Don't tell anyone, obviously, but I have a secret I need to share. (That's what the internet is for, innit?) I actually rather like...(deep breath)...visiting shopping malls with my sons.
As a good liberal Christian, a hatred of shopping malls is practically an article of faith. I have lost count of the number of sermons I have heard filled with descriptions of these evil "secular cathedrals" "cathedrals to consumerism" "monuments to materialism" "Temple of Mammon" and other handy tropes. Jesus, I have been reliably assured on numerous ecclesiastical occasions, would be berating the poor till assistants in Farmers and the Warehouse, overturning their cash machines and laying about with a whip of cords, before nipping down to the local supermarket to do the same. I have tended to notice that women vicars very rarely preach this kind of sermon. This is probably because they are too busy, what with having to get the family shopping done on a tight schedule, unlike the male vicars of old who could afford the luxury of waxing lyrical about non-materialism whilst sending their wives out to do the dirty deed of food-and-clothes-buying instead. But even women vicars, who by and large tend to be a lot more, you know, REALISTIC about the inevitability of needing to buy loo roll and kiddies' shoes, even they will probably shy away from PRAISING the LORD for shopping centres, let alone suggest a Christian should spend recreational time in one. They're kind of a necessary evil, like the Western banking system.
But you know what? Shopping centres rock if you have a child or two with additional needs. They are INSIDE, AWAY FROM TRAFFIC. You can walk from shop to shop without worrying that your kids will end up squashed tomato on the road. Also, they are contained spaces, so that if one does a runner you are pretty much able to catch him up whilst he is still in sight. I realised this in the UK, when our Social Services Family Link worker took us to the Old Trafford centre and I suddenly realised that actually, the kids and I could manage this on our own. It was also on that visit that I realised how pretty the centres could be, they have been designed to be impressive architecturally and (after months pent up inside) I enjoyed the hugeness of them, the vast sweep of shopfronts and the ant-like people scurrying through.
But New Zealand shopping malls are the best. They have free children's play areas. These are next to a food court, so that mum can grab a sneaky frozen coffee and look with lust at the bookshop across the way. I love'em. Of course, on a nice hot day I'd rather be outside. Even on a nice cool day I'd probably rather be outside. But on a rainy day, with three smallies? Gimme corporate roof-clad mall-Land. If it gives us a safe outing to an indoor playspace, I will quite happily worship at the altar of Mammon, or at the very least, the Warehouse. Just don't tell my vicar.