If you’ve never done it, then either,
a. You’re not a parent,
b. Your kid is fearless and never panics in the realm of PlayPlaces, or
c. You’re too much of a germaphobe to allow yourself to come into such a situation.
The Infamous Chuck E. Cheese rescue (that was not only repugnant to experience but also left us with a hefty family-sized stomach virus) forced me into category c. After swearing to the world that I’d never enter another Chuck again, I also adjusted my lifestyle to avoid any and all other PlayPlaces as well – my PTSS was too great to cope with such.
And I was committed. Because I even avoided Chick-Fil-A PlayPlaces, despite 47% of our family’s nutrition deriving from their superior chicken and waffle fries. We either began receiving those nutrients at the mall locations only, or going through the drive-thru and then eating in the parking lot simply to avoid the dreaded request.
I took great pride in my family’s status of not stepping foot into a PlayPlace since 2011.
Until last week.
Wednesday was Ali’s birthday, and in order to make it special, I surprised her by meeting Chris at the Chick-Fil-A near his office for lunch.
Eating a birthday lunch in the car seemed a bit uncouth, and you can’t very well deny a birthday girl the PlayPlace, especially after she spent quite a bit of time worrying that she had stretched past the “You have to be under this line to play” mark overnight, thanks to turning seven.
(Or perhaps that she’d stretched over the mark since 2011. Because, well, obviously.)
And after all, there was a sign next to the door that said “This PlayPlace cleaned regularly by SuchAndSuch Sanitary-Sounding-Service.”
Then, the nice lady who buses the tables, refills drinks, and eavesdrops on conversations brought Ali the biggest, baddest Birthday Ice Cream Sundae ever made, so clearly this was a superior and therefore germ-free Chick-Fil-A.
And so. Against my better judgment and breaking my magnificent streak, I allowed both of my children to cross the threshold – Noah entering a Chick-Fil-A PlayPlace for the first time in his long three years of life.
He stared up at it, train overhead, with a look of awe and anticipation.
It was one of the old-style PlayPlaces – the kind with the narrow climbing tower made up of half triangles opposite of each other, requiring a snaking up of children, and keeping adults out with its impossible geometric angles.
But I trusted him.
After all, he’s my brave kid. He could handle it.
(Ali was a monstrous wuss at his age.)
My first clue that perhaps he wasn’t as brave as I thought was him panicking and coming back down after the third triangle.
But his coaxing sister kept tempting him.
“There’s a train up here, Noah!”
“Oh! And there’s a bouncy thing in the train!!”
The bouncy thing worked. He gritted his tiny teeth and crawled up into the train.
I sighed with relief and sat back to enjoy a moment of my children being out of sight.
Which is when the screaming started.
I yelled up for Ali to show him the way down.
But that NEVER works with my children. WHY DON’T KIDS TRUST EACH OTHER??? Your sister is not going to lead you to the Bog of Eternal Stench!
The screams turned into high-pitched “MOOOOOOOMMMMMMMYYYYYY!!!!”s.
I had no choice. I stopped for a moment of back-bend yoga stretches to prepare myself for the spinelessness this mission would require.
And then I began my slither.
As they always did, the surfaces of the PlayPlace screamed jeers of germ-filled mockings with each touch of my finger, hand, elbow, hair and NO NO do whatever it takes to not let your cheek touch a surface!!!
Because honestly, I see all children as Petri Dishes of Disease.
I curled around those triangles like Randall sneaking into a child’s room for a scare.
To the left…to the right…on my back….on my elbows…don’t scratch your nose…or you’ll die of tuberculosis…to the left…to the right…
All the while his screams of panic echoed off the plastic walls and poked holes in my eardrums like an ice pick in a watermelon.
I finally made it up to the train and talked him down as if I were negotiating a jumper off the ledge.
And then he hurried down on his own – apparently my power of Mommishness is so strong that my mere presence girds him with strength.
We used all of the sanitizer wipes to be found at that Chick-Fil-A and prayed all the way home that we didn’t catch something. Or everything.
~~ INTERMISSION ~~
The next morning, we had a field trip with our homeschooling group to the Birmingham Museum of Art.
I had every intention of getting Noah a babysitter for the event, but never got around to it. So I was faced with the reality of taking my handsy toddler to see million-dollar collections of extraordinarily breakable art.
He didn’t break anything or even set off any Art Alarms (despite some of the older children causing a few sirens), but that was only due to an exhausting three-hour struggle between Mom and Tot.
A friend wanted to get lunch afterward, and we decided on…Chick-Fil-A.
Different location, same PlayPlace layout.
How in Chicken’s Name did I manage to stay out of Chick-Fil-A interiors for two years and then end up at two in two days?
It’s as if it was our time to die.
Perhaps it was my guilt over wrangling my three-year-old into behavior for three hours. Or perhaps the location of the day before’s memory had been damaged or at least stalled out in my brain. Whatever the reason, I allowed the children to head off to the PlayPlace after lunch.
Noah quickly climbed to the top, and so I thought perhaps his last adventure had boosted his bravery to where it needed to be.
Until the screaming started.
Apparently, this train didn’t have a bouncy thing. And that brought on the panic.
“I CAN’T GET DOOOOOOOWN!!! I WILL FALLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!”
This time, my Motherly Slither was further complicated with high traffic from the scores of children that magically appeared the minute Noah’s breakdown began. And my boots were heels. And I didn’t dare take them off to reveal my mismatched lime green socks. Because priorities.
I made my way up as far as I could go and told him to come down.
“I DON’T WAAAAAAAANT TO COME DOWN!!!”
The multitudes of other children talking loudly made my negotiations much more intense.
“Noah. NOAH! You can play up here but you MUST quit crying.”
“I DON’T WAAAAAAAAAANT TOOOOOOOOOO!!!”
Avoiding a near kick to the face from a kid too tall to be in there anyway, I told him, “Then come down with me. RIGHT NOW.”
My firm ledge-talking skills worked and he quietly made his way down the wretched triangles.
I made my way out and began gathering my pride and dusting off the germ spores.
As he turned around and shot straight back up the tower.
AND PANICKED. AGAIN.
What exactly did he think was going to change?!
I have no idea but I made my second journey up, grabbed him, told Ali that we had to go, and ran out of the PlayPlace, busting a lemonade and creating a waterfall onto my arm and Noah’s head.
(His hair may still have a lemonade crust.)
It’s a good thing that Chick-Fil-A has nice parking lots.