Us and Them

April 19, 2010 at 5:15 am | Posted in Giggles, Lollipop | 32 Comments

The kiddos have been stuck in the house all week. Rain, doctor’s appointments, last-minute pre-Bun projects, the snake that has taken up residence in our yard … It’s been a perfect storm transpiring against them.

So, this morning, I gauged their Tasmanian Devil–like growls, their disdain for finger painting again, the way in which they nonchalantly pummeled their beloved trains into the side of the kitchen cabinet. I turned to my husband and said, “We’ve got to get out of here.”

Cutting and Running
Yes, briefly, I contemplated the “we” being just Husband and me. But instead, we gathered up Lollipop and Giggles, velcroed on their shoes, deftly avoided tantrums about wearing jackets, stuffed animal crackers in the diaper bag, and headed out.

To get haircuts. Just the kind of thrilling excursion they needed. (Wisely, Pawpaw stayed home for some much-needed R&R.)

I’m Lovin’ It
After surviving the trauma of the shears and clippers (and cleaning out the shop’s bowl of peppermints in bribes rewards for good behavior), we headed for a real treat. McDonald’s.

OK, here’s where we could endlessly debate the merits of McDonald’s, given its nutritionally sketchy menu (those apple slices don’t fool me), smells-like-gym-socks playgrounds, and trash bag upon trash bag of cardboard and plasticware. But. My kids like it. And today, they needed, nay, deserved, something just for them. So off we went to the land of Golden Arches and trans-fat.

The Eighth Wonder of the Toddler World
They had a blast, and I tried not to cringe too much. The entire trip, I found myself having thoughts such as, “There’s no way we won’t all be running fevers tomorrow.” While my kids were no doubt thinking, “Wow, look at this amazingly shiny green window. What would it sound like if I drummed on it with my fingernails??”

I was struck by these differences. Between us and them. Adults and children. When do we become so darn practical? When do we lose our sense of unadulterated wonder at the world around us? Is it even possible to hold onto it?

Where Moms Fear to Tread
Take these examples from our afternoon excursion:

1. While camping out at our booth to wait for their meal, Lollipop and Giggles poked, prodded, pushed, and otherwise manhandled the various textures of the speckled tabletop, booth divider, plastic molding, and bench seats. In my head: “There is surely not enough Purell in all the world for this.”

2. In his haste to gulp down the chocolate milk, Giggles dropped his sippy cup on the floor. In my head: “They mop every day, they mop every day, they mop every day.”

3. Lollipop got her very own ice cream cone for dessert. (Her first solo cone!) In my head: “Stain-stick that princess dress from scalloped bodice to pearl-lined hem the moment we get home.”

4. Giggles picked up someone’s discarded receipt from the floor and made a beeline for the ketchup-and-salmonella-covered trash can. In my head: “T-minus two seconds until contamination. Must intercept child now!”

5. Lollipop called down from the very high, very yellow playground tunnel — the one she has never been brave enough to climb into before — that there was water inside. In my head: “Please, please, please let it be rain and not some strange kid’s pee.”

Present Tense
Never mind that Lollipop tried something new, or that Giggles tried to clean up on his own. All I could think about was germs and messes and inconveniences. I still let them explore, relish the experience. I bit my tongue and crossed my fingers. But the thoughts were there, were very much present.

I hope they were too enthralled with the paper-napkin dispenser and salt shakers to notice. Either way, they scarfed down their ice cream. And I used up our whole bottle of Purell.

How do you and your children experience the world differently? How do you strike a balance between “us” and “them”? What’s the worst fast-food playground you’ve ever visited?

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  1. When my kids were little, my only break was at McDonald’s. They knew I had to have a certain booth, the last one next to the kids’ area. If I was in the kids’ area I couldn’t write and I couldn’t be far away and keep an eye on them. So we’d stalk “my” booth and then I could sit there pleasantly writing forever.

    I know I’m supposed to be better at this germophobe thing (and the food thing!) but it really didn’t make me nuts. The cheap plastic booths and people watching could do that, but otherwise, once I washed off our table, I was good to go!

    I’d say, all in all, that the most important germ-related thing we’ve ever done is not sharing drinks with one another in the family. By doing that we’ve never spread colds, flus, or even the pneumonia one of the kids got one time, to each other.

  2. Oh my goodness, I roared about the “pee” in the play structure. Too funny, and sadly such a relevant worry. I admit, after a winter of too many colds in our house, I have to force myself not to worry too much about the germs. It’s hard, because the thought of facing another onslought is just about more than I can bear. Generally speaking though, I don’t worry though about germs too much. Perhaps it’s because of where I work (in a child health organization), but I am a believer that the bugs they get early on are good for them in the long-run. I know it’s hard to accept, and it SUCKS when they are sick, but a day will come when their little immune systems will be able to fight off the little suckers and they’ll be healthier for it. In the meantime, I almost hold my breath in anticipating of the next week’s worth of sleepless nights because of coughs and sniffles.

    • The funny thing is, I completely agree about getting the bugs out of the way early and building up their immune systems. That’s why it feels so noticeable and odd, like a neurotic tic or something, when my knee-jerk reaction is, “Ack! Germs!”

  3. I haven’t taken the kids (well, kid, since the baby is, you know, a baby) to McDonald’s. Our big outings are Panera, usually, or the bookstore. These places don’t have a playground, which for us is a separate venture. (I can’t do McDonald’s since I read Fast Food Nation.) My son went to daycare last year and I had to take a lot of time off for his fevers and runny noses, but I think he’s built up a decent immunity by now so that I don’t worry too much when he touches things. I do carry a small bottle of Purell, though, just in case.

  4. I do admit to being perfectly horrified by fast food in general, but you gotta do what ya gotta do. The girls are fascinated by the idea of a playground where they eat; we tend to go to Burger King more because they have actual vegetarian selections and they don’t look at us quite as strangely as they do at mcdonalds when you ask for a bun with just cheese on it.

    I think the biggest difference between the kids and me is that they are very much about the moment, and I am always thinking ahead. My days are about the to-do list, and theirs is about the current/next adventure. I have tried to see it much more from their point of view and not get to anxious if X doesn’t get done. Oh, and I also rope their dad into doing Y with them so I can do X if that’s called for. :)

  5. First, I just want to say I feel you on the backyard snake. We had some last summer (copperheads – scary!) and it was awful because I spent most of my time explaining why we couldn’t go in the yard or diffusing tantrums about wanting to go in the yard. I hope your snake moves along soon!

    Second, I should buy stock in Purell. And those travel packs of Clorox wipes. I’m really obnoxious about germs. We don’t go to McDonald’s-type places very often, just because I’m an insufferable food snob and if I do fast food I prefer to stick with Panera or Noodles and Company, but the mall playgrounds! Oh, they give me the heebie-jeebies. My son loves the mall playgrounds, though, so I suck it up. But if I thought I could get away with Clorox-wiping the entire play structure, I would do it. :)

    • Copperheads! Yikes. Ours was (we think) harmless, but he was large and we decided to wait until he ventured on before we ventured out. And mall playgrounds … Ours is Icky, capital I. But, like your son, my kids love it. I try to consider it an exercise in getting out of my Clorox, er, comfort zone.

  6. Um…snake? That alone would’ve kept me inside the house. FOREVER.

    I grew up in a city where outdoor food vendors and restaurants were ubiquitous and I’ve seen all kinds hygiene practices (or lack thereof) so while I try to be careful with my toddler now, I go back to my own upbringing and think to myself: if all those things didn’t kill me by now, my daughter (and I) could live with missing a handwash here and picking up a cigarette butt there.

  7. I loved the where moms fear to tread, esp. your mantra!

  8. Oh God, I’m just like you. Every time we go to the McDonald’s playplace, I am a total wreck, thinking about all of the germs just waiting to get us. My husband doesn’t miss a beat, so it must be a mommy thing.

  9. Though I’m Super-Sized scared of any food at said establishments, we frequented the golden arches every day on our road trip last spring from Oregon back to Colorado. With snow still on the ground and 12 hour days in the car, I cheered silently whenever we spotted a McDonalds playland. We haven’t been back since, but the kids would give their left eyeballs to enter the Playland bliss again, not to mention snarf a package of french fries.

    • Yes, there’s just something about road trips and McDonald’s. You can’t have one without the other! Or you can, but the toddler folk might never forgive you.

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  11. I think I feel more “us and them” with tweens and teens, and not so much little kids. (What does that say about me?) I have always loved entering the world through the child’s eyes. By the time they hit 11 or 12, they’re entering through our eyes, and oddly, the divisions seem greater.

    As for fast food? When necessary, fine. (But it typically doesn’t sit well with me, so I don’t do it often. My kids? They do it when out with other kids. Pizza, however, is an entirely other matter…)

    • Would you believe, my kiddos are still lukewarm about tomato-based foods? They used to steadfastly refuse them, so I’m pleased with our upgraded status to “lukewarm,” but still. Turn your nose up at pizza, are you kidding??

  12. I love what you say here about balancing our vision with that of our kids. My vision was clouded at the grocery store yesterday morning when I looked down into the little car at the front of the shopping cart to see my toddler mouthing the steering wheel. My vision: spring flu, here we come; his vision: tasty snack. Ay carumba!

    I don’t leave home without a bottle of Purell in my bag, but then I also realize that I survived for years (and as a nail-biter no less) before Purell was invented (or at least heavily marketed) without succumbing to some dread, germ-based plague.

    • Oh, the licking! Some days it’s more than I can stand. I want to ask them, “Why, oh, why?” Of course, if they were old enough to articulate its appeal, they wouldn’t still be doing it. The irony!

      Also, like you, I never used to use Purell. It must be some genetic switch that got flipped the moment I had a child. I sure wish I could turn it off from time to time.

  13. I always try to remind myself that as children, we were exposed to just as many germs, playground pee, dirt, etc. and we turned out okay. I generally avoid any fast food play-place on principle but suffer through the play spaces when we can. I’m fairly certain that the outdoor playgrounds are just as bad, but we tend to think that they’re cleaner since they are outdoors.

    I’m glad you were able to get some time away from home!

  14. I’m sure they do mop every day, but the mop itself probably has more bacteria than the floor.

  15. I hope it was rainwater also, and not pee! Too funny!

  16. I am sitting here laughing out loud! We haven’t gone to a McDonalds w/ a playspace yet… but my kids love pretending to sleep places (don’t ask… they are bizarre… today it was under the table of a little cafe type cupcake place…) and pretend swim on any and all floors. That “they mop every day” bit is my mantra constantly!
    They think it’s fun, I think it’s hysterical to see peoples faces as they watch my kids :) At least they aren’t throwing tantrums, right?
    I’m sure your kids had a BLAST :)

    • Make-believe swimming and sleeping, how fun! I love to watch people’s faces when Lollipop parades around somewhere in one of her outfits (princess dress, mud boots, cowboy hat, etc.). You’re so right that it’s hysterical to watch their reactions.

  17. Just think how good that trip was for their immunity. That’s what I think when we go to places like that: they’re building their immunity. Repeat that over and over and soon it all seems like good fun. An occasional visit to McDonald’s won’t kill them – not from bacteria or fast-food consumption. But mum’s have to worry about this stuff. It’s in the job description. Didn’t you get the memo?

    • Somebody probably finger-painted over that memo! =>

  18. I love this post! My mantra during times like these? “I made it this far, they can too!” My husband and I marvel that we made it through our childhoods relatively unscathed. I just pray my kids can!

  19. Oh, you made me laugh!!

    Parents unite! Despite our dread and distaste for McDonalds, we must find some way to keep our kids (and ourselves) sane!!

  20. I can’t handle those playland places. I just know that my son is going to get hepatitis there.

    I saw this photo right after I first read this post and thought it was appropriate –

  21. We went for haircuts after the 2-year checkup (with shot), and he was more traumatized by the haircut – bizarrely, afterward he recalled both events as really fun.
    One of my greatest delights with toddlerdom is how exciting a change of scenery can be. Pumping gas, grocery shopping, a walk around the farmers’ market, a stop in a strip mall – every new place is an adventure for a two-year-old. I know at some point I might look back on this sentiment in disbelief, but: Right now the boy makes running errands kind of fun.
    But oh, the part where he runs his hands lovingly along the edges of shopping carts and door handles and looks for things to put in the trash…in the long run, it’s boosting his immune system, right?

  22. I think this is just such an honest and oh so true post. In the past whenever we went somewhere like the play area at the Mall I was always on the lookout for the runny nosed kid, or the one coughing and praying we would escape germ free. I always have wet wipes in my bag too. Since my daughter started pre-school however I have learned to accept that germs and bugs are a way of life – this said as I recover from stomach fly which my daughter had last week and have noticed today she is runny nosed and coming down with a new cold…..The joys of living with toddlers :-) But when they are really small it is smart to be careful – up to the age of three if they constantly get sick and end up taking antibiotics it is all bad news – thankfully my daughter, now three, never used to get sick much and avoided all that but several of my friends kids went through virus after virus and the associated ear infections and their kids had to have tubes in their ears. The one little boy who is now 3 1/2 is still not talking because of his hearing loss.

  23. We have McDonalds or Burger King for lunch once a week, and I don’t feel one bit guilty about it. I don’t go to the Playplace location because of germs and the fact that it is crowded with nannies ignoring their charges and making me feel stressed out.

  24. Oh Stacia! You are great! Love the ketchup salmonella covered trashcan, and the pee drpping from th eplay area (lol) it’s so true though. We worry , worry, worry, about all these germs. But inevitably they will get them and get thru these sicknesses just lke all the rest of us. But it is so darn gross and scary to watch them just basically “lick up” the germs right in front of our faces. EEWWWW! Im grossing myself out now.

  25. […] Hot, Cross Buns August 26, 2010 at 6:00 am | Posted in Giggles | Leave a Comment Tags: Children, Parenting, Growing Up, Challenges, Boys, Potty Training, Fears, Technology, Fast Food You know how I feel about McDonald’s. […]


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