McDonald’s is my guilty pleasure | Living with Gleigh

I must confess, one of my guilty pleasures is eating at McDonald’s. I like to go inside, get my food and watch the mothers with their toddlers. They stand at the counter trying to order food, often holding the smallest toddler or baby: “I’ll have a chicken nugget, Johnny come back here, Happy Meal, with the, Johnny stop hitting your sister, apple slices and the, Johnny leave the straws alone, toy for the boy, and, Johnny come stand by me, a hamburger Happy, Johnny I told you to stand by me, Meal with nothing on it, French, Johnny don’t go out the door, fries with the girl, Johnny don’t make me run after you, toy.”

I’m not being mean spirited when I say I enjoy watching these mothers. No, I am just reliving the memories of when my own children were that small. Even though it felt really hard at the time, life was so much less complicated. With little kids, what you see it what you get. With teens, it’s what they don’t say that you have to pay attention to.

I have been home with my kids since my oldest was born. When dad came home from work the kids would gravitate toward him the moment he walked in the door. Quality time between my husband and me decreased as we tried to keep up with our toddlers. So when we really needed to sit down and reconnect we would go to the McDonald’s with the biggest play area.

One of us would go buy the food, the other would take the kids into the play space. We’d lay out their meals like we were luring wild animals; figuring they’d get hungry enough to come down out of the jungle sooner or later. But in the meantime, we knew where they were. There is only one door in and out, so one of us would face the door, to monitor any attempted escapes.

Although it was noisy, we spent many hours there discussing household issues. The kids may or may not decide to eat their food while we were there, but since it came in a little box, it traveled well.

As soon as they were able, they’d climb to the top of the play space. My youngest was about 18 months when she was finally freed to run wild at McDonald’s. She was able to manage the first step, but was too short to get up the second, which was the gateway to the top. Each step is a small platform and she’d stand there while the other kids climbed past her. My husband and I didn’t help her up because she was so young, we figured it was best if she just stayed at the bottom.

She didn’t demand we help her, but she was determined to ascend. One day she climbed that first step, turned around, lolled her arms out along the second step, crossed one little leg over the other and kind of vamped there. Her bright blond hair was softly curled around her sweet little face as she longingly watched other children climb by her. Along came a little boy, probably around five, took one look at my precious little girl and gave her a boost up to that second step.

From then on, she couldn’t be stopped. My husband or I only needed to climb to the top a couple times to rescue one of the kids. Usually because they’d hurt themselves or someone stepped on them, hit them, pushed them down. But if you’re a large adult, climbing to the top of the jungle gym is a feat of daring and courage. Kids storm past whether you’re taking up the whole tube or not; another object to conquer. Often when we’d get there, the child would have recovered and be off on another adventure.

So when I go to McDonald’s, it’s not just for the food (okay, I kinda like it), but it’s also for the memories. When a parent is living those days of early childhood, it doesn’t seem to go fast enough. But when those days are gone, it seems they went far too fast.

Gretchen Leigh is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Covington. She is committed to writing about the humor amidst the chaos of a family. You can read her column every week on and  more of her writing and her daily blog on her website

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