As a part of our most recent birthday slumber party for our twelve-year-old daughter Anna, we prolonged the agony by driving our pre-teen guests to the mall in nearby Tyler, Texas, where everything is just a tad shinier and more cosmopolitan than in Tyler’s annoying copycat little brother, Longview. The mall is Mecca for pre-teen girls, and Guantanamo Bay for dads. Trying to keep track of thirteen pre-teen girls in a mall is like playing some sick human version of Hungry, Hungry Hippos, where the girls are the marbles scattering in every direction and the parents are the Hippos frantically trying to avoid an Amber Alert. While we can’t actually devour the children like the hippos do the marbles, the thought has crossed my mind. Some might ask why we would do this to ourselves as parents, while others might say, “You should learn to say, ‘No!'” These people either have no children or are mistaking me for someone with a spine.
As everyone knows, malls are architecturally designed to wear down impatient dads like me to the point that they want to leave at any cost, no matter how expensive. They require extensive walking, punctuated by extensive standing, interrupted by extensive on-the-spot decision making, eventually ending in defeated slouching on one of those benches out in the center of the mall promenade and blankly staring at people in a display of full-blown creepiness. Before I reach this lowly state, however, there are the inevitable visits to the following establishments whose sole purpose is to make me homeless (“Will work for sleep”):
Build a Bear Workshop
If you’ve never been to Build a Bear, you may actually possess some sense of personal financial perspective. The purpose behind Build a Bear is to turn your child into a laborer in a Chinese sweatshop and you into a pauper. Think about it. At a cost of roughly $500, you can pay for your child’s privilege of selecting the flaccid skin of a stuffed toy and filling it with polyester fibers. But the child labor doesn’t stop there. For an additional $500, your child can then choose clothing for and dress the stuffed toy in garments more expensive than anything you are currently wearing. The child then registers the toy at a computer, divulging all of your personal information in the process so that Build a Bear can send you email messages six times a day informing you that it’s time to make another visit (if you really love your children). Once your are finished financing the toy, it is placed in a refrigerator box for the father to carry for the remainder of the visit through the Mall. Someone always says, “We should’ve done this last,” just after we have done it first, with only two hours to go. Build a Bear; lose a mind.
If the mall is the pre-teen girl’s Mecca, Claire’s is the temple. In a store that is roughly the size of a shower stall, Claire’s sells jewelry, purses, hair accessories, toys, make-up, and anything else you can think of that would be of absolutely no interest to a dad. In fact, I’m pretty sure that men aren’t technically allowed to go in there. There is no seating whatsoever in Claire’s, a cruel ploy, I suspect, to encourage fathers to bribe their children to hurry up in exchange for your purchasing the entire Claire’s inventory. Another devious strategy of Claire’s is for the clerk to look askance at the dad while handing each pre-teen girl a personal shopping basket as if to confirm that she is in full charge of making all buying decisions-which she is if she will just hurry up. If one is lucky, there is the added pleasure of listening to the blood-curdling screams of an infant having her ear lobes impaled with a nail gun at the ear piercing station. Claire’s is torture, literally.
Justice wins the award for the store with the most ironic name. At this (mainly) clothing store for pre-teen girls, you can purchase a “shirt” the size of a postage stamp for 60% percent off of the original price of $600. All the clothing in Justice is the same. It is some neon color, has been dunked in a vat of glitter glue, and is made of strings of twine loosely holding hands. Due to the missing nature of most of the fabric in each article of clothing, fifteen layers are required to avoid sending your daughter out in public wearing a glittery, neon pink dip net. Therefore, when one buys a “shirt” at Justice, one must also buy the matching cardigan, an undershirt, a tank top, a sports bra, and so on, and I don’t even want to discuss the bottoms-in any sense of the word. While Mom is in the dressing room helping with the trying on, I am usually relegated to the task of finding alternative sizes. When I occasionally stick my head behind the dressing room curtain to ask a question, I am excoriated by my daughters for violating their privacy (despite the fact that I can’t seem to use the toilet in my own bathroom at home without being accompanied or interrupted by at least two of them). After failing at my simple job of finding three different sizes for at least forty articles of clothing, I am often sent to find underwear for my daughters. Imagine the glares I receive from other shoppers (99.9999% of whom are female) as I stand at the underwear table rifling through the “boy shorts.” (I’m now on a first name basis with mall security.) There simply is no justice at Justice.
The Mall Candy Store
These come in many different names, but they are basically all the same. They sell stale candy by the pound at around the same price as the equivalent weight in gold. In other words, one M&M costs about the same as a 20 gallon drum of M&Ms at Sam’s. The draw for kids (other than the fact that this is a whole store full of candy) is that the candy is unwrapped and in clear plastic tubs that haven’t been cleaned since the 80’s. The kids can use the attached scoop to fill their 15 gallon garbage bag, which will be weighed at checkout. Let’s face it, though, after about two attempted scoops and the clattering sound of 1,000 Skittles hitting the floor, in go the hands, enhancing the unsanitary nature of the whole affair. Once the weighing happens and the parent realizes that the amount of candy in the bag is the same price as a Cadillac, the kids are sent back to the tubs to put back most of the now bacteria-laden candy (once again with the hands). “Look, kids; it’s candy-flavored flu!”
The Great American Cookie Company
This is the perfect grand finale of the trip to the Mall, and it’s almost worth the suffering the precedes it. What better way to smother my sorrows than with a triangular piece of partially baked chocolate chip cookie dough slathered with multi-colored joy? Even the scent of the Great American Cookie Company wafting throughout the mall contains calories. Sometimes (for virtually every family member’s birthday or each holiday) I purchase an entire cookie cake from this marvelous establishment. (I sometimes get something for my wife and kids to eat, too.) I can’t get enough of the stuff. I know it has no redeeming nutritional value and is likely shortening my life with every delicious bite, but I can’t bring myself to offend my fellow birthday party and holiday guests by abstaining. I’m still trying to find a justification to celebrate the end of Daylight Savings Time with a cookie cake. For now, I guess I’ll stick with a cookie cake for all of the major holidays, including weekend Saturdays. Anyone who thinks America isn’t great hasn’t visited The Great American Cookie Company.
After this latest slumber party (complete with the trip to the mall), my daughter Anna remarked that some of her friends said that this had been the most fun birthday party they had ever attended. As I gazed into her beautiful hazel eyes and realized what a hero I was to her at that moment, I thought that all of the expense and inconvenience might have been worth it. I replied to her compliment with a warm hug, gently reminding her that her new job at the sweatshop starts Monday.