October 21, 2011

The Tao of McDonald's

I took the kids to McDonald’s this morning. Save your judgement, I care not a smidge. Anna had a glowing report from her parent/teacher conference, both girls have the day off school and we needed some play time— and I needed coffee. Any locale that offers both those things is a-okay in my book.

We herded in, stocked up on pancakes, hash browns, and OJ and got down to it. Jack went ba-donkers with happiness, waddling around like a crazed penguin and calling out giddy laughs at anyone who would acknowledge him. You better believe people did, too. He’s ruthless with his cuteness.

I sipped my tasty beverage (they have LATTES there now, people! It’s like they know me!) and watched the pleasant mayhem. I was reminded with a pang of one of the first playdates at my old mom’s group in Colorado, when Anna was still just a baby, scooting around on her butt all over the sticky floor. How the times do change.

At another table, two other moms sat, bent towards each other with the eager conspiracy of a good old-fashioned mama natter. I smiled, shook off the twinge of nostalgia and turned back to my baby, who was at that moment trying to climb up the slide just as three kids were wooshing their way down. (Don’t worry, it all ended well.)

Into this happy setting walked another woman. She was well dressed, hair styled, make-up perfect and damn if that wasn’t a French pedicure peeking out of her expensive sandals. Beneath all that, though, was the familiar haze of panic. Two little girls ran giggling around her in tight circles, tripping her at every possible interval. One shoulder was weighed down by a ginormous diaper bag and the other was being pulled nearly out of its socket by the 20 pound infant carrier she deftly swung, managing not to so much as bump it in all the chaos below her knees.

Her expression said that she’d been scrabbling on the cliff edge of sanity since well before sunrise. This was a woman on the edge and more than that, a woman resigned to that teetering existence.

She gently settled the sleeping baby to the ground like a basket full of unstable C-4. She tucked her little girls into a booth and directed them to Sit and Stay. All that taken care of, she hurried out of the (completely safe and enclosed) play area to get their lunch and her very own cup of hot, caffeinated liquid happy.

The baby started crying immediately as she left. Of course it did. The two little girls jumped out of the booth to huddle around the carrier and poke at the crying baby. OF COURSE THEY DID. A quick glance proved the situation to be safe, your standard parenting “snafu”. I heaved a sigh of sympathy for the woman and turned back to Jack, who was now half way up the afore-mentioned slide.

Behind me, I heard shocked gasps. Then appalled whispers. I turned back to see the other two moms staring in horrified judgement at the crying baby with his “helpful” sisters. They kept swinging around to look for the mom, half-out of their chairs as if to go rescue the abandoned kids on their way to calling Child Services. Both of them looked at me, theirs faces miming indignation as if to say, “Can you BELIEVE her? What an awful mother! I would NEVER just leave my kids and walk away like that!”.

The woman was on her way back, a laden tray of happy meals and juices balanced on one hand, a coffee clutched in the other. I hurried to open the door for her, saying to them briefly, “When you have three kids, you just do what you have to do. You know what I mean?”.

Here’s the thing. They did not know what I meant. They didn’t know that it is nearly impossible to carry a tray of food with two kids and a baby at the same time. They didn’t know that, in the real world, your kids will not be emotionally scarred for life if you have to walk away for approximately three minutes while they are in a completely safe place. It didn’t occur to them that their very presence, as obvious mothers in the room, probably made her feel even safer doing so. They saw no correlation between her leaving to get the food and the way they were engrossed in conversation while their children played, unsupervised.

They didn’t know. And that’s totally okay. I didn’t know either at one point in my life. There’s a LOT of shit I didn’t know and there is even more shit I have yet to learn now. In my former days as a blissful mom of one, it was so easy to see what everyone else was doing wrong, be shocked at the way someone else would handle any given situation. With each child, I’ve had one reality shoved further and further down my throat until it set up camp firmly in my gut.

Never say never. I mean, really. Just don’t. Five years ago, I would have been appalled at the idea of CHOOSING a morning at McDonald’s to fill my kids up with hash browns and sticky cinnamon rolls (they have those now, too! Delicious!) and set them loose in a public play area probably crawling with the flu virus, not to mention ebola.

These days, I just think how great all those germs are. Way to build up the immune system! Here, kids! Eat some dirt while you’re at it. That’s what I call roughage, my friends. Who needs celery?

Just as I look back with embarrassment on my own moments of oblivion, I know in a few years they’ll remember the well-dressed and completely exhausted mom they cast haughty looks at today. Maybe they’ll even pay it forward a little with an opened door or just an empathetic smile.

Because like it or not, no matter how much you think you know better than someone else… there’s always gonna be someone who knows better than YOU. I mean, who knew McDonald’s would one day become for me such a metaphor for life?

What’s one thing you never knew you never knew?


Adie said...

Great post Megan! Seriously, I have so been in this situation and I think moving from 2 to 3 kids has taught me A LOT about the real world and perhaps about my evil judging ways. I honestly never knew, I never knew what a big difference each kid makes to managing life and how different each personality would make a difference in how you parent. Kids don't always act bad because the individual is a bad parent, sometimes kids just have a different personality.

Alison said...

I needed your post today, I'n not having my best Mom day. Thanks.

Meg said...

Alison, I'm sorry! Those days blow, I hope it got better?

Adie, I have to say that the jump from two to three kids was one big eff-in' leap (love that I don't want to drop the f-bomb in my own comments). And it's SO true that just existing with all those personalities that are so very, VERY different from each other can be a challenge. How do you do one thing, anything, when it impacts each little kid differently AND the way you respond to each individually? My solution, so far, has been to lump the girls together into one conglomerate child and then tell them that, sorry, baby comes first. It is what it is, for now. You just never know what's going to happen or how you'll adjust or how THEY'LL adjust. Making all the little pieces come together is a real pain in the ass, but... we love 'em anyway. That's part of the fun of it.