Food Courts and Human Nature

I was alone with my two-month-old son last week. My wonderful sister offered to watch my two older kids while my husband was out of town.

Along with her two, she would have four under four. I assumed she either acquired a recent head injury; needed some heavy-handed womb-shushing; or had a box of shiraz on hand. Maybe two out of three?

So I hightailed it out of this small town to a city.

I ate delicious ethnic food, not from a pub. I slept in a bed that wasn’t mine. I hit up Starbucks and Target like a pumpkin-spiced soccer mom on a Saturday.  

And I lost myself in the sweet maze of lies called a mall.

We live a good two hours from any decent mall, so I came ready: stroller, deodorant and water bottle. I tried on all of the things. Took change room selfies and sent them out for opinion of the masses (aka my sister). I talked myself out of many pairs of shoes. I didn’t follow my ‘list’ at all. I cornered twenty-year-olds in stores I shouldn’t be shopping in and asked them where their coat was from.

Malls make me sweat, their bathroom lights make me look like the scarecrow from Wizard of Oz. Being in a mall makes my hair frizz out and no matter what I’m wearing, I immediately want to buy a whole new outfit and put it on in the bathroom stall.

Yet, there is this Bermuda Triangle in each mall where all your simple strolling and retail therapy comes to a screech: the food court. [Or a ‘food mall’ if you are my Dad, I’m not convinced he understands the overarching purpose of a mall]

mom shopping, mall shopping, shopping with baby, food courts

On the surface, it’s a smelly, neon hall devoted to providing a range of culinary experiences at a fast food level. It sounds simple: 

1. Follow the arrows to the giant cafeteria, argue with your shopping buddies on the ‘true’ direction of the arrow
2. View the horseshoe of bright choices before you and pick what you’re in the mood for
3. Put your steamy, overpriced meal and giant fountain pop on that warm plastic tray
4. Eye your friends, feel proud you could pick them out of the crowd like a real life Where’s Waldo. Wave your arms and mouth words to your friends across the food court while you mime agreement on the best place to sit
5. Prop all your shopping around you and feel a little glutinous as you ram your wobbly plastic fork into your soggy entree
6. Feel a sudden ripple of fatigue and disappointment in your meal choice
7. Eat three-quarters of your meal, vow to never eat at that stall again and leave with your arms lined in plastic bags, sticky hands gripping that giant pop, up-sold because you wanted to save 75 cents. 
During my recent mall trip I stopped at a sandwich stall I had been to before with good results. I sat on the outskirts of the food court and instantly got lost in my panini and a moment of ‘God must have spent a little more time on you’ as I sung into the stroller at my adorable baby. Yeah, I was totally that mom. 

As I was sitting and singing and crowd watching I noticed the behaviour of people approaching the food court. No matter the age, gender, lifestyle – everyone does the same thing.
Their movement slows down, their eyes dart across the space and everyone gets that same overwhelmed look in their eyes.
Some will start the circle tour of the ring of choices. Some just sit and stare. Some have team meetings about all the options and who wants what. 

Really, if you are dating someone and want to know your possible compatibility- take them to a food court, while hungry.  Our primal instincts come out. We treat the choice of where we will eat like the contestant giving their final answer on who wants to be a millionaire. We have one shot. We are hungry and a wrong choice means an unpalatable plate of slop or a semi-edible version of vegetables. We also feel pressured to demonstrate to others our relationship with food, and our stomach and brain instantly are on opposite sides of the table. 
Do we eat healthy but possibly unsatisfying?
Be daring and try something different?
Go for the cheapest?
Do we have to pick the same place as our companions?
Do we have to share our different meals?!
Why didn’t I pack my own drink?
Why are the forks so tiny?
Why do I always forget napkins?
Where is there a table big enough for all of us?
What day is it?! I HAVEN’T EVEN ENTERED THE FOOD COURT YET!? What is wrong with me!? I’m SO HUNGRY!!!!

At the entrance of the food court I witnessed couples arguing and hurling accusations; girls’ volleyball teams scattering away in huffs; parents interrogating their kids on what they were hungry for; pairs of women talking themselves into salads they didn’t really want and teenage boys auto-piloting to the taco bell stall. 

In a world we’ve built up to overflow with variety and choices and instant gratification, we can sure crumble like the bottom of the waffle cone over making the right choice.
Deciding is not so simple any more when there are too many choices. 

But what do I know? I’m the messy haired mom, fidgeting with her nursing bra and wiping humus off her face while serenading her infant. I’m in my own world just a loving on this baby and panini like I stole them, and I don’t even care.
Because, seriously, God really must have spent a little more time on youuuuuu…..


1 thought on “Food Courts and Human Nature”

  1. So much awesome here! Loved it. I haven’t been to a mall in many years. The last time I went was at Christmas and my ADD kicked in and all I could do was stand there trying to figure out which of the thousands of paths my brian was offering me to pursue. I ended up doing the same thing, sans infant. I found my ‘place in the world of all the things’, plopped my butt down and just watched everyone else while I ate my chocolate pastry and hot coffee. Now I’m hungry, damnit!! Hahaha!


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