it is a tradition for greg and i to go to somerset mall around christmas time. don’t ask why. we can barely afford a coffee there and i hate crowds. especially well-dressed, fast-walking ones. and, let me tell you, there is no shortage of fast-walkers this time of year. people are already scrambling like mad to make the purchase, cross the next item off their list, and trample over you in the process if you happen to be a non-fast-walker, the dreaded slow-walker, which i, of course, can’t help but be these days with my three year old and small baby in tow. yes, we are the dreaded small family slow-walking motorcade. i can feel the rage radiating at the back of my head as ruth serpentines all over the walk way, backtracking and stopping short to look at things. i know, people. you have a lot to do. i get it.
in any case, short tirades about the lack of empathy that plagues our society aside, we went to the mall this evening. we meant to go in the early afternoon, which quickly became late afternoon and then early evening by the time we finally strapped a sleeping joel into his car seat and then started in snacking before we actually made it out the door well after dark. in my mind, the mall would be a quiet, spacious place for ruth to run, for us to quietly window-shop, to spend an evening away from home admiring the holiday decorations. but i should have known. it’s past december first. the countdown for many has already begun. we are all already behind on our preparations. damn me and my naivety. it was packed.
that was ok. the blur of stylish and self-important humanity that surrounded us was, for the first part of our visit, completely absorbing and astounding. we all just sort of plopped down on a bench and sat dumbstruck at all of the people. talking. gesturing. shopping. pretty. we walked to the middle area, where santa sits on a padded thrown in the midst of a whimsical magical castle, workers in garb scampering about. we stood on the outskirts of the area where all of the children waiting to see santa ran around hopped up on adrenaline, going over and over their extensive lists in their minds, skipping ahead to christmas morning when they would find all their hearts desires under the tree, neatly gift-wrapped. ruth, of course, wouldn’t set so much as a toe out among the mob of gleeful children. and who could blame her? it was crazy out there.
i knew it was useless to even think about ruth seeing santa. she looked at him from a distance, and this satisfied her, but she had no desire or interest in seeing him up close or, god forbid, actually speaking with him or sitting on his lap. “what about joel?” i asked greg. he shrugged. we might have been able to get joel to sit with santa for a cute picture. but there was no way i would pay for one, so we’d be one of those schmucks who take their own and clog up the santa-seeing line for those that actually pay the fifteen or whatever dollars for a professional photo with santa. plus, i didn’t know what we’d do with ruth and i dreaded her reaction to seeing her brother with santa. it could have gotten ugly. so we just forgot the whole santa mess.
“i’ll get us a hot chocolate,” greg offered and i cringed at spending the money, but nodded anyways, desperate for something to distract me from the christmas craze surrounding us. we sat sipping it and from there, decided it might be safe to try the skywalk, for those that don’t know, a sort of conveyor belt sidewalk that connects the two halves of the mall, each on the opposite side of a busy road, helping all of us to bionically get to our next shopping destination. kids like that stuff, we thought, so we went for it.
“no running,” i said, but what three-year-old could resist? she loved that damn thing and we rode each one like twice at least before we actually got off and kept going at the end. by this time, ruth was hitting her groove and getting really excited. she was going up to store windows, manhandling all the glass, running and laughing like someone stoned out of their mind on speed, i would imagine, might. and i can’t say she didn’t look the part, decked out in what looked like something from flashdance, a “christmas outfit” she chose herself, stating that, “yellow is a christmas color, too,” in her yellow flower girl dress, now at least a size too small, with a pair of joel’s gray sweatpants on underneath, so they barely came to her knees, red socks pulled up to mid calf and a headband that did nothing to hold the hair back from her eyes and you get the picture.
joel was getting fussy so we looked for an indiscreet bench for me to feed him at and then greg took him into a store while i rode with ruth up and down an escalator like half a million times. yes, this is what our shopping experience at somerset has been reduced to. pure thrill-seeking. extreme escalator-riding.
by that time, it was eight o-clock and pretty dang close to bedtime, so, on a saturday night, just as things were getting into full swing, we left. a little different experience than the leisurely hand-in-hand strolling we once did, stopping to browse in stores, sip coffee and talk at length, but whatev. such is life these days. traditions are traditions. the more they stay the same, the more they change.