Those fastfood playgrounds
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.
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.