When I was in middle school I loved nothing more than to ride my bike to the mall and hang out there with my friends for hours. As I aged, malls because less and less attractive to me. Until, for most of my adulthood, I saw them only as a necessary evil.
That is until I moved to Columbia, Missouri, where October is beautiful and the weather of every other month
sucks is not-so-beautiful. Super hot, super cold, thunderstorms, all conditions that drive a mother of two toddlers to drink search for indoor play options.
Like it or not, the Columbia Mall is one such place. And recently they added a new attraction. So, if you haven’t been there since the holidays, there is a surprise in store for you.
This train drives at a slow pace through the entire mall, ringing its bell, tooting its whistle and making its young passengers very, very happy.
The train is not inexpensive. In fact, it is $3 for every rider older than one-year. That means, unlike the carousel, parents pay too. It also means you see plenty of moms and dads getting their daily exercise walking along next to the train as it moves slowly past every store.
Despite the cost, I know it will work its way into our parenting survival kit as an occasional treat. After all, I can’t deny the happiness on his face.
In the meantime, there are still plenty of free activities at the mall to keep young minds and bodies busy.
In addition to their train table, Barns & Noble added a Lego table. From a marketing standpoint this was genius. Normally my kids just play at the train table and I don’t buy a thing. But the Lego station is located near the discount tables – the key to this cheap Mama’s heart. This week, while my kids were entertained, I managed to find 13 things I just couldn’t live without.
Of course, right outside Barnes & Noble is the carousel. Children pay $2 a piece, but if they are young their parents are allowed to join them for free.
I like to stretch this experience out by taking our time choosing which animal to ride. And the smart people who operate the carousel, stamp the children’s hands AFTER THE RIDE. Instead of crying because the ride is over, my kids are scrambling to be the first to get their stamps – brilliant.
The carousel is unique, and the train and Lego tables teach my kids to share with others and engage their minds, but sometimes I just need my kids to blow off steam.
This play area serves that purpose well. At times, bad parenting puts a damper on the fun in this space. Despite well marked signs limiting the Kidz Court to young children, it is not unusual to find over-sized, high-energy, school-age kids dominating. And really, I highly doubt all those noses just started dripping after you got to the Mall (Come-on parents, please be responsible.) Regardless of the occasional problem, we still consider this a great option on an afternoon when it is just too hot or just too cold to play outside.
Finally, I am a little embarrassed to bring this up, and I promise not to show you pictures, but have you checked out the Family Restrooms in the food court?
Using a public bathroom with a young child is never pleasant. Challenges like trying to squeeze a stroller in the stall, trying to stop exploring hands from touching every surface and trying to contain, maintain and refrain (from yelling) cause many parents to wish they stayed home. But these bathrooms are different. Lots of space and miniature fixtures make this unpleasant task much more tolerable.
I never thought I’d go back to my days of hanging out at a mall. And I really never expected to write about a public restroom. On the other hand, the glamorous life of motherhood is actually more fun than I anticipated and I am not too proud to say, “Meet us at the Mall.”