Those fast­food play­grounds

Kent County News - - OPINION - MEG JOHN­SON

Some­times we know it will end in tears, but de­cide to do it any­way.

That de­scribes ba­si­cally ev­ery day of my life as the par­ent, but some mo­ments are es­pe­cially chal­leng­ing.

Oliver and I re­cently went to lunch, just the two of us. I rarely ven­ture out in pub­lic with the kids on my own, and cer­tainly not to a restau­rant. Too many risk fac­tors. I don’t have the gump­tion.

But with just my first­born for com­pany, I felt brave enough to ven­ture to the “chicken house,” 3-year-old Ol­lie’s af­fec­tion­ate name for our fa­vorite fast food place.

Oliver was ex­cited that we were ac­tu­ally go­ing in­side the restau­rant, rather than wait­ing in the miles-long line for the drive-through. True story: You know you get carry-out too of­ten when your kid starts play­ing “kitchen” and asks you to drive around to the first win­dow.

I knew it was a risk to dine in pub­lic, but Oliver is get­ting older. I wanted the day to be a treat for him, too, so I dug until I struck a well of pa­tience and led my guy in­side — which also hap­pens to have an in­door play­ground, com­plete with tun­nels and a gi­ant slide.

Some­how I con­vinced my son to sit and eat be­fore we took off for the play area. All I can think is that he was ac­tu­ally hun­gry and his de­fenses were down, be­cause that was a mir­a­cle.

Af­ter clear­ing up, Ol­lie and I walked/jogged/sprinted into the play space. It was oc­cu­pied only be a trio of sib­lings — the old­est of whom looked to be about 12, and the young- est sev­eral years older than Ol­lie.

It was the mid­dle child, a boy, who seemed to elect him­self the mayor of the play place. Let’s call him Daniel. To my judg­men­tal eyes, Danny looked way too big and wild to be hang­ing with tod­dlers, but I tried not to get snippy about other kids just hav­ing fun.

The kids’ mom was seated at a booth on the other side of a full-length win­dow just out­side the door. I un­der­stood want­ing a few min­utes to your­self to just, well, what­ever. Eat. Think. Breathe.

Daniel was clearly an in­tel­li­gent kid — and a dare­devil. Given my 3-year-old son is quite im­pres­sion­able, I had to hop on him like white on rice to avoid shad­ow­ing our new friend.

“Be care­ful, bud,” I cau­tioned Daniel in my best mom voice, watch­ing the older boy scale a wall marked “do not climb.”

“I know what I’m do­ing,” replied Danny.

OK, then.

Oliver pre­ferred to cheer on the other kids as they dis­ap­peared down the gi­ant slide. For as much at­ti­tude as my son can dish out, he is not a risk-taker. His younger sis­ter is much more likely to leap and tum­ble than he is.

Daniel kept try­ing to get Ol­lie to go with him down the slide, but I knew it wasn’t likely. I told Daniel as much.

“He’ll go with me,” Danny said con­fi­dently. I re­sisted the urge to laugh.

OK — I didn’t re­sist it. The kid was gutsy. Of course, Oliver wanted noth­ing to do with go­ing down the slide.

Af­ter a half hour, my son’s hair was damp and I’d grown tired of cran­ing my neck to make sure he wasn’t do­ing any­thing crazy. Get­ting Ol­lie

off a play­ground re­quires a multi-step process, so I be­gan with the ob­vi­ous.

“C’mon, bud. You’re get­ting tired. Let’s go get a drink.”

The re­sponse was swift. “No, Mommy!”

By this point, I’d been joined in the play area by sev­eral other par­ents and their cute, obe­di­ent off­spring. A woman next to me had two young sons and a baby girl, and I couldn’t help but stare as she an­nounced in a princess-like voice, “All right, boys, it’s time to go!” — and they did.

Af­ter the third “Oliver, now!”-type an­nounce­ment that caused ev­ery set of eyes to swivel in my di­rec­tion, I was start­ing to sweat. We had a lit­eral au­di­ence.

Young Daniel looked up from where he was tin­ker­ing with a toy fix­ture. “I don’t think he wants to leave,” he said.

“Yep. You’re right,” I re­turned.

Daniel then turned to me with the tired ex­pres­sion of a man four times his age, say­ing dryly, “So what are you go­ing to do about it?”

The par­ents all let out a

snort of sur­prise. This kid, man.

“What am I go­ing to do about it,” I re­peated. “Well, Daniel, I’ll show you.”

As my son cack­led just out of reach, try­ing to climb up the slide again, I turned to the small crowd be­hind me. “I apol­o­gize for what you’re about to see.”

With a dozen peo­ple get­ting a glimpse of my at­ti­tude (and my back side), I yanked Oliver down by his an­kles. At nearly 50 pounds, it’s not easy for me to haul the kid out, but I can do it if I must.

With a scream­ing tod­dler in my arms, I nod­ded to a dad who was next to the exit door.

“If you would, good sir,” I said.

Good­ness knows what was said af­ter we walked out. I’m sure we serve as a be­hav­ioral cau­tion­ary tale to other fam­i­lies. And that’s fine — we’re work­ing on it. The strong will that my hus­band and I have al­ways had now serves us well as adults. We just have to help Ol­lie har­ness it ap­pro­pri­ately.

And we will. Away from the watch­ful eye of, say, Daniel.

“Good­bye, Oliver,” called the older boy as we left the chicken house.

Till next time, Danny Boy. Fol­low Me­gan John­son on Twit­ter @right­meg.

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