I’ve been meaning to start this blog for a very long time; partly as an exercise in writing, partly as added motivation to get out and about. I have often reflected that we live in our nation’s capital, and yet rarely take in the sights. I had grand ideas of crafting stroller-friendly walking tours all over the city, complete with good pitstops for nursing and diaper changes, kid-friendly attractions and the best icecream parlours (all carefully tested, of course).

Fast forward 15 months or so, and I still have all my brainstorming notes, notes from the walks I did take, and even a blog entry waiting to be posted that is as meandering as the walk that inspired it. I also have another baby on the way*, and so all the more reason to get those stroller-friendly tours together. But in the interest of finally getting started, I’ve decided to start small: at the mall.

Malls are a great place for new moms, which is probably why you see so many of them around (moms I mean, not malls). Malls are climate controlled. They have ramps and elevators. They quite often have covered parking, and nice wide family parking spots close to the doors. Many have family bathrooms, nursing lounges, and a customer service desk with strollers and spare diapers. And even for ‘non-shoppers’ (like yours truly), they can offer a welcome break: I could sit on a sofa at Bayshore with a good book and let my 3-month-old amuse herself people watching, there was no way that that could happen at home.

There are, of course, many malls in Ottawa, these are just a few reflections on the ones I’ve spent time in with my daughter. Perhaps at some point I’ll put together a more complete list with all the kid-features reviewed (probably around the same time I get around to those stroller-friendly walking tours).

Bayshore
http://bayshoreshoppingcentre.com/

Bayshore is where I spent most of my mall-time during my mat leave. It was definitely nicest for walking around, with a wide open feel and natural light. It also has ample covered parking, so you can get everyone from the car to the mall with minimal exposure to the elements. The mall itself sports most of the ‘standard’ family friendly amenities: strollers and diapers from customer service (although they were all out of diapers the one time I asked), a family washroom (more on that below), and family parking spots.

Bayshore has a family washroom (on the ground floor, near Home Sense), but about the only good thing I can say about it is that the entrance doesn’t have a door, which simplifies access with a stroller. The space is strangely laid out and cramped: the minute a second stroller comes in, it’s like navigating one of those traffic puzzles. It has a playpen-like space, to deposit a little one while mom or dad washes up or attends to another child. It also includes a nursing ‘room’, which is a like a double-sized bathroom cubicle, with all the ambiance of, well, a bathroom cubicle. This is the only option in the mall for private nursing – and it tends to be taken when you need it. That being said, I’ve noticed more and more moms choosing to nurse in the sofas in the adjoining hallway (the benches outside Old Navy, up on the third floor, seems to be another popular spot).

One complaint I’ve heard about Bayshore when it comes to strollers is the elevators: they tend to be busy and not everyone respects the signs asking to give preference to strollers & wheelchairs. Personally , I’ve never found myself missing out on an elevator because it’s full of able-bodied people (ok, I came close once, but squeezed in: I have few qualms about ‘inconveniencing’ people who could have taken the stairs or escalators). And between the 1st and 2nd floors, try the elevators in Zellers or Winners/Homesense, which are hardly ever in use.

The all-important food court is located on the top floor, as far as humanly possible from the family washrooms (whose idea was that?). There are change tables in the adjoining washrooms, but there are also very loud hand dryers; if your little one is frightened by loud noises, you may be better off toting them down to the family washroom. The food court also has a sprinkling of high chairs, and I’ve generally found the food sellers quite amenable to providing hot water to heat a bottle (provided you’re also buying food).

Carlingwood
http://www.carlingwood.com

Carlingwood also has diapers and strollers available from customer service, although the one time I had to ask for a diaper they were all out of my size. They also have covered parking, but not adjacent to the mall building, so you still have to make a dash on a rainy/snowy day. The nursing room is much nicer than Bayshore, it’s an actual room with two easychairs and a door that locks. The lock is a double-edged sword though – if you really can’t share with another mom you can lock it behind you, but that’s of little comfort if you’re on the wrong side of the door. I also know of at least one occasion when it was commandeered by a couple of mall employees getting out of their work uniforms and ready for a night on the town – not very helpful. And there’s one of those crazy jet-engine-powered hand dryers just outside the door – again not fun if your little one jumps at loud noises.

Carlingwood, IMHO, isn’t as nice to walk around in as Bayshore, but it does have one key advantage: it actually has two ‘practical’ shopping options, a grocery store and a drugstore, so you can get out (in) for a stroll and actually pick off some errands while you’re at it.

Ikea
http://www.ikea.ca

Ok, so not technically a mall, but Ikea has some of the same advantages, and a few others to boot. Their family parking is actually adjacent to the building, no navigating traffic required. And I took Girl the Elder there once and we just floated from one play station to the next – she was just learning to walk, and had almost as much fun spinning the x’s and o’s game on the wall as I had watching her do it. I also have yet to see another public cafeteria where they serve baby food – and at the same price you’d buy it in the grocery store: it’s clearly there as a courtesy, not a profit generator (well, perhaps ‘courtesy’ is overly optimistic: I’m sure that like the cafeteria itself it’s a carefully calculated strategy to make sure you don’t have to leave the store before you’re done your shopping, but hey – call it a win-win). They also have a teeny tiny nursing room by the cafeteria, but with the usual issue that there’s just room for one, so if it’s taken then you’re stuck.


* And given that the ‘baby on the way’ is now 6 weeks old, it really is time to get started 🙂