As my little babies have evolved into bouncing toddlers, I have discovered that there is gold within the designated children’s play areas in local malls, even as the spaces around the entertainment mounds wither under the slow demise of the shopping mall sector. If compared to the neighborhood park, the indoor equivalent has three dominant traits: no heat, no wood chips, and no swing sets. As can be imagined, a sweaty mommy at the park often has to save a “hungry” baby girl from her own obsessive curiosity of how the ground tastes while being forced to spend the reminder of play time pushing her 40-lb. brother nearly nonstop on a swing for 20 minutes.
Clearly, park visits are for parental high-energy days. (As I say this, I don’t believe there exists a such phenomenon.) For most opportunities, the mall simply carries just a bit more appeal for me right now. It’s all good.
But, here’s the asterisk on this “good” thing: Other parents found it, too.
During moments in history like now, when the schools are out and the summers are stormy and the kids are crazy, the mall playground becomes a desirous utopia of enclosed bounty, inviting all families to partake of its promises of energy expenditure and social avenues. It’s a singular spot in a well-lit, public (air-conditioned!) place where parents can sit (phone-clad) and abandon the worry of their child running off unattended into the metaphorical sunset. The kiddies can continue to move and shift and jump in their frenetic paces, much like mini X-Men, as they usually do on outside playgrounds, save for real equipment usability. Most kids don’t seem to mind the lack of the latter.
At a peak of congestion, exercising a tour of a mall playground becomes a flat-out race of endurance, a constant bump of vigilance, and a way to ensure that a kid may get accidentally kicked in the head.
It’s a bargaining for…survival.
In my past, the unabated activity has been a lot to watch, which is why I now have a toolbox of would-be advisement for other parents contemplating a mall playground itinerary soon. To decrease the appearance of the helicopter mom in me, and to allow the kids to just be kids and go play, I commit to three standards.
1.Unless malice is involved, tears are usually shallow and short-lived. Go the”coach” way. When a child approaches in distress, and often he/she will not belong to you, it’s much easier to ask what happened, listen to the explanation of the boo-boo received while diving off the plastic slide, and to reply, “It’s okay! You’ve got this! You’ll be just fine!” Pat them on the back for reassurance. Send them on their way, Coach.
2. Out of nowhere, the kids will become ravenously thirsty, even if they had previously ingested a cooler-sized beverage. Maintain eyesight of a cool drink, a clean diaper, and/or a route to the nearby potty.
2a. Ask the toddler about potty attendance frequently. Insist visitation. They may lie about having to go because…kids.
3. It’s easy to begin watching other children while inadvertently protecting your own, so stretch the neck muscles prior to the visit. Having to quickly swivel the neck is an extensive occupational risk in this endeavor. In my experiences, there is usually one giant, playful kid there (maybe an offspring of an Atlanta Falcons football player) who I mentally dub the “Alpha” because he/she can scale all surfaces and clear the surrounding children, feet clean over heads, if leaping from one man-made hillock to another. I watch the Alpha closely to monitor at what level coaching my toddler or preschooler will need if erroneously knocked over by the adolescent behemoth.
It’s not a pretty job, but somebody has to do it.
Additionally, Jai likes to wander over to other parents and start babbling conversations, much to their laughter and cooperation. I have to watch for baby Oprah’s adventures, too.
If the above are performed successfully, one, two, or more kiddies fall asleep during the trip home.
I’d then call this another day well-lived.