Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It’ll Be Like an Amusement Park. Only Better!

That is what I told my 17 month old daughter as I strapped her little unsuspecting body into her car seat. ‘Twas a cold and blustery Saturday, and the plans I thought I had made for the weekend kind of “went away.” I had searched my local paper’s entertainment section for something, ANYTHING really, that would provide an hour (or two, or three) of amusement outside of our home. But alas, I discovered that THIS was the weekend when New York’s Capital District had apparently banned all kid-friendly activities, and local parents were going to need to get resourceful in finding ways to entertain their children.

So what did I do? I made the most of the situation, of course. I decided to find ways to transform an ordinary day into a fun, amusement park-like experience, in a wallet-friendly kind of a way. All it took was a little imagination, a handful of patience, a tablespoon of reckless abandon, and a willingness to ignore the people who were looking at at us like we were crazy.

First, I had to get some grocery shopping done. I decided to magically change this no-frills shopping trip into Shopping Trip Wonderworld for Em. Luckily, Em and I were dressed and ready to rock and roll at a time when most normal folk hadn’t even rolled out of bed yet. We had most of the grocery store to ourselves (which, much like visiting an amusement park during off-off-season, has huge perks).

For her first “ride”, I allowed Em to stand up in the main part of the shopping cart as I wheeled her VERY SLOWLY around the produce section. I told her to hold on tight to and yell “WOO HOO,” which she did, with gusto. I said to my daughter, “See!? This is KIND OF like a rollercoaster, just with the added bonus of fruity aromas.” For extra amusement, I let Em grab some navel oranges and throw them into our cart. Then, feeling extra daring, I let her try to grab an apple from the bottom of the apple display without making the rest of the Granny Smith’s tumble onto the grocery store floor. It was a near miss, but with my lightening-bolt mama reflexes, I was able to grab the few apples that threatened to hit the ground.

Next, I got the crazy notion that it would fun to simulate Bumper Cars. So I found an aisle where nobody was shopping , and took my daughter out of the cart so she could “get behind the wheel”. She giggled in delight as she pushed the humongous cart down the aisle, weaving back and forth as she went. It was definitely a wise decision to do this in the freezer section of the store, because it allowed for maximum movement with minimal resulting damage.

Of course, I had to let my daughter ride the conveyer belt at the supermarket checkout line. There are always one or two cashiers who refuse to let children ride on the checkout belt (claiming there are cameras watching them… baaaah humbug!), but most decent people take one look at Em’s excited eyes as she anticipates her (10 second ) ride down the aisle, and give in to her enthusiasm, despite the fact that it may get them fired. I had remembered to dress Em in an especially delicious outfit, complete with her “awww”-inducing gnome-like winter jacket. She was allowed to ride the belt. The checkout girl even let Em scan our lemons, which made my daughter incredibly happy.

We loaded ourselves (and a mere $15 worth of groceries) back into the car, with the appetite for adventure still coursing through our veins. Unfortunately, it had begun to hail, so a trip to the playground was pretty much out of the question. I was feeling adventurous, but not stupid.

I’m pretty sure the last time I took Emmy to the mall was when she was in my womb, back when her father and I would go see a movie and snack on ninety seven pieces of pizza (he would eat one slice, and I would eat ninety six slices. I ADORED pizza when I was pregnant). I don’t frequent the mall because it scares me a little, with its many many (sometimes angry, sometimes pushy) people and huge abundance of useless stores. But I decided that this day was the day for a mall adventure, mostly because I knew the mall had escalators, and also because the hail was threatening to punch a hole in the roof of our car.

Em and I quickly found the escalator. Up and down we went, screaming “Weeeeeee!” like it was the scariest, most exciting thing ever. I know an escalator’s motion doesn’t quite equate that of an amusement park Free Fall, but Emmy didn’t seem to mind. Moving stairs are very thrilling to her.

 As are gumball machines, I soon discovered. There are these stations of thirty or so gumball, sticker and prize machines located all over our mall. Em tried to get something out of every machine she encountered. She’d try turning knobs, stuffing her little hand up the dispenser, knocking on the glass (as if to say, “Hey there eensy teensy teeny weeny prizes. You look kinda bored in there. Why don’t you come out so I can put you in my mouth and choke to death?”)

For a true “Fun House” experience, I took Em to Sephora. There, we peek-a-boo’d in the many mirrors, made lots of funny faces, and monkeyed around with makeup (on my face, not hers). Being a mama with a small child, none of the sales people actually thought I was going to buy anything, so they left us alone, just checking in every once in a while to make sure the little one was not breaking all the perfume bottles.

In order to recreate a Haunted House, I took Em to the mall bathroom. There, the creeky stall doors made ominous noises and spooky characters emerged out of seemingly nowhere. Strangers murmured to themselves as they washed their hands for what seems like an eternity. The hand dryers sounded like angry ghosts. And you don’t even WANT to know what awaited us in the toilets.

Our day ended with a wild safari ride through the mall’s pet store. Emmy marveled at the bearded dragons, talked to the cockatoos, and attempted to free the bunnies from their cages. We were almost coerced by a sweet sales lady into taking home a sugar glider as a sweet memento of the day. It was so darn cute and cuddly, and Em thought it was a bear.

But then Em started crying (a snake must have looked at her in a snakey way), making me realize it her naptime was fast approaching, and like all good things, this adventure had to come to an end.

Sure, it was no trip to Disney. But it was a heck of a lot cheaper, and for a toddler (and her mama), it was almost just as fun.

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