Before my husband died, my children had never been introduced to the Golden Arches. I’d love to say it was because we had idealistic dreams of children who preferred apple slices and cool water to sugar-laden cookies and sodas.
But that would be a lie.
We couldn’t stand the place. Loathed it. It wasn’t just the food. It was the overwhelmingly putrid aroma that seeps out from the enclosed play area and the unsettled and unclean feeling you exit with. The gritty remnants of dirty feet and sweaty palms mingle with the smell of grease-soaked fries and apple pies in a swirling and invisible mass that escapes the moment exuberant children crack the door, fling their shoes and socks to the floor, and scramble into a maze pocked with the debris of runny noses and ketchup-splattered hands.
In the weeks following his death, my children had their first taste of McDonald’s. Again and again and again. I am fairly certain a number of well-meaning friends were involved, and I do recall my father mentioning something about it. But the truth is that they could have told me they were putting them in jumpsuits and throwing them out of a plane to free fall – nothing could penetrate the fog that had wrapped its chilly fingers around me.
It doesn’t really matter now. The simple fact is that I am now waging the McDonald’s battle along with every parent on the planet.
After a challenging and upbeat start to the weekend, I decided against all better judgment that I would break the dry spell and take my children to that den of depravity that is every parent’s nightmare and every child’s fantasy. I considered it a reward for a relatively good week. In other words, the screaming and crying that had dominated our lives since his unexpected departure had been matched in equal parts by laughter and calm. It had been such a good week that we wouldn’t just dash through the drive-thru.
We were actually going to go inside.
I was abandoned the moment we stepped through the doors. Encased in glass the play area stood like a beacon of hope and my son and daughter were powerless in its shadow, pausing only to toss “I love you’s” and “You are soooooo pretty, Mom” over their shoulders as they ran off. I watched, grimacing as my daughter shed her flip flops and disappeared into the maze. And then I turned my attention to the task at hand, mentally scanning the menu options that appealed to me and fought to tamp down the image of finding a fingernail in my patty.
(Disclosure: I have never actually found a fingernail. But don’t we all just expect that it will happen at some point?)
Right before ordering, my bare foot princess came wandering out in search of a bathroom. The pinnacle of uncleanliness, this wild-haired, shoe-less, face-smudged cherub pranced off to the restroom as I made a mental note to apply an OXO pad to the bottom of her feet the very moment we got home. I love her unrestrained zest for life. The work by-product it creates, not as much.
“Have you seen my Mommy?”
Seeing her standing there unkempt and unsure I realized in that moment that she is me – defiant and passionate, vulnerable and alone. But the line of people saw something else. I had no doubt in my mind that they were all thinking what an angelic, sweet, adorable – insert any wonderfully appropriate adjective here – girl she is and I was secretly delighted that it was my child they were fawning over. A tall gentleman flirting with his late seventies, leaning on a cane with ill-placed lesions across his arms and legs, turned to me.
“Can I offer you a compliment?”
I knew he was about to tell me how precious my child is and I waited to bask in the glow of recognition that we created something exceptional in these two children.
“You have a really nice figure.” And with a sly wink he leaned forward, dropped his gaze and a sunburn landed on my chest.