It could’ve been worse. McDonald’s could’ve banned me from their restaurants for life.
All because I made a poor split-second decision.
The year was 1995. Our girls were 5 years old and 3. And I was an inexperienced father.
Dedee pulled me aside one day. “I need a break. I’d like to go see my parents for the weekend. You think you could watch the girls for a couple of days?”
“Sure. No problem. Have a good time.”
“You sure you can handle it?” she asked, unconvinced.
“Don’t be silly. Of course I can. We’ll eat pizza rolls and watch Barney all weekend. We’ll be fine.”
If only I’d stuck to the plan.
An Inexperienced Dad and a Not Quite Potty-Trained Daughter
There’s a McDonald’s about 20 minutes from our house that has a huge play land. “Perfect,” I thought. “We’ll eat breakfast and then the girls can play while I read the paper.”
On Saturday morning I packed up the minivan and we drove off to the Land of the Golden Arches.
In this particular Micky D’s the play land is in its own room, walled off from the main seating area by plate-glass windows from floor-to-ceiling. A giant terrarium with hundreds of rug rats running amok inside.
The place was packed. Haggard parents and what appeared to be 3,000 squealing kids. It was Van Halen concert loud inside. I stood there holding a diaper bag in one hand and tray of breakfast in the other and searched for a table. One opened up about 47 yards away.
“OK, girls, we’ve got to hustle. Follow me and keep up.”
The play equipment was humongous. Three stories of nets, ladders, bouncy mats, and gerbil tubes. And at the top, an actual prison with bars in the shape of The Hamburglar. But the main attraction was a slide that swept kids from the top floor and hurtled them three stories into a giant tub of balls. The whole shebang was a petri dish of disease, partially chewed french fries, snot, spit-up, and urine.
I’d have to hose the kids off when we got home, but at least I’d have 30 minutes or so to enjoy a cup of coffee and read the paper.
The girls ate maybe four bites of flapjacks before Taylor, our 5 year old, asked, “Can we go play, Daddy?”
“Sure. Have fun.” They ran off. I opened the Post-Dispatch, stuck my fingers in my ears to stifle the din, and began reading.
I hadn’t even finished the front page when, “I go potty, Daddy.” It was Rachel.
“Did you already go?”
She shook her head.
“You have to go?”
Every father of daughters knows this is a dilemma. Which bathroom do I take her to? A real Sophie’s Choice.
Moms with sons have it easy. It’s no big deal for a woman to take her son into a ladies room because there are stalls to protect young eyes. And this was 1995, long before Al Gore invented family bathrooms with changing stations.
So, where do I take her? I had to pick one.
I couldn’t take her to the mens room because, well, they’re filthy. Worse than the tub of balls. Plus, I had no desire to answer questions like, “How boys stand up when go potty, Daddy?”
But taking her to the little girls room was worse. A 32 year old guy entering a ladies room under any circumstance is a one-way ticket to Menard.
My mind ticked through my options.
Maybe Taylor could take her! I spun around to find her. She waved at me from the habitrail on the 3rd level. No way she could make it to us in time.
The good news was Rachel was still dry. I didn’t need to change her. Plus, she was in pull-ups by this time so a change, if needed, would be a snap.
“OK, OK…here’s what we’re going to do. Go ahead and walk to the bathroom by yourself. I’ll watch you the whole way. Can you do that?”
She nodded, hopping from foot to foot.
“See that door over there?” I pointed to the bathroom 20 yards away.
She followed my finger. “Mmm hmm.”
“That’s the little girls room. You go potty there, OK?”
“OK.” And she took off.
I watched her as she wound her way through the crowd. She made it to the door, opened it, and went in.
I turned back to the newspaper, checking the door every 30 seconds or so.
God has given parents a sixth sense when it comes to their kids. You can be sound asleep, but somehow in the ether you sense a small disturbance in The Force. Your eyes fling open and there she is…your kid standing at the foot of the bed. It’s a gift that even Kreskin couldn’t explain.
My face was in the paper, the noise of a thousand street urchins in my ears. And that’s when my Spidey-sense went off.
I looked up to see Rachel walking toward me — the crowd parting as if she were Moses — holding a wet pull-up in one hand and her pants in the other.
Buck naked from the waist down.
A sweet, innocent, unself-conscious expression on her face.
People were staring. Some smiled. Others looked at me as if I’d run over their dog.
“I went pee pee, Daddy.”
“Uh, yeah, I see that, Rach.”
I whisked her into my arms to cover up her girly parts, grabbed a fresh pull-up, and walked to the the little girls room, kicking myself. “Why didn’t you do this before, lame-brain?!”
“Excuse me,” I said to a lady near the door. “Could you see if the ladies room is empty? I kinda got an emergency here.”
She laughed. “Sure.” She came out a few seconds later. “All clear.”
“Thank you! One more thing…could you make sure no one comes in while I’m in there? I don’t want to cause a scene, you know?” She smiled and nodded.
We emerged a moment later with Rachel donning a fresh pull-up. Disaster averted. Somewhat.
As we drove home, I debriefed the girls.
“Girls…I need you to listen to me very carefully. Are you listening?”
“Yeah,” they said in chorus.
“This is very important, so listen closely….no one tells Mommy about what happened today, OK?”
Every New Parent is Hopelessly Clueless
Looking back, I realize how stupidly I handled the McDonald’s incident. But here’s the thing…it’s OK. Parents make mistakes.
No one is prepared to be a parent. No one. Each of us is totally unprepared for what’s to come. Before you have kids, you know exactly what to do. Exactly 27 seconds after Junior is born, you realize how hopelessly clueless you are.
And that’s okay. Kids throw you for a loop so frequently that you’re convinced you’re screwing them up.
But you’re not. They’ll turn out fine. So relax. Love them, discipline them when necessary, and keep your sense of humor.
And always choose a table near the bathroom.
Questions: How have your kids thrown you curve balls? Share your story in the comments.