Thursday, February 21, 2013

The PlayPlace Is the Place to Play

One of my fears in life is that someday I'll end up the subject of a headline like this:

Fat Man Gets Stuck In McDonald's PlayPlace


Lumbering Oaf Collapses McDonald's PlayPlace, Seven Injured


Missing Man Found After Five Days of Wandering In Tubes at McDonald's PlayPlace

Back in my day, there weren't playgrounds at fast food restaurants. Our biggest thrill would be to get to sit at the table with the two swivel chairs. (We would shout, "Oooo, look! Twisty chairs! That's swell!") (We said things like "that's swell" and "neato" back then. It was a long, long time ago.)

The kids really like to go to McDonald's. There are three reasons for this:

1. The food.
2. The Happy Meal toy.
3. The PlayPlace.

Of course, that's not the order in which the kids like McDonald's. That goes something like this:

1. The PlayPlace.
2. The PlayPlace.
3. The PlayPlace.
4. The PlayPlace.
5. The PlayPlace.
6. The PlayPlace.
7. The Happy Meal toy.
8-15. PlayPlace or Happy Meal toy.
16. Ronald McDonald.
17. Grimace.
18. Hamburglar.
19. The food.

Not every McDonald's has a PlayPlace. Believe me, we have scouted out all of the McDonald's in the tri-state* area, and we know which ones have PlayPlaces and which ones don't. Unfortunately for us, the McDonald's closest to us does NOT have a PlayPlace, so we don't go there very often. (It's usually worth the extra ten miles for our sanity.) [*What exactly is the "tri-state area?" I don't know. You have my permission to pick any of your three favorite states.]

We are mean and make our kids eat all (or most) of their food before they get the Happy Meal toy and/or go to the PlayPlace. It used to be that, with two kids meals involved, I could poach three or four McNuggets and several fries for myself. But, as the kids get older, they are leaving less and less for the old man to snatch. (Roni used to take one bite out of each McNugget in an attempt to keep me from snagging them.) (Like bite marks have ever stopped me from eating something.)

Once they've eaten enough to earn their freedom, it's time to take off their shoes and attack the PlayPlace. The shoes come off the feet and go into the "Sneaker Keeper." The "Sneaker Keeper" is a wonderful place, where kids put their shoes while they go to play, and where parents can go "shopping" for new shoes for their kids if they so choose. ("Sneaker Keeper" is also a registered trademark. I am not making this up.) One pair of shoes fits in each cubby of the "Sneaker Keeper." If two shoes don't fit into one cubby, you are probably too big to play at the PlayPlace.

That brings me to the list of rules for the PlayPlace. The old adage is that "rules are meant to be broken." No place is this more true than at the PlayPlace. The list of rules includes things like this:

*Children must be supervised by an adult at all times--Not likely. At any given PlayPlace there are probably at least three children who were dropped off there last Tuesday.

*Equipment is designed for children ages 4-12. There is a small children area designed for children ages 2-4.--I guess I'm guilty here. I let my 2-year-old go into the bigger kid area. Often that's because 5'10", 267 pound 13-year-olds are plodding their way through the little kid area. (More than once I've been tempted to throw my weight around at a too-big kid endangering the tiny ones in the little kid area, but I'm afraid of the assault charge and the headlines that might accompany it: "Grown Man Arrested for Beating Up 10-Year Old at McDonald's PlayPlace.")

*Please remove shoes and place in the Sneaker Keeper. Socks must be worn at all times.--Go to any PlayPlace and you'll find just about every possible permutation: Kids wearing shoes. Kids wearing just socks. Kids wearing no shoes or no socks. Kids with one shoe on and one sock on. Kids with one bare foot and one in a shoe. Kids with both feet in Chicken McNugget boxes. Anything is possible.

*Slide one at a time in a forward, seated position, feet first. Please no climbing on or up the slides.--Apparently the people who wrote up these rules have never actually seen kids play on slides before. Either that or they think this will be the only slide in the world that no kid will climb up, or go down head first or on their belly.

*No climbing or standing on the outside of the play equipment.--There is always at least one member of the Future Rock Climbers of America who feels the need to show off his climbing prowess on the outside of the equipment.

*Please no running.--Because kids at play time are well known for strolling slowly and being thoughtful and patient.

*Please no food, gum, or drinks on the play equipment.--This is a fast food establishment. French fries are known to multiply. They appear at various odd places in the PlayPlace, just like they randomly appear at the bottom of your drive-thru take-out bag. And that's not even mentioning the half-eaten burgers, ketchup (in both stain and packet form), and sticky lakes of spilled soda.

*Please do not bring any toys into the play area.--Most of these kids just opened their Happy Meal toy. So yes, they will be carrying the toy with them wherever they go (at least for the next 35 minutes or so, when they realize the toy is lame.) (And speaking of Happy Meal toys, am I the only one who always has to look at the directions in order to be able to snap the stupid little toys together? And look again to figure what the toy is supposed to do?)

So, the rules are more like "suggestions" that rarely get followed. Kids will do whatever they want.

It seems like, as the years go by, the PlayPlaces get more and more advanced. More slides. More tubes and pods and portals. They're almost to the point of being as complex as the labyrinth that housed the Minotaur. I'm afraid of ever having to go in there after my kids, because, besides worrying about getting stuck or breaking the tubes because I'm too heavy, I also worry about finding my way out. (Maybe if I leave a trail of Fish McBites behind me I can see where I have been, because I wouldn't have to worry about anyone eating them.) (Fish McBites? Really?)

When I'm with the kids at a PlayPlace, I always try to maintain contact with them, talking with them and such. I do this for two reasons: 1) So I can see where they are at all times so I don't lose them in the maze. And B) So I don't seem like some random creepy guy hanging out by the PlayPlace.

And sometimes, when I'm watching the kids in the PlayPlace, I'll sit in a swivel chair. (Because those twisty chairs are neato!)

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