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TODAY

Monday, March 18

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Airbags

Ah, winter. Nothing is quite as conducive to human hibernation as snot-freezing temperatures. With the weather so cold, it can be easy for one to say, "Forget this. I'm staying inside." And for the most part, that's been our choice. Hell, there have been weekends when we've stayed in our pajamas the entire time and it was fabulous.

However, there are instances when we get a little stir crazy and there are errands to be done. Recently, when we were faced with some in-house boredom and a need to shop for some winter wear for the kid, boots for the entire family and a laptop battery at the Apple Store, we decided that rather than brave the downtown crowds and parking we'd Go To The Mall.

Ugh, the mall. While I have nothing against the mall, per se, it is the crowds and the noise and the crowds and, oh yeah, the crowds that I can't stand. We figured since it was a million degrees below zero outside, everyone would be staying home and we would have the place all to ourselves. Ha! So it was off to the mall for us.

I'm the type of person that tends to be a bit on the anal side. Whenever I plan for anything, it usually involves illustrated lists and maps. So before leaving the house, I visited Woodfield Mall's website to organize and create a plan of action. "Wandering about aimlessly is for suckers," I declared, as my husband sat there looking somewhat concerned while I mapped out our steps on paper -- a sort of retail dance step guide. Our visit would consist of a stop at the Apple Store, followed by the shoe store for boots and finally try to locate a snowsuit on sale. With guide in hand, we were out the door.

Labeling itself "Illinois' #1 Tourist Attraction," I can't help but feel like a dazed/crazed tourist at Woodfield, just trying to shuffle to the next store. My teenage memories of going to the mall to hang out, buy records, down some Orange Julius and take the bus home with friends, were a misleading recollection. Now as an adult, I see the mall for what it really is and I come mentally prepared. It is a head-on battle of wills, it is bigger than man against nature it is man against man, man against himself. Survival of the fittest is paramount here, and the weak will not survive. Oooo, wait -- pretzels!

Upon arrival at Woodfield, our first mission was to rent a stroller. While I am a great believer in wearing your baby, you'd have to be one strong mofo to carry a 24-pound-baby around the mall for a couple hours. As of late, I am a bit on the wimpy side so a stroller it was. For a $5 refundable deposit, Woodfield Mall offers strollers at the Customer Service Center, located in the Grand Court. Once I saw the strollers, however, (greasy and wobbly-wheeled) I decided maybe it was a better idea to buy one. My guide was becoming obsolete by the minute as we headed for Sears.

Buying a stroller is a lot like buying a car. You want to take it for a test drive. You want to do research. How does it handle? Does it corner well? Do you want an SUV or a Mini Cooper? Will you be stuck with a lemon? I wanted the easy way out and just buy a Graco umbrella stroller on sale for $16.99. However, genetics trumped that idea as my rather large son looked like stuffed sausage when we sat him or rather, smooshed him into the umbrella stroller. His arms sticking straight out in front of him, like a mini seated Frankenstein, spoke louder than if Vincent himself had said, "As if."

"He looks comfortable," I said in a tone that sounded more like a question than an assertion. My husband and son just looked at each other.

After deciding on a Kolcraft Lite Sport XT Stroller, on sale for $39.99, we noticed a sign on the shelf which read, TO BUY THIS ITEM, TAKE THIS TAG TO THE CASHIER. Next to the sign was a container with little tags showing the item number and picture of the stroller. There were boxes of strollers there on the shelves, so we were unsure why we couldn't just take it up to the register ourselves. We headed to the cashier with piece of paper in hand and gave it to him (a very small man about 65 years old), who looked at us and said, "Where is the product?"

"What do you mean?"

"You want this?"

"Yes. The sign said to bring this tag to you. Should we get the box? I can go get it."

"I don't know what you are saying. Where is the product? Do you want to buy this?"

After about a minute of going back and forth, my husband went for the box. We figured once we paid for it, we'd go to Customer Service and put the stroller together there. Our little cashier let us know, however, that every register is customer service and then he proceeded to stare at us and blink a couple of times without saying a word. If you were at Woodfield last weekend, and saw a man in the middle of Housewares, putting together a stroller on the floor, that was us. Fun!

After Sears, I tried to get back on track with my trusty list and began our boot hunt. Stopping at Skechers, I quickly found a pair for each of us. On clearance were some light blue, Ugg wannabe boots for Vincent. Sure they were ugly, but they were warm and on sale. After sticking his little foot in them and saying, "I'll take them" the salesman replied, "You know, these are girl boots. I'm just saying, they are for girls... not boys. You do know that right?" Dude, he's 7 months old; they are blue boots. Do you think I care? Do you think he cares? We most certainly do not.

By this point, my "well-engineered" list was now crumpled up and coffee-stained sitting at the bottom of the stroller basket, next to a half-eaten pretzel. What that meant was that, oh yes, there would be a few unscheduled pit stops to be had. One thing is certain, Woodfield Mall does have a great selection of children's stores. For clothing you can visit GapKids, Janie and Jack, Limited Too and The Children's Place, and for shoes, there's Stride Ride, Foot Locker and Gymboree, just to name a few. For your best deals, however, these stores were great:

• Hanna Andersson, which is usually a bit on the pricey side, is having their winter clearance sale to make room for spring inventory. So if you'd always wanted to buy clothing from there, right now is the perfect time with items up for 50 percent off.

• H & M has very cute and inexpensive infant, toddler and children's clothing, with the average price being about $7.00 a piece. You can find outerwear, too.

• Sanrio Gift Gate, a.k.a. the Hello Kitty Store, is wonderful. Hellooo, kitty! All kids love Hello Kitty, so we just had to stop there... OK, fine. We went there for me. I am 32 and I love Hello Kitty. There, I said it. Hello Kitty toasters, lamps, CD players, shower curtains, food storage containers, slippers, toothbrushes -- how could I not stop in?

Around that time, Vincent was needing a diaper change so we headed to one of Woodfield's family restrooms. With lounge areas and changing tables, the "home style" family restrooms, can be found in the upper level of the mall, near JC Penney and Nordstrom. What was supposed to be a quick diaper change turned into a semi-confrontation. A woman ahead of me who had finished diapering her daughter on the changing table left her dirty table liner just sitting there and began to walk away. "Ahem!" I annoyingly cleared my throat hoping it was just an oversight on her part. "AHEM!" I repeated -- but no, she didn't care. This was obvious as she sat down and began to stick a bottle in her kid's mouth. Clearly, she was taking the "home style" description of the restroom to heart.

I found myself wanting to yell at her, "This really isn't your home!" but I don't think it would have mattered. Somehow, normal rules of conduct do not apply at the mall. Here, anything goes. Grandparents can powerwalk while elbowing you out of the way, girls can wear flip-flops and leg warmers in the dead of winter, boys can try to pick them up and have a first date without ever going outdoors, runaway strollers on the mall "sidewalks" are frequent occurrences. It's complete anarchy!

When we were finally sitting in our car in a post-shopping stupor, I asked my husband, "What the hell was that?" We had just been bitch-slapped by the mall and instead of protesting, we had asked for more. We could have left quickly, we could have stuck to The List, but we meandered, we drank coffee, ate cookies, strolled. "I don't know," he sighed, "but it's nothing a Portillo's cheeseburger can't fix." Amen to that.

So there you have it, a visit to the mall -- part Fellini, part Kubrick, part Cirque du Soleil. While the mall is still the mecca for masses of teenagers and out-of-town visitors alike, I think I will stick to pajama weekends and catalogue shopping for now.

Woodfield Shopping Center
Golf Rd. at Route 53
Schaumburg, IL 60173
847/330-1537

Mall Hours
Mon-Fri: 10am until 9pm
Saturday: 10am until 9pm
Sunday: 11am until 6pm

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About the Author(s)

Alejandra Valera is a new mom and writer. If there's a baby- or kid-friendly place, product or event you think she should cover, email her at .

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