What price a bargain

There was a time in my life, once, very long ago, when I tolerated trips to the mall, as a means to an end.

I needed clothes. I needed some vaguely-social interaction. Check and check.

I even, on occasion, frequented the mall during ultra busy times such as Black Friday or rightafterChristmas. When the stores were ultra-crowded with people who’d already maxed out their credit cards and were back for more, or standing in insanely long lines to return all the stuff they’d been given that they didn’t want.

And yes, despite sounding slightly judgy, I was there too. But growing up my Christmases were, at least by North American standards, somewhat austere.

I remember being a junior high aged child and having the ‘what did you get for Christmas’ conversation one year and my friend rattled off a list that included a television…for her room…and clothes, and shoes and I lost track of the bounty because I was like, ‘uh, I got a pair of stretchy gloves..and a sweater?’

Apparently South African Santa had a lot less room on his sleigh than American Santa? (Alas, nearly three decades later, I still haven’t gotten a television for my room…..)

But this was about shopping. In malls.

Courtesy of my three miniature sidekicks, an increased aversion to crowds and the ease of online shopping when one has one’s credit card numbers committed to memory – the last time I set foot in a mall on a peak shopping day……was November 2004.


So why (whyyyyyyyyy) this year, I thought it would be ‘fun’ to gather my entire family and check out the Boxing Day Sales at the Chinook Mall on December 26th is anyone’s guess. I mean yes, the perpetually growing boys needed clothes and shoes. And yes, I like the idea of a so-called deal. But shopping with half of Calgary? With three boys, a husband and a mother in tow?

If only I’d written a pre-shopping blog post. I might have seen my folly in black and white. I might have visited zara dot com and clicked ‘add to cart’ instead.

But alas, I did  not.

Piled in the car-van, I attempted to purchase the goodwill of my fellow shoppers with a stop at Starbucks. With red cups in hand, we made our way across town on Glenmore Trail, noting the black SUV that must have recently veered off-road and taken up [conjoined] residence with a lightpole. Its owner still sitting in the car, talking on her cell phone. There were several spots on the road where other cars had veered off due to the slippery road-plus-snow combination.

I feared these roadside calamaties did not bode well for my superfun shopping excursion. Nor the long line of cars filled with would-be shoppers…. backing on to the highway. ‘Let’s go to Costco first,’ I suggested to the professor, thinking we might have better luck approaching the mall from the opposite direction.

[Insert uproarious laughter.]

We pulled into the parking lot at the giant warehouse. We immediately found a spot. There was virtually no line up at the gas pumps. This was some sort of apocalyptic, post-Christmas miracle.

Inside? More of the same. ‘Why are there no people here,’ I marvelled at the crowd-free shopping that awaited me. ‘Because Costco doesn’t have anything on sale,’ the professor replied, sensibly. We browsed. We purchased. We checked out in record time.We got gas.

All in an hour.

And then…..we drove to the Chinook. It was 12:32 when the gas pump printed out our receipt at Costco. And it was 1:15 before we’d managed to drive the 4.2 kilometers to the mall and turn into a parking lot at the mall. With each passing minute that our car remained stalled on Macleod Trail, I became less convinced that Boxing Day shopping was going to be fun.

The professor dropped us off at Nordstrom and drove on in search of a parking spot. Twenty minutes later he was still looking. Which was the same amount of time I’d stood outside the family restroom, waiting for it to become available. While one boy did the I-need-to-pee-ten-minutes-ago dance.

It was nearly past lunch time at this point and I sensed it would be prudent to fill people’s stomachs before entering any other stores. I stopped at the restaurant inside Nordstrom, not caring if it turned out to be the most expensive lunch of my life.

The place was crammed with people.

‘Any chance you have a table for five….err six?’ I remembered about the professor in the car, fully expecting the answer would be a resounding N-O.

‘Could you squeeze into a booth,’ the host asked, offering me a glimmer of hope, like maybe this day was going to be okay, after all.

‘Yes. Sure.’ I agreed in my best can-do voice. Yes, one or two kids can sit on my lap while I try to eat my lunch. No problem!

‘Okay, well it will probably be about an hour then.’

I smiled and made some nonsensical comment about how I was going to check with the rest of my party and walked away.

Right as I received a professorial text: ‘Going home. Where and when should I get you’

Which resulted in my placing a call to disabuse him of such a preposterous notion. Battling the Chinook Boxing Day parking ‘situation’ once was disaster enough. But twice? In the same day? Mais non.

An hour of sitting in a car surrounded by thousands of other cars had generated a bit of professorial displeasure – what some might describe as ‘profound unhappiness.’ Suffice it to say I’d never heard the professor quite so…upset….in 19.5 years of marriage.

I could see the headline-esque story unfold in my mind: ‘Couple survives two international moves, two rounds of graduate school, three boy-children, six ultra-marathon-roadtrips, a geriatric Toyota minivan and countless other trials, only to reach marital impasse during Boxing Day Shopping at the Chinook Mall.’

The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back?

So I did the only plausible thing. I hung up the phone and speedwalked to Double Zero Pizza to see if we’d be able to get a table for lunch. Within sixty minutes.

This seems like a good time to mention I was wearing a brand-new (i.e. never worn before) pair of wedge boots which catapulted me into the 6 feet and above category on the height chart. It was a slightly more stylish alternative to the very flat, orthopedic-looking footwear I normally favor, perfect for looking like I belonged at the Chinook Mall on Boxing Day.

However, I’d already traipsed through a warehouse in said wedges and my unaccustomed feet were nearly as unhappy as the professor circling the oversubscribed parking garage.

As I got off the escalator, my heart sank at the sight of an extremely long line in front of the restaurant. I was about to run hobble back to Nordstrom to beg for that table-for-five-in-an-hour when I realized the extremely long line of people…..were waiting….to get into…..the Tory Burch store.

Double Zero, on the other hand, had room for my party of five or six so I speed-limped back to the toy store to round up my mom and the boys and we retraced my bloodied steps back to the restaurant where I let the boys order whatever they wanted in an effort to buy more of their goodwill for the remainder of our time in the fifth circle of hell.

The professor – having finally found a parking space 45 minutes after he’d dropped us off at Nordstrom – joined us for lunch.

We ate pizza as though our lives depended on it. We visited the crowd-free washroom. And then I gathered three boys in a solemn circle. ‘We are going to be here for two hours. If you have a good attitude, you will get two hours of computer time.’

Two out of three Johnson boys thought this was a fair arrangement. One out of three did not. And proceeded to voice his displeasure for every one of the 120 minutes we were in the Chinook Mall.

This is the challenge of having more than two children: someone is always going to be unhappy. The likelihood of five people being in a good mood, simultaneously, at any given moment? Is virtually nil.

Still, we persevered. Hobbling in and out of stores. Buying a few things, though neither the clothes nor the shoes for the boys that had compelled me to go there in the first place.

Instead we went home, where I threw my wedge boots across the room, ate another iteration of turkeydinner and clicked add to cart.












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