The day started out promising. The kids and I were going to meet my mom and nephew in Valdosta for a day of shopping at the outlets. She left on time. I got directions from my friend, Becky, who knows a shorter route through the smaller towns, and we left on time. I grabbed a Coke for a quick caffeine fix and we cruised down the old highways of the South, making record time (and I only sped a little).
My first mistake was assuming I knew where the outlets were. We thought it was exit 5 off of I-75, but as we were approaching the interstate, my mom called me to inform me that she was at exit 5 and it was more of a strip mall so she would just come up a few miles and meet me at the exit I was currently at. If she saw the outlets on the way, she’d let me know. Well, no outlets presented themselves in that 10 miles (and oddly enough, no homegrown Valdostanites seemed to know anything about outlets in the area) so, I frantically called Becky and she told us where the regular mall was, just one exit further.
We can go to malls anytime so it was a little bit of a letdown, but we were determined not to let that ruin the day, especially since we both drove over an hour to get there. We found the mall and gathered all 4 kids and 2 strollers together to form our own personal parade. The kids were so excited to see each other that they had no idea that we had even switched our plans. They held hands in a row and we walked through a department store to the mall entry.
There it was right in front of us; a giant castle play area. We were now living the dream. The kids kicked their shoes off and ran to play (my nephew took his shoes off so quickly that he actually left them outside of the play area in stroller parking). The 3 older kids ran around having a blast while the baby sat with me and my mom mesmerized, no doubt dreaming of the day when he too can run around and harvest all those germs that pile up in kiddy play areas.
Naturally, during his daydream, the baby decided to get a little stinky so I ran off in search of a bathroom. As we walked back into the department store, I practically ran into a life-size cut out of Justin Bieber – creepy (of course I had to go get the kids and have them take a picture with Justin later)! After baby was clean, we rounded up all the kids and the strollers and headed off to check out the mall.
We found a shoe store having a big sale so we went in to look for back to school shoes. The shoe store presented its own challenges as everyone tried to dart off in all directions, instead of just in their size sections, and my nephew had a little bit of a meltdown (and by little, I mean GIGANTIC) when his shoes didn’t match the ones my son had picked out. The poor sales girl was so sweet anyway and found him matching shoes in his size and said how cute he was. Only in the South will someone lie to your face like that to make you feel better about toddler tantrums. In the end, we found shoes for all four kids, including the baby who had not been able to find any that fit him until that moment as the tops of his feet were too fat. Whew. That was something.
We let the kids ride a quick kiddy ride and throw a few pennies into a tunnel thing and then we ended our mall fun in order to find a park for a picnic lunch. My sweet mother had an address written down based on some park she found online during our obviously fantastic pre-trip preparation, so she put it in her GPS and we proceeded off in search of the park. We kept driving, and driving, and driving. We saw old plantation houses, newer houses, older houses, and then we started getting into a neighborhood that can best be described as ‘sketchy’. It’s not everyday you see a half church/half morgue with a smiley face on the sign. Turns out the ‘community center’ park so nicely advertised online was not really a place we wanted to be. But now we had no idea where we were so we drove on (me in the minivan with my 3 kids, trying to follow the woman and little boy in front of me who are following the crazy GPS lady who clearly still has no idea what is going on either).