We the people of New Jersey are a special breed of mall rat. We are particular and each of our malls has a distinct function and role in the community. Until recently, for example, the Bergen Mall (now the much more elegant Bergen Towne Center) was the dirt mall. You went there for nostalgia and to snag a deal at the GAP Outlet. Now you go there for Bobby Flay burgers and to snag a deal at the GAP Outlet with much more enthusiasm and a lot less embarrassment. Garden State Plaza is the most popular kid at the table in high school, but the richest one lives at Riverside Square in Hackensack. Still, we find ourselves – especially moms and our babysitters, who are looking for ways to help our children pass the time when winter keeps coming back for more – spending time in each. They all have their own unique perks for kids.
Recently, a gas leak outside our home sent us packing to Paramus Park. This is the hidden gem among malls in our area. It has great shops and cool happenings, but lives in the shadow of GSP. On a Friday afternoon, it’s perfect for kids because it’s not too crowded and it offers a little bit of free fun, too. We ate at the food court, which features kid-friendly fare, such as pizza at Sbarro’s. There’s some history in the court with that giant turkey statue that was a 1970s gift to the town of Paramus and had my son shouting, “Bird!” incessantly, which is music to my ears because he doesn’t talk much. And, to boot, there are kids-height tables for eating and relaxing. Now, we traveled with one adult for each of the three children and still the eating portion of the day was anything but relaxing. I was fearing my nephew or son was going to jump off the bench at our table and fall to the lower floor, while my niece was lamenting having to eat more than just the mozzarella on her pizza. But we charged forward.
A play area was calling the kids’ names, but we quickly ran from it as we shielded their eyes with our hands in the hopes they wouldn’t see it. They did but we promised to return. We lied. Instead, the kids jumped out of their strollers and were quick to put back on their socks and shoes to hurl giant, plastic chess and checkers pieces at each other and nearby mall patrons. My sister saw the photos I texted her and replied, “Fun!” I wrote back, “Fun for us but not so much for the others at the mall.” In any event, it was a good way for them to blow off some steam. The only thing that would have made the afternoon perfect was if the charming old-fashioned carousel that once lived at Paramus Park and that I rode as a child was still there. Sigh.