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I find it really difficult to bring kids into gear outfitters. Basically you need a black belt in parenting to pull it off without an argument or some other incident. Sporting Life, the Patagonia store, that new Meltdown snowboard shop south of King on Dufferin, Sign of the Skier and Skiis and Biikes … these are places I like to go. I like being among all that gear, and imagining what I could do with it. It’s exciting.

My kids also get excited in these places—and then they get wild. They ride into their dad’s knee on bikes they shouldn’t be riding in the first place. They hide under the clothing racks. They knock down $800 snowboards. Therefore, I do not enjoy taking my kids along to gear outfitters. With one exception—Mountain Equipment Co-op.

At the Co-op, I relish my kids’ egregious behaviour. My kids versus MEC started several years back, when the downtown Toronto location still had its display area for tents. My kids thought the tent display was wonderful. They’d shed their shoes and hunker down in the various domes and tee-pees, playing tag, playing hide-and-go-seek. I looked forward to going to the Co-op because they got such a kick out of it.

Then one day, while they were doing nothing more innocuous than making a bit of noise, a worker stuck her head in and told them to keep it down. So we headed over to the playhouse area—and this time, a few minutes later, a customer told my kids to keep quiet.

This irritated me. Since then I’ve noticed that, more than any other place I’ve ever been, the customers and staff of the downtown Mountain Equipment Co-op feel free to tell Other People’s Children how to behave. Perhaps out of some perverse desire for revenge, I pretty much let my kids do what they want in MEC. It’s an experiment. See what they can get away with. We headed there the Sunday before New Year’s, a clearance-sale day when the downtown Toronto store was so packed the checkout line stretched all the way into the rope department.

Finding base layers was our objective. I found some for my son, and then my girlfriend, Chantel, found some for herself, and then we split—I went downstairs to wait in the monster line while my kids and Chantel waited upstairs in the play area. Chan took the kids over to the boots area to look at socks, and Myron and Penny discovered the fascinating province of ski poles. One, two, three, four… the kids picked up a quartet each and set about sword fighting. “It is way too late in the day for me to have to deal with this,” said a MEC clerk and relieved the kids of their quiver.

Banished back to the play area, my son struck upon the bright idea of scaling the playhouse. He figured out a good way to do it, then cajoled Chan into using her phone to record the event. Several times. “Wow, that’s a really bad idea,” an employee said to Myron. “The playhouse is not for climbing.”

At that point Chantel received my text that I was through the line, and on their way down the stairs Myron slid down the first flight’s middle banister. “That is not what those railings are for,” said a customer, who turned to watch as Myron climbed onto the second stairflight’s banister for a second slide. “That is not safe at all.”

But with Chan at the banister’s bottom Myron conducted a neat dismount, sans injury, and the lot of us sauntered out of the store, limbs and skulls intact.

Anarchy: 1. Passive-Aggressive Overly Crunchy Gear Outfitters’ Staff and Customers: NOTHING.

Christopher Shulgan is a Toronto writer and father of two children, ages four and six. He’ll be writing about kids and cold-weather activities all winter – read his other Bunny Slope posts here.

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