My daughter, whose birthday was last week, has always had pretty strong opinions about food. When she was five or six, she came to us and said that she wanted to be a vegetarian. She said that she didn't want to eat animals because it made her sad. I was ok with it. I believe that just because a person can't tie their own shoes, doesn't mean that they can't believe in stuff. I explained to her that vegetarians eat grains with made up names like "quinoa" and "millett". I explained to her that vegetarians eat actual vegetables- even the ones that (in her words) "are stinky and feel like slime in my mouth". I explained to her that vegetarians do not eat chicken nuggets - ever. She gave up being a vegetarian. (I think what she really wanted to be was a carbotarian.)
Despite the fact that she is a huge fan of the soy burgers (or "protein sponges" as I refer to them) and that she tells me "you know that's a dead animal right?" every time I grill up a ribeye, she is still a sucker for fast food. Basically for her, (and her brothers), the ultimate dining destination is a McDonald's restaurant...with a play structure.
The McDonald's playland is indeed my worst nightmare. It more often than not smells like a poorly sanitized boy's locker room and there is always at least one family who seems to think that the sign that reads "SOCKS MUST BE WORN AT ALL TIMES ON THE PLAY STRUCTURE" really means "IF YOU WANT TO WALK BAREFOOT TO THE RESTROOM AND THEN COME CLIMB ALL OVER THIS THING IT'S COOL WITH US". Also, I'm inclined to believe all those urban myths about how playland janitors find used hypodermic needles and random human body parts in the ball pit. When my kids are playing on these structures I become the slightly panicky mom who you see pacing neurotically back and forth in front of the twisty slide muttering words like "e. coli" and "cryptosporidium" under her breath while clutching a purse sized bottle of hand sanitizer like some kind of super clean talisman.
I do not like the McDonald's playland. However, I believe that a person should be able to do whatever they want to do on their birthday. More specifically, I believe a person should be able to eat whatever they want to eat on their birthday - and so at my daughter's request this is where we went for her birthday lunch.
We walked up to the counter and I asked them what they wanted to eat. I've got no clue why I do this since they order exactly the same thing every time we go there. We ended up with 1 McNuggets Happy Meal (no sauce), 1 Double Cheese Burger Mighty Kids Meal (only ketchup), 1 Chicken Strips meal (no sauce) and 1 really gross salad. (The really gross salad was mine - I'd like to wear jeans with a zipper again.) I swiped my debit card and began working out how I was going to carry two trays full of food and a baby car seat while stopping my four year old from pretending that the tables and chairs were in reality, a practice course for that TV show "Wipeout". (He watches it with his father during "man time".) The McDonald's counter lady told me my total and then said "... and would you like to donate a dollar to Ronald McDonald House Charities today?" I looked right at her and said "Nope. I wouldn't", and hit the accept button on the debit machine. I'm pretty sure I saw her give me a look that clearly said "Oh, no you didn't."
I didn't mean to go all Ebenezer Scrooge on her, but honestly, it's not just her. There are a lot of worthy causes out there that I choose not to support. I feel like maybe I should have more guilt about this than I do, but I ask myself - is it better for me to give one dollar to thirty different charities just because I don't want to get the evil eye when I say "no", or thirty dollars to one charity because I believe in their mission and want to help? I have chosen the latter. My husband and I give to a few, specific organizations that we feel address the diseases and social ills that we care most about. When I give a dollar - I give it to them. Unfortunately, there's not usually enough time to explain this to the four people standing in line behind me at the grocery store who see me not donating to breast cancer research... or to the McDonald's counter lady who I'm guessing was less than impressed with my apparent lack of generosity. All I'm saying is that I do my alms in private. Is it too much to ask that I be allowed to do my non-alms in private too?
My kids eventually finished their romp in the playland and we made it home with no sign of serious infections or illness (yet.) Just my guilt over not feeling guilty. Hopefully if I wake up in the near future with a scary, non-verbal Christmas Spirit floating over my bed, he'll let me pull up my online statements to prove that I really am a good person and that he should go haunt someone else. In the mean time, I think I'll just stick to the drive through... at least until next year's birthdays.