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02/05/2010

Pay To Play

balloon animals Pictures, Images and Photos

In the middle of an Ohio winter, it's easy to get a little stir-crazy. We try to get out of the house as often as we can, and for our family, that sometimes means going to the mall to let the kids run loose at the mall play area.

Before you say it: yes, I know the mall play area is a petri dish filled with kid germs. But sometimes a mom needs thirty minutes of sanity, even if those thirty minutes are sitting on the sidelines of a Lord of the Flies re-enactment.

Last weekend we went to the mall, and my husband agreed to take first watch in the play area so I could do a little shopping. When I came back, I could tell something was wrong by the look on his face.

"What happened?" I asked. "Did one the girls get bullied?"

"Look around and tell me what you see," he responded.

I had yet to really look at the activity in the play area. Glancing across the sea of children, I noticed about 15 balloon swords, 10 balloon flowers, and 5 balloon dogs on balloon leashes. That's a lot of balloons for a small play area. Standing right in the middle of the play area was a man inflating balloons with a pump and twisting them into various shapes, while a hoard of small children crowded around him.

"The balloon guy? What's so wrong with that?" I asked.

"He's only making balloons for those who give him money." As I glanced back at the colorfully dressed man, I now noticed that many of the children were waving $1 bills in his direction, each trying to buy their very own balloon sword or animal.

"And we have no cash on us, right?" I knew the answer to that question before I asked it. I rarely carry cash, because it's easier to track my spending through my debit card. It was also confirmed by seeing my two-year-old's curly head in the crowd of children. She was front and center, ready to get her balloon, but she was completely ignored by the man because she had nothing to pay him. I could see the frustration and confusion on her face as he reached past her to take dollar bills from other kids and hand them their balloons.

My husband let out a deep sigh. "I tried to explain that she couldn't have one, but she doesn't understand. It's not fair."

It wasn't fair. It's a free play area, and this balloon artist was right in the middle of that area, tempting every little boy and girl with the balloon creation of their dreams. It was impossible for any child in that play area not to be distracted by him. And of course there were plenty of tears from the kids who were unable to get a balloon. (Including mine.) After several minutes of watching my younger daughter continue her best cute pouty face with no notice from the balloon salesman, I couldn't take it any longer and we left. The fun my daughters usually have at this play area was completely overshadowed by the craze created by a colorfully dressed man with some balloons and a pump.

If the balloons were free, it would have been a great idea. Had the balloon guy been outside the play area selling his balloons, I still wouldn't have minded - some kids would have balloons in the play area, but there wouldn't be the constant reminder that new ones were being made and you can't have one. But because he was standing right in the middle of the play area, where every child had to run past him repeatedly, it created a miserable situation that distracted the kids and created a scene. It made us reconsider ever going back to that mall.

Maybe a stir-crazy day at home with the kids wasn't so bad after all?

UPDATE: My husband contacted the mall to complain about the balloon fiasco. The mall quickly apologized and told him that they had invited the balloon artist to the mall, but he was not to stand inside the play area and he was supposed to provide balloons to any child, accepting tips if offered but not required. Apparently the mall received several complaints from other frustrated parents, too, and he will likely not be invited back.

Christina can also be found at her personal blog, A Mommy Story.

This is an original Ohio Moms Blog post.

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