenever I’m in a place that has one. I am drawn to that fluorescent light-washed collection of stores, all tidily lined up in rows, like a moth to a flame: Look! A store dedicated solely to women’s bathing suits! And another, selling nothing but engraved Zippo lighters and picture frames!
Being deprived of the opportunity to live near a Mall, it is as if I’m now consumed by the burning urge to make up for all that time I never had to go to Malls as a child. I now feel compelled to immerse myself in the stark normalcy of American Mall-going, whenever I can. Because isn’t going to the Mall as natural to the Growing-Up American experience as eating hot dogs and playing baseball?
So when in Denver, I go to the Mall. Never mind that I need more clothes, shoes, jewelry, handbags, fake hair barrettes, or engraved Zippo lighters about as much as I need more of my newspaper columnist’s salary to go to credit card finance charges. I just have to go. The Mall beckons, and I cannot resist. And now that I’m a mom, I take my daughters.
We arrive at the Cherry Creek Mall fresh and well-rested after afternoon nap. On the way to the Skechers store (we have, have, have to buy Elle some of those cool light-up shoes), I catch a glimpse of myself reflected in the window of BCBGMAXAZRIA, or whatever that store is called. I could have at least put on a better shirt, I think, yanking at the bottom of the billowy white tunic I bought a decade ago from the outdoor sale rack at the Toggery.
We arrive at the Skechers store, and as Elle is getting sized up, I notice that even their women’s workout shoes have rhinestones on them. My feet grew a half-size while pregnant with Emme and now the only shoes that fit right are these mud-stained New Balance sneakers. I probably could have put up with something slightly uncomfortable but cuter, couldn’t I?
With the new-shoe buying mission accomplished, we have some time to wander around. Perfectly coiffed women click their high-heels past us, Juicy Couture and Cache bags slung from their elbows like ornaments on a Christmas tree. I look down at Elle. All she sees is her new shoes, lighting our way down the squeaky halls of the Mall like a disco-fied lighthouse. She is happily unaware of the newest kid trends on display at Janie and Jack. Nor does she notice the little girl emerging from the Gap, who, judging from her matching dress and tights, doesn’t likely chose her own outfits (On this day, Elle picked out bright blue leggings and a shirt that reads I’m the cool sister).
“Let’s get out of here,” I suggest. Elle is happy to stomp her way out of Mall, her shoes lighting the way to the next Big City activity. Craig can barely contain his relief at this early release from torture.
Even I am relieved. The next time we go to Denver, I think we’ll hit up the aquarium instead. The least I can do for my equally Mall-deprived daughters will be to downplay my own love-hate relationship with the Mall. We can always buy light-up shoes, this generation’s answer to Hypercolor, online.