Last Friday morning, as one last Spring Break outing, I decided to take the boys to McDonald's for a snack and time on the playground. Normally our restaurant playground of choice is Chick-Fil-A, but our Chick-Fil-A tends to be super crowded during school breaks plus it's farther from our house, so this time I felt McDonald's was best. We have a really nice McDonald's near our house and they have a huge play area (bigger than CFA's) and the boys can get apple slices and a cookie and lots of times we get the place to ourselves. Win-win-win.
Except this trip to McDonald's wasn't a win-win-win, it was a win-win- LOSE. It was embarrassing. And dramatic. And crazy. And now, (and only now) almost a full week later, pretty hilarious. Etched in my brained forever.
Let me elaborate...
When we arrived around 11:00 am on Friday morning I managed to get apple slices, cookies, 2 small waters, one big boy, one little boy, one baby boy in a carseat, one purse, and myself lugged into the playground area. There were 2 small children exiting as we entered and we had the place to ouselves just as I predicted. We ate our snack and the big boys got to playing. They climbed, they slid, they laughed, they ran, they told me how much fun they were having. And all the while, baby brother slept in his seat. It was perfection. The perfect outing. Fun for the big boys, naptime for the baby boy, and a relaxing time for mama. I could have brought a book. Things were going GREAT.
We were there almost an hour (by ourselves) when I realized the lunch crowd was coming in and I was hungry for lunch myself... aka we should wrap up our time on the McDonald's playground and head home. I told the boys to slide 3 more times and then we'd need to go. As I was telling the boys this 2 or 3 families with kids entered the playground area to have lunch. And one of the families stood out because it included a mom with several kids. She actually had 4 boys and 1 girl with her. And she stood out to me right away because she had 5 kids with her, 4 of them being boys. If I had to guess I'd say she had a boy around 11, a girl around 9, another boy around 7 (he looked older than Garrison), another boy around 3 (he looked older than Austin) and another boy around 1. Wow. I admired her from afar.
My big boys continued to play and I reminded them of their last slide down. Austin had been at the highest point of the playground a few minutes before and needed Garrison's help to get down off a ledge/step because his feet couldn't touch the ledge below the one he was on and he had scraped his belly. (This is important to remember.) Once he slid down he came over and let me check on him and give him a hug but then he was off again to slide down one last time before we had to leave.
In the meantime, Garrison had made his way down and so we waited together for Austin to slide down. Except Austin didn't slide down. We called for him and watched for him. Nothing. So Garrison went up to find him. Turns out he was stuck at the very top. Again. The absolute highest point. I'm not even sure why it's there really because you don't need that ledge to get to the slide. Anyway, Garrison tried to help him down but no cigar. I tried coaching Austin on an easy way to get down with Garrison's help. Again, no cigar. Wasn't working. He wasn't moving.
At that point I figured he just needed a minute or the threat of us leaving him and he'd come on down. I told Garrison to come down without him and to go ahead and get his shoes on. I thought that might make Austin come down too. When that didn't work I thought for sure he'd come down once he saw Garrison with his shoes on and me gathering up our belongings. Nope. He wasn't moving. I tried talking to him in calm, loving tones. I tried being demanding. I tried making threats of leaving him there. Which he decided he was fine with. He decided he'd live at McDonald's before he'd come down off that big, high step he was on.
So then I'm starting to feel a little nervous. No way I wanted to climb up there and get him myself but reality was setting in. And there were witnesses. Ahhh. The worst! I tried one more thing before accepting my fate. I sent Garrison up to try to help him down one more time and when that didn't work I told him to try to physically pull Austin down off the step/ledge. That didn't go so well. Austin panicked and started crying and held on for dear life and Garrison wasn't strong enough to pull him down even though he had him by both feet and was trying with all his might. It was crazy to watch. Sort of funny, sort of scary. I struck out again.
Just before I decided I'd have to leave Layton under the watchful eye of Garrison so I could make the dreaded climb up to the tip top of McDonald's playground, the sweet lady with all the kids offered some help. First she offered to watch Layton while I climbed up. Then she quickly thought of another idea. She offered to send her daughter up to try to help him get down. While I hated the thought of needing help from a stranger with my very own child in a public place (how embarrassing!), I thought it was worth a shot... plus I was quickly running out of options.
The sweet 9ish year old girl climbed up and started talking to Austin and was so sweet and sincere. You could tell she was a big sister. I was so thankful for her gentle spirit.... and her help!
Except Austin still wasn't moving. And he was crying a little and scared and still insisting he was staying at McDonald's.
Insert: OPERATION TIME FOR MAMA TO MAKE THE CLIMB.
So while the sweet girl was still tyring her best to get Austin to come to her and while Austin was still crying and refusing to move, I was climbing up a narrow-not-meant-for-grown-ups plastic, spiral staircase feeling dizzy and claustrophobic. And trying not to get stuck. It was fun.
Finally I reached my destination and wouldn't you know as soon as I laid eyes on my baby I see him cautiously leaning into the arms of the sweet girl and her carefully easing him down. Of course. I then waited around in my cramped position to see if he wanted to slide down or go back down the stairs with me. He chose to slide down with his new friend and life saver while I got out of there as fast as I could. And I'm sure the view of me backing out of a teensy tiny entrance not meant for grown-ups was attractive.
Anyway. I met Austin at the bottom and for some super strange reason he decided he wanted one more trip up for just one more slide down. Ummm, no sir. Not gonna happen. We just had to stage a major intervention getting you down so you will not be going back up.
And then it happened. I grabbed Austin before he could dash back up the playground and told him it was time to go. We had to go home because it was lunch time and we would come back another day. Upon hearing this news he decided to have his first (and worst!) ever public meltdown. It. was. awful. He started crying. Loudly. He went limp. He refused to be consoled. He tried to get away from me. He had to be wrestled and physically restrained to get his shoes on. He tried to take his shoes off. He cried some more. Loudly. In public. Then he just refused to leave McDonald's. He was crying in the floor refusing to leave with me and preparing to camp out at McDonald's forever.
My mind was racing as I surveyed the situation. At one point I picked up Layton's carseat and told Garrison to hold my purse and attempted to drag Austin. Except that didn't work. Austin is heavy, especially when limp and resistant. Layton is heavy, especially when in his carseat. So that was just a bad idea. Guess I was hoping Austin would miraculously decide he preferred his home and family over McDonald's and would just walk out with me no problem. Wishful thinking.
So I tried comforting him and reassuring him and getting through to him. That didn't work either. After that I was done. So tired. So frustrated. So tired of witnesses. SO out of options. No more nice mama. Then I just threatened him with anything I could think of...in whispers of course. Unfortunately by then he was so upset there was no reasoning with him and pretty much all hope was lost. I had no idea what to do. I was on the verge of panicking. I couldn't leave Austin unattended to take Garrison and Layton to the car. I couldn't leave Garrison and Layton unattended to take Austin to the car. But there was no way I could manage getting all 3 of them to the car. For a second I considered calling Terrell. But how ridiculous is that? Hey babe, I'm stuck at McDonald's with our children. Like trapped. We can't leave. It's an emergency and I need you to come rescue me ASAP! I'm telling you my mind was racing. Such a stressful predicament!!
But then God sent an angel my way. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the mom with all the kids get up from her table and talk to her kids and then walk towards me.
She said, I'm going to take him out to the car for you. I'm just going to scoop him up. Will he kick and scream? I can do kicking and screaming if that's okay with you. I was almost speechless. In shock. But then I came to my senses and took her up on her offer. Because what other option did I have?
She picked up Austin, and I think he must've been tired from his massive meltdown because he seemed sort of out of it (but continued with quiet sobs of course), and I grabbed the heavy carseat and Garrison's hand and we walked to the car. With a stranger carrying Austin. It was surreal. Even though it was happening, I couldn't believe it was happening. I kept apologizing and thanking her and saying things like:
Thank you so much! He's never done this. I can't believe he just had a huge meltdown. I have no idea why he wouldn't leave with me. Thank you! I'm so sorry! Please tell your daughter thank you! This is crazy. I just can't believe this happened. I'm so sorry. Thank you for your help!
And then she said things like:
Oh I've been there. We just had a meltdown yesterday at Chick Fil A. It was awesome. Once you have more kids than you do hands, things get tricky. (I have 4 boys and 1 girl.) It happens. Believe me, I know. I understand.
And then we got to the car and she strapped Austin into his seat while I watched in disbelief. It was so strange. I was worn out and embarrassed from all the drama, shocked at the turn of events that had taken place with a sweet stranger, and overcome with gratefulness and relief that God provided a way out. We made it! In one piece! I survived my first (and worst I hope!) public massive meltdown. I thanked her again before she left to go back inside McDonald's and all she said was No problem. From one mama to another. And from that point forward I vowed to rescue and lend a hand to another mama in her time of need one day. She was such a motivator and inspiration to me in that moment.
We drove home in silence. Then Austin fell apart again once we got inside. Then I loved on my baby who was pretty traumatized. Maybe as traumatized as me. Then he got over it. And climbed to the top of huge jumpy slides the very next day. And is ready and willing to return to the playground whenever.
Me? I'm still scarred. But surprisingly able to laugh about it today. Sort of. And I'm inspired. And motivated to help another mama out. And thankful for God's provisions... even in the middle of the McDonald's playground.
Now let's hope this little experience remains the craziest most stressful outing ever.