The Trouble With McFriends

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, June 3, 2007

We've got an hour to kill before picking up my 8-year-old. It is, I figure, an ideal chance to stop at Target for socks, deodorant and outdoor patio cushions. I am hyping the idea to Sasha, my 6-year-old, who has other designs.

"Oh, we never get to go to McDonald's Playland," she says, as if this were even a stated option, which it was not, nor has ever been, as far as I can recall. In regard to this particular indulgence, I am a bad mother. "You want to go to McDonald's?" I say, to clarify, but mostly to stall for time while I figure out a very good way of saying no.

"Yay!" she says. "It will be just us, a special treat for you and me!"

"I didn't say we could go --"

"You just invited me!" she says.

"No, honey --"

"We never get to go to McDonald's Playland," she says. "I'm going to be a teenager before I get to go."

A teenager? Okay, cut the drama, 6-year-old. We have been to at least a few McDonald's Playlands (usually because we're stuck in some sort of carpool situation, and I can't get out of it). So cut the deprivation angle. Whatever. I've just been duped and melodrama-ed into a mommy/daughter date at McDonald's. There could be worse things. When she's an actual teenager and sick of me, I'll cherish these times.

She orders a Happy Meal with milk. We sit outside, where the afternoon sun is baking the plastic tables good and hot. There is no air moving. There is a four-lane highway just beyond the gate and lots of traffic noise. Other than that, just an old lady out here smoking. And a little kid with curly hair and the brightest blue eyes sitting on the steps that earn entrance into the giant, multicolored gerbil cage of a playground -- tunnels, towers, slides, rocket ship, pirate sail. It's a plastic temple of human imagination in red, blue, green and yellow.

"You have to take your shoes off," the blue-eyed girl says to Sasha. "My grammy says no one can come into my play yard with shoes on."

Her play yard? I shoot a glance at Grammy, who is not listening. I get the sense the two spend a lot of time here. Sasha does as she's told, and the girls disappear into the plastic while I snack on french fries and feel my jeans instantly shrink two sizes too small and all my facial pores begin to clog. The toy that comes with the Happy Meal is a plastic gun; you aim, pull the trigger, and, instead of a bang, you hear the sound of clapping hands. On the barrel of the gun is the "American Idol" logo. There is so very much I can make of this, metaphorically, but the heat from the plastic table combined with the traffic noise and the grease has my brain officially signing off from duty. I might be entering a coma.

Sasha comes over. "She won't stop following me," she says of her new little friend. I tell Sasha to be nice. She sighs. She walks over to Grammy. "Your girl won't stop following me."

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