The Hajj

There was a time that I would marvel at the number of women at the mall with their babies. I wanted to be able to write “number of people”, but it seemed silly to be so P.C. It’s mothers 99% of the time. At the University Town Center (UTC) in La Jolla, an outdoor mall like most in San Diego, it would seem that every other person I saw had a child in a stroller or carrier of some sort. Once Janelle and I passed our two dozenth mother and child, we would inevitably be forced to comment on the phenomenon to one another, no matter how many times we’d seen it before.

We get it now, though. We have joined the pilgrimage. You, too, will feel the lure of the mall once you have a baby, if you have not already.

Getting out of the house becomes imperative with a baby. It’s something you take for granted in your normal day-to-day routine. After all, 40 hours a week you’re at work and that’s probably not at home. And even if you’re at home, you have the freedom to leave whenever you’d like and that freedom makes a world of difference. When your day doesn’t really have a start or finish, but instead is a 3 to 4 hour cycle of feeding a baby, entertaining a baby, listening to a baby cry and trying to get a baby to sleep, being able to apply small variants to that routine becomes a very big deal.

Walking around the block is a fine distraction, but it’s not particularly varied. Unless you’re in a particularly exciting neighborhood, the biggest thrill on your walk (other than the event itself) is going to be spotting the next bit of dog poop on the sidewalk to dodge. For Janelle and I there isn’t so much a desire to get out of the house as there is a realization that it is an imperative that we do so for our own good. Our lives have become caring for Joshua and while that is a noble pursuit, some perspective granted by the outside world is necessary.

At, as of this writing, seven weeks of age, Joshua is too young for any extended outing that doesn’t really involve heading over to another house and then hanging out there. Movies are a laughable proposition. Restaurants are the kind of thing we would be too self-conscious about. The mall is really the perfect spot for new parents.

Interestingly (or not… maybe you hate this post already), while I think malls are perfect, a standalone retail establishment wouldn’t be something I would think about for an outing. For an errand? Sure. But not an outing. Time for me is really just a countdown to when Joshua will begin crying next. I focus a lot of energy on trying to come up with ways to lengthen that countdown. The phrasing there seems depressing, but parsed another way, it just means I’m focused on making my kid happy. But since the clock is always ticking, it’s important for me to have outings in a place where a meltdown can be dealt with.

If out in public, I don’t think I could stroll around with a shrieking baby and be nonchalant about it. We have Joshua on enough of a routine that we know his cues if only by their timing relative to his last outburst. So if we’re out and he’s crying, the chances are high that it’s not something we can do much of anything about. If we found ourselves in a store, I would feel that the only thing to do would be to make our way to the exit and leave. It doesn’t matter that no one around us is likely to care. I’ve been walking around for many years, and don’t ever recall taking note of crying infants. Even toddlers with tantrums I more frequently just felt bad for the parent having to deal with the child. I rarely end up feeling that the parent is somehow delinquent.

But at a mall? The exit is everywhere. Who is to say that I’m not quickly hustling through the mall with the stroller to attend to my child’s needs in a more private fashion that the middle of the mall would allow? Really, I’m walking my child around because that’s basically what it will take to calm him down: stroller vibrations. The scope of the mall allows for the freedom to move around and flee various locations without having to cut short the outing.

White noise is an added benefit of an indoor mall, as well. I had never really noticed just how much reverb and echo you get inside an indoor mall. It’s enough help make a nice little sound cocoon around a sleeping baby… or to mask the noise of a crying baby.

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