The Natick Mall, in Natick, Mass., is a lonely place on a Sunday before noon. Though the mall is technically open, few of the stores have lifted their security gates, so while women peruse the early-functioning department stores, husbands—toting young children—wander the empty corridors.
That, at least, was my experience last week, and it was a strange one, leading Sasha around the mall and encountering, again and again, guys just like me—dads with toddler girls in tow. We interacted a bit, but not too much. I explained to one guy that Sasha’s helium balloon had come from Nordstrom’s children’s-shoes department. Then he said, “She’s really cute.”
How are you supposed to respond to this? I mean, besides by saying thank you? Am I supposed to say his daughter is really cute? I wanted to, but, well, she was just okay. Actually, she wasn’t cute at all, and for a moment I worried for her future in middle school, when not being cute at all really becomes a problem for some kids. So, I didn’t parrot his line.
Instead, Sasha and I kept wandering around, and eventually the stores began to open. On the second floor, they had these cool shopping cart–slash–animal-themed cars, and I dumped $5 into a machine to rent one. Sasha loves that kind of crap, and I pushed her around.
We went to the Lego store, where I listened to one dad tell his 5-year-old they were going to start doing more fun things at night than just playing videogames, and that the kid would have try to like these new things, although they would still play some videogames too.
Then we went to Pottery Barn Kids, where Sasha pretended to make pizza and ice cream on a toy oven. Another kid, maybe 4 years old, joined her, and together they made me many imaginary snacks. The other kid’s mother watched us for a while, then told me, in a vaguely Eastern European accent, “You’re terrific!” Apparently, the other kid’s father is a total asshole.
Sometime around 1pm, we met up with Jean and ate lunch in the food court. Shitty Asian noodles for the women—which they loved—and kinda shitty Indian food for me.
So, that’s the mall. A nice little midday experience for me, but as I watched everyone else there I began to understand that for them, this was routine. Those dads with their not-so-cute kids had to do this ALL THE TIME, and put up with the demands of their not-so-cute kids to ride in animal-shaped shopping carts and watch them throw Legos on the ground and refuse to eat shitty Asian noodles. This is their life—fun for me for a couple of hours, but an eternity in hell for those who’ve chosen the suburban path. New York may make child-rearing fucking impossible at times, but at least I don’t have to look forward to weekends at the mall.