Thursday, October 2, 2014

Rocking McDonald's

I'm taking a break from the catch-up blogging I've been doing for the sake of capturing a specific experience while it is fresh in my mind.

You see, something happened last night that has never happened before.  Something HUGE.  Something amazing.  Something I've pretty much spent the last 15+ years preparing for without even knowing it.

I totally took my 4 children ages 5 months through 5.5 years to McDonald's.  By myself.  And there were no tantrums.  No crying.  No near misses with death or catastrophe. There wasn't even a significant amount of wasted food.

I will be up front that there was a non-zero amount of sheer, dumb luck involved, which I will explain as I tell the story, but I really want to capture this in detail because it was such an amazing experience and honestly--I really needed a Win in my life.  Something I could look at and proclaim, "I ROCKED THAT!!"  I totally ROCKED this trip to McDonald's.

Anyway.  We never go to McDonald's for dinner "just because" or casually.  Once or twice a month we might stop there as part of an outing, but that's really it.  And for the kids, that's really ALL they do when they go out to eat.  I know that a lot of people aren't going to agree with the method of parenting that I'm about to describe because "kids need to learn how to behave" and I do agree with that.  However, I think parents need to learn a few things, too.  I think it's important to set a situation up for success as much as possible, both for the parent and for the child.  It boosts confidence and self-esteem, it facilities a loving environment, it decreases stress.  So, I like to do it.  Kids need a Win sometimes, too.

So.  From the start.

Our first bit of luck was that the parking spot closest to the door was available.  So I got out the stroller frame for Bridget's car seat and set it up on the sidewalk in front of the van and loaded the diaper bag into it.  Then I loaded up the Sanity Bag.

One thing I do to set my kids up for success is I have a small bin of toys in the back of my van.  Interactive, LOUD, obnoxious ones.  Exclusively V-Tech toys--the company with a strict policy of only producing toys with THE MOST annoying sounds and music humanly possible.  I swear they have a deal with Satan to boost their sales...but they do something right because my kids love them.  But since I can't stand them, they are for trips out.  Up to this point, I used these toys at Wal-Mart but I knew they would come in handy here, so I loaded up.  I had 4 toys and something else for Kendra, and I brought it all (I normally only take in 1 toy for each of the boys but this was a special circumstance and I needed all my resources at the ready).

After the equipment was unloaded, I got the kids out.  Order is VERY important here.  Kendra went first because she is independent and reliable.  Meaning that she can get out herself and follow instructions--she played a little on the small lawn while she waited for me to be ready.  Then I got Bridget, still strapped into her carrier seat, and clicked her into the stroller frame with the breaks on.  I am able to reach behind Bridget's seat and unbuckle Elliot so I did that and told him to wait by the door when I took her out.  By the time I came back, he was patiently waiting, at which point I told him and Kendra to "help me with the stroller" by placing one hand each on it.  Paxton is the flight risk, so I physically carried him.  Kendra and Elliot then pushed the stroller in the back while I steered it and opened the doors to get inside the restaraunt.

Once inside, we immediately went to the bathroom.  I knew the last time Kendra and Elliot had been, I knew that they'd been drinking fluids since then and that if we didn't go first thing, we would need to go in the middle of our meal.  So in order to set us up for success again, we all went to the bathroom.

Pro tip:  when you have a toddler with you and you need to use the bathroom, if at all humanly possible, make sure the toddler is physically unable to open the door of the stall.  When you have an infant and a toddler, you can totally barricade the door with the infant's carrier/stroller.  It's magical.

After we were all voided and washed up, we went to the dining area.  Another bit of luck was with me that there was a large unoccupied table in plain view of the counter, so I set the 3 older there and busted out the Sanity Bag.  I gave Paxton and Elliot an obnoxious V-tech toy and presented Kendra with her own little gift bag with a notebook and pen inside.  She was pretty excited because both the notebook and pen were bejeweled all over.  I was totally able to order and pay without losing eye contact and I was about 10 yards away.

We don't do Happy Meals very often and didn't this trip.  Instead, we order a la carte.  My kids reliably eat chicken nuggets and fries and this was not a time to deviate from familiar patterns and try something new, so chicken nuggets and fries, it was.  I ordered a 4 piece, a 10 piece and a large order of fries.  And a cheeseburger for me.

The kids played with their toys while I ordered the food, got it and got everything set up.  Kendra got the 4 piece nuggets and I opened the carton and filled the empty lid with fries, which was about the size of what she would have gotten in a Happy Meal.  For Paxton and Elliot, I opened the 10 piece box and put ketchup in the empty lid and gave them each their own pile of fries on a napkin, and this all worked EXTREMELY well for two brothers who are constantly getting into disputes about ownership.  Drinks were from the diaper bag--Paxton had a cup of milk and Kendra and Elliot shared a water bottle.

They all ate happily.

We had the perfect amount of food and perfect amount of distraction.  When we make our once or twice a month outing trip to McDonald's, there is usually ice cream at the end.  But they were getting restless and I was on my own, so we skipped that part.  I did switch out the toys and pull out fresh ones to keep the boys interested at the table for a bit longer while Kendra finished her meal to her satisfaction, but I knew we were running out of time.

But it worked out extremely well and I cleared up the mess and loaded our toys back up and we went back to the car, Kendra and Elliot pushing the stroller from the back while I held Paxton and steered...but this time kind patrons held the doors open for us.

Then I used our keyless remote to open the doors as we approached the van so that Kendra and Elliot crawled in.  Paxton never set foot on the ground, which is optimal as he is the flight risk.  I strapped him in, then Bridget (not that she's a risk, I just think it's better to get everybody back into the vehicle as quickly as possible.  I loaded the contents of the Sanity Bag back into the bin, folded down the stroller frame and loaded it, brought the diaper bag up front with me so that I wouldn't need to open up the back when I got home.

And that was that.  I did it.  I TOTALLY did it.  And I didn't just survive it, I ROCKED it.  The kids ate a meal--not a very nutritious one by any stretch of the imagination, but they ate it, happily.  In public.  And there was no weeping or wailing or gnashing of teeth from them OR me at any point in the experience.  We had a great time together.  And we were able to give Daddy a much needed hour at home to finish a project he'd been working on that he really needed the house to himself to accomplish.

It.  Was.  AWESOME.

Sometimes I have little moments of success in parenting and I think, "I can do this!  I can totally raise 4 kids!" and it's exhilarating.

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