Thursday, August 26, 2010

Two Dollars and Fifty Cents

Sometimes the best memories aren't free. Sometimes they cost two dollars and fifty cents. We moved to California two years ago. And when we did, Jalynn, then just 14 months old, was introduced to a new and exciting concept—the kiddie mall train. At first she whined and lunged at the tinny sound of the pre-recorded train whistle. A few months passed and her passionate whines turned into a passionate "Choo choo!" Now when we visit the mall she still looks longingly toward the oval track. "Mommy, please can I ride on the train, please?" But I am not a sucker for her please sandwich.

You see I'm sensible ... and cheap, really cheap. I am the self-declared queen of Ross clearance racks and Craigslist bargains and the proud owner of not one but two $5 pairs of brand named jeans. Instinct kicked in, and I clutched my purse a little tighter under my arm as I strolled our green plaid Graco by the mall train. Two dollars and fifty cents for a chinsy little ride around an oval track? Not a chance.

Yesterday Jalynn and Malakye went with their Aunt Jamie to the mall. I gave her a five to cover J's lunch. A frugalista in training, J ordered off the dollar menu. They had money to burn, so Jalynn finally got her ride on that train. I wasn't even there to see it. Around and around the oval track she chugged by for all the Tuesday morning shoppers and August-heat escapees to see. She did what every good three-year-old knows she should do—she waved at Jamie and smiled for her camera phone. But you see this isn't the same little girl who first spotted this magical ride two years ago. She's been to Disneyland, ridden on Space Mountain, and known the many thrills of Camp Snoopy (thanks, Craigslist, for the tickets). The train was fine. But it was no longer a priceless step towards independence. It was what it was—two dollars and fifty cents of fun.

In a couple months Malakye will undoubtedly start to lunge and whine as he passes by the mall train in that same green plaid stroller, now stained with strawberry Poptart and smelling like the beach. Only this time—while the magic is still in the train and a two-minute ride still represents the greatest two-minutes of independence he's ever known—I think I'll loosen my grip on my purse. At least just once.

Apparently whoever said the best memories are free never deprived her little girl of a ride on the mall train.