Before last week, it was entirely unclear to me why malls still exist in the year 2017.
I mean, why would anyone voluntarily choose to leave the comfort of their home, drive across town through ridiculous holiday traffic, circle the giant parking lot in search of a parking spot, and walk around a crowded building just to buy things that are readily available on the internet?
I found the answer to my question. It’s not that mall goers haven’t learned about Amazon Prime, but rather, their kids found out about Zoorollers and made their lives a living hell until they finally broke down and agreed to bring them to the mall.
At least, that was how I found myself with two small boys in tow wandering about our local mall on a dark evening in early December. A few days before, we attended a birthday party at Build-a-Bear Workshop. The party was going perfectly—we were happily stuffing animals, dressing them, and uttering magic incantations or whatever—and then, as we were just about done licking the icing off our cupcakes, a little girl rolled by on top of a fuzzy lion and ruined everything.
Zoorollers. They're a thing.
Before we could leave the mall, we had to hunt down the rolling animals and discover their secrets. As it turns out, they were hiding behind the escalators and were available for rent. Five dollars for seven minutes, six dollars for ten minutes, or ten dollars for twenty minutes. Somehow, we left the mall that night without renting one. I don’t know how I managed it, but it is one of the greatest achievements of my life.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to celebrate my parenting triumph, because, in the subsequent days, my progeny wore me down with their incessant yammering until I took on the general appearance and demeanor of a vigorously used pencil eraser.
“Are we going to the mall now? To ride the animals! How about now? HOW ABOUT NOW? In five minutes? NOW??”
To get them to stop talking for five minutes, I took them to a holiday event at the local university that features ice skating, an ice slide, and a little holiday train that rumbles around a small circular track three times. We drove twenty minutes to campus, parked in the parking garage, trekked across an outdoor plaza with a 3-year-old in a walking boot and a resistant 18-month-old in the stroller, and bought two tickets to ride the very exciting train for two minutes.
After that, they all chased each other around on an elevated stage for an hour or so. The 18-month-old kept trying to dive off, so I spent most of my time trying to look cool while speed walking back and forth to catch the would-be stage diver.
It was still much better than being at the mall.
Alas, despite my best efforts at distraction, my time finally ran out. You always think you’re going to have more time, and then, just like that, your time is up and you’re inching through mall traffic as your children complain from the backseat about which side of the car the Christmas decorations are on and demand that you play Boulevard of Broken Dreams on the stereo for the seventh time. How fitting; I know.
Luckily, though, we did make our much-anticipated mall trip on what apparently was “Bring Your Dog to Take Pictures with Santa Day.” As we made our way past the mall entrance (narrowly evading a brush with the I Want to Ride in the Baby Cart Meltdown Fairy in the process), I couldn’t help but notice there seemed to be an unusually large canine presence. As I mentioned, I don’t go to malls much, so perhaps malls are just routinely overrun with dogs now, but it sure seemed like a special occasion.
Let me tell you, adults sure do enjoy seeing dogs in public. It’s kind of the adult version of everything for kids—inflatable Christmas decorations, Zoorollers, the train that goes around in a circle three times—endless excitement and joy.
“There are so many of them!” a grown woman shrieked as a pack of identical, large fluffy dogs sauntered by with their human entourage following close behind.
That there were.
Not to be deterred by four-legged adorableness, we rode the escalator up and down three times and resumed our pursuit of the fuzzy adorableness on wheels. When we finally found the correct wing of the mall and uncovered the Zoorollers hiding behind their escalator, the booth was unattended. A makeshift sign read “BACK IN 10 MINUTES.”
We inspected all the Zoorollers while we waited, a little overwhelmed by the gravity of the moment and the decision of which animal to choose that lay before us. We waited for at least twenty minutes with no luck before heading off to the food court to eat French fries. Food courts are a nightmare. Having to dodge the vendors trying to hand out free samples gives me carnival-related flashbacks. Just take my money, already! I don’t want to disappoint anyone!
When we were done eating, I told the boys we would check the Zooroller booth one more time, but if there was still nobody there, we’d have to leave because it was getting late. While I was talking, I was imagining the epic nature of their devastation if the Zooroller person was indeed gone for the day. My arm pits started to tingle with nervous sweat as we went up the escalator and down the escalator three times and approached the booth. I finally realized in that moment that I didn’t know how to rent a Zooroller and I was completely unsure of how they worked and how many minutes I should rent. Twenty seemed like too many and seven seemed weird, so I was strongly leaning toward ten. And then there was the matter of whether to get one for each kid or one to share. What a mess.
The person was back.
I decisively asked to rent one Zooroller for ten minutes. Nailed it. As I was paying and signing the waiver, a weathered gentleman, who had a small child standing in his general vicinity, called out, “You’re about to get your exercise!” and laughed manically. His enthusiasm was so disturbing that the Zooroller person’s eyes bugged out and we shared a wry smile as if to say, “Well, at least we’re not as weird as that guy.” After about ten minutes of contemplation and discussion about which animal to choose—this was a critical decision because they all had different colors and faces—we settled on the elephant. Ten minutes turned out to be the perfect amount of time. We rolled around the mall wing, navigating around the children’s play area and the chairs and benches in the middle of the hallway. We narrowly avoided careening into storefront windows a couple times when it was the 3-year-old’s turn to drive, but otherwise, the experience was as amazing as expected.
On the last loop before our ten minutes ran out, the enthusiastic grandpa popped out from behind a fern or something and shouted “HAHAHA! You got your exercise, didn’t ya?!?!” We were all terrified, but we smiled through it.
When our elephant pulled to a stop by the booth, the Zoolander person asked the boys if they had fun. The 6-year-old smiled and nodded once and the 3-year-old ducked his head and turned away. They are my children, after all. They were much less reticent once were on our own again, pinballing back and forth across the mall corridors to make sure we didn’t miss anything on our way out.
“Can we come and ride the animals again tomorrow?” they asked, still buzzing from the Zooroller high.
“Um, we’ll see,” I replied. “Maybe we’ll need to come back to the mall soon and we can do it then.”
What a liar I am. We never need to come to the mall. Nobody does. Except to visit the Zoorollers.