When the kids were little, we would frequent any fast food restaurant with any indoor playground so they could run their little hearts out, and I could enjoy their running while also enjoying air conditioned awesomeness instead of 110 degree blazing un-awesomeness of the Texas Summer. The people that had that brainstorm are GENIUSES!
Because of my vast experience with various chains and their play areas, I became a bit of an expert (I believe anyway). I knew which playgrounds were best for the crawling/toddling types–there you want a “soft playground” where the bigger kids aren’t allowed to trample the smaller, sweeter ones. There are mid-sized playgrounds for the 3 and 4 year olds–those have perfectly spaced steps so the kids can crawl to the top of the jungle gym without freaking out and forcing their mothers to accompany them on the climbing and sliding journey (been there, done that.) Finally, there are the bigger, more advanced playgrounds for the kinder-perhaps first grade kiddos–those structures have GIANT steps (way to big for the babies and toddlers to master), rope bridges, and possibly even whisper phones of some sort. I have a cartoon map in my head of my area of the metroplex, and a good idea of which playgrounds reside in each given location. This is a skill that has come in handy countless times–I promise.
But honestly, since I have returned to the classroom full-time, and all three hoodlums have entered school themselves, our fast food field trips have reduced considerably–I guess I should say have stopped entirely. I haven’t missed this little adventure at all, but today I was reminded of them and of when the kids were smaller and sometimes a little sweeter.
We were adventuring in the big city for a baseball camp for my oldest son, and because of that, did a little shopping, and treated ourselves to a fast food lunch date–we even went INSIDE instead of throwing bags of food through the car. As I placed our order, my youngest son excitedly ran to the play area and began making best friends with all the kids already “in character.” My daughter scoped out a table so she could no doubt text a few important messages to friends, and my older son looked at the play area before joining my daughter at the table. It was all so civilized! We ate without spilling. Everyone opened their own ketchup. We each refilled our own beverages–my son even refilled mine for me! After lunch, my youngest hooldum had to “finish up the war” inside the play area, and the three of us watched him from the outside–noting the 54 inch guideline to play. There were a few sighs of “I wish I could be in there,” but after that we continued a NORMAL conversation and they talked me into ice cream WHICH THEY ORDERED THEMSELVES. It was like an out of body experience.
Because I’m a reflective type, I couldn’t help but remember all the playdates, rainy days, blazing days, daddy-working-late days, catch-dinner-before-gymnastic days, and even mommy-doesn’t-feel-like-figuring-out-a-healthy-dinner days we’ve had at the Fast Food Playground. It looks like we are soon graduating from this experience as my younger son (who doesn’t know it) is fast approaching that 54 inch guideline. Who knows…maybe we next summer on a mommy-kid adventure we will tackle a REAL treat like Pei Wei, and I will hopefully discover the new ways these big kids can still find their sweet selves.