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Feeding my Kids at the Happiness

Feeding my Kids at the Happiness

Feeding my kids happiness is one of my highest parenting priorities. Usually that means foods that make me happy. Sometimes it’s theirs. If there was any doubt, let me shuffle-ball-change out of the closet loud and proud: I’m a food snob. I wholeheartedly embrace Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables.

When I was the perfect parent (meaning: before kids), I knew fast food would never touch the lips of my precious snowflakes.

Admittedly, it’s easy to avoid fast food living in New York City. You’re never in a car, the kids haven’t fallen asleep in the back, and all food is fast.

But I understand that fast food drive-thrus are a godsend…in desperate situations…international pandemics, zombie armageddon, and heavy thunderstorms. Oh, and when Daddy flirts with jail time during a road trip due to a desperate yearning for “friesandashake” and considers* leaving the kids asleep in the backseat cuz who’s gonna know and you’ll be really fast and besides the dog’s in there with them.

But we all know (don’t we???) that feeding my kids happiness through fast food contributes to the destruction of now-infertile fields from Fargo to Fresno, the dumbing-down of our collective national gastronomic taste for all things over-salted and over-sweetened, trillions of gallons of fertilizer run-off that’s caused the vast oceanic dead-zone known as the Gulf of Mexico, the inhumane treatment of cattle and fowl (and probably fish), the brain-washing of our youth to crave/demand/consume calories exceeding adult dietary needs, and the lowest-common-denominatorization of “family” time.

Anyway, I read Fast Food Nation. I know that there’s shit in our fast food meat. And by “shit”, we mean literal poop.

I saw Super Size Me. (And after seeing it, I craved McD’s fries.)

Having spewed in-eloquently for 300 words, allow me to expose my personal hypocrisy:

Me lovey some fried goodly-goodness.

Caveat being: never in quotidian life, frequently on road trips, and always at the airport. Because according to the Onion Newspaper in some issue that I KNOW I read 87 years ago and still rings true:

“McDonald’s doesn’t count at the airport.” **

Anyway.

So once upon a time I chose to feed my kids happiness in a suburban McDonald’s with a play place and all the features. (In what felt like a small victory in my masochistic love affair with Ronald McD, they don’t know it’s actual name, they just call it “The Happy Meal place”.)

I have no idea how to reconcile my train of thought in the above tangential/parentheticals, let alone my contradictory love for this scion of global dining degradation. My sodium levels are still elevated after feeding my kids happiness at the happy meal place.

Anyway.

My oldest kid opens the Happy Meal and actually says, “What’s in my Happy Meal? Oooooh! A napkin!”

Seriously. She squealed about a fucking napkin.

And my eyes welled.

My two children were so goddamn happy to be at the “Happy Meal place”. They pulled out five items, all gastronomically inedible, from their special boxes with increasing delight. (That there are no less than five “things” to discover – six including a napkin – is all the more thrilling.) Some of the “things” were food, some were toys, all were comprised of a majority plastic ingredients. (Excepting the twice-referenced napkin…perhaps the healthiest option in the box.)

There I was: SuperDad with two beaming children at America’s most hegemonic export. I felt like Tim McGraw and WalMart and Venti lattes all wrapped up in a big Made-in-China-American-flag; a new face of ‘murrica nestled in a plastic booth of sensory overload.

I took a sip of my 32 liter iced coffee containing 483 calories of god-knows-what, to cover the cry-quiver in my chin. Then I removed the bottom bun of my buttermilk-fried-mystery because removing one of the buns makes me feel a teensy bit less guilty, okay? And I took a pre-orgasmic bite.

It was underwhelming. I should’ve just gone for the Quarter Pounder; but somehow chicken seems minutely less naughty. But let’s face it: life is short.

If you’re going to eat at Transfatty McCancer, just super size that shit and get what you want, not what you think might be “better”.

There is no “better” for you in this shack.

Again: I digress. (It must be the insane amount of caffeine still coursing through my engorged belly.)

Anyway.

Feeding my kids happiness at the happy meal place made them insanely full of joy. I completely forgot about the fact that a mere 20 minutes previous, they’d been whining about who had the matchbox car first, one was kicking the back of my seat, and the other would not stop asking me about which princess was my favorite princess.

Seriously: I wanted to leave both of them at an orphanage at 12:45. But by 12:51, everything was good, again.

All thanks to the happy meal place. (Lower case letters intended.) I didn’t want it to end. Except for the fact that I was composing this post in my head, checking my email and might have scrolled HuffPo twice (cuz a lot could happen during a 12-minute degustation), I was completely in the moment. I didn’t even take pictures to document. I just was.

(Also, my phone had died. So.)

But it was a magical family moment. And in that time, I appreciated McDonald’s for more than just a delectable airport French fry. I loved it for creating something that over-principled foodie snobs can’t appreciate: the delight in breaking bread with children…with delicious bread that can actually kill them.

I didn’t want those 12 (actually, I think it was 9) minutes of familial, convivial, quality time to end.

But then my asshole oldest child just couldn’t get enough. See? Therein lies the problem with this mega-corporation preying on our human addiction to salt and sugar. We just want more, more, more.

Yep, that older child had seen the well-placed pictures of milkshakes and ice cream that exploits illiterate 4 (and 44)-year-olds.

“Daddy? I want ice cream for dessert!”

You hear that? No appreciation for the magic I’d already created. She had yet to take one bite of his shit-filled “cheese” “burger”. Just: more, more, more.

(Disclaimer: I totes wanted a shake; and I kinda wanted to buy my daughter’s love via ice cream. Sadly, I justified these hankerings to myself – per usual – by recalling a completely not-science-based report I read in a 2001 edition of GQ stating that McDonald’s vanilla ice cream is “surprisingly good for you”…which is not the same thing AT ALL as saying it’s actually good for you.)***

(Once again…I’ve lost my own train of thought in the midst of my steroidal use of parentheses. Probably from the crack that they sprinkle on those fries cuz: DAMN!)

Anyway.

My kid demands ice cream.

I responded, “No, buddy, I’m sorry. This is enough treats for today.”

She whined and almost turned on her freakishly over-active water-works.

But then she had a moment of reflection. Perhaps it was the gratitude washing over her as her insides were lubed by peanut oil? Perhaps the musak playing Katy Perry hits reminded her of her first crush: Rosie, the pink train from the Island of Sodor? Whatever it was, she stopped whining. And McD’s climbed an inconceivably higher rung in my estimation.

She looked at me and said, calmly. “Well, Daddy. You said ‘No.’ And that’s mean. And ‘mean’ is what Donald Trump is.”

Wiping away a tear of pride for the political insights my 4yo shared (quite possibly thanks to the modicum of nourishment she received from her Happy Meal apple slices that had been picked, peeled, packaged and preserved but most definitely thanks to the quick discussion we shared in the McD’s parking lot where I saw a Trump bumper sticker on a car at which I scoffed and swore and my son said “What?” and I mumbled to myself “Seriously? In Connecticut? I mean…people are actually supporting that bigoted, inexperienced blow-hard?”), I desperately suppressed the guffaw in my throat, enjoyed another couple of fries, and watched my sons become exponentially uncontrollable as they over-dosed on 10,000 calories of wonderful, delicious crap.

Thank you, McDonald’s. See you, soon when I want to again be feeding my kids happiness.

All too soon.

* I said “considered” not “actually did.” I would “never” do “that”.

** Though I can’t find this in a quick Google search. It must have been a statement on the Onion faux newscast. Clearly, it stuck with me.

*** I can’t cite this because seriously: how could anyone actually cite an article in GQ that justifies eating McDonald’s ice cream? Perhaps their “how to give her a 2-hour orgasm” is citable. Even dating back to 2001. But not some “study” of what you should actually eat, nestled between an ad for the first iPod and a salacious spread of Jennifer Lopez flaunting her rocks, pre-imploring us not to be fooled by them.

Thomas the Train Rage

Thomas the Train Rage

Well that blew.

It was our “Day Out With Thomas”, when a rail-riding, full-size “Thomas the Train” visits sleepy train stations with operable train tracks.

In our case, the Essex, CT, train station attaches some coaches to a locomotive, followed by Thomas, and makes a 20-minute trip to the local dump, and then back to the station.

Last year, our trip was idyllic. Ellison bounced along to the songs during the ride, thrilled at hugging a dressed-up “Sir Topham Hat” and riding a jankety fair rides dotting the parking lot.

This year’s day out started out euphorically. For the entirety of our fifteen minute drive, Ellison chanted, “I want to ride Thomas!” The cuteness drove me crazy.

At the station entrance, he skipped and chanted, “I’m so excited to see Thomas! Hooray!”

I love it when he talks like he’s reading a “Dick and Jane” book.

Colton was equal parts confused and excited.

We cheered Thomas’ arrival from the previous trip to the dump.

As we proceeded toward the boarding area, Ellison noticed a table sponsored by PBS displaying swag and a gift basket of Thomas toys.

Ellison walked up and asked, “Can I have that?”

The PBS woman said, “It’s not for sale, sweetie, but your daddy can register to win it. Would you like a PBS pen, instead?”

“No, thank you,” he politely responded…sneeringly.

I gave my spam email and a fake address to the PBS rep woman.

As we turned to board Thomas, I saw tears streaming down Ellison’s face.
“What’s wrong, buddy?” I ask.

“I wanted the Thomas basket.”

You must be kidding. I didn’t expect to be one of those parents with one of those kids crying during this supposedly idyllic day.

Also, Ellison didn’t usually begin tantrum tears silently. Usually his hands go to his wide-open mouth and his cry is deafening.

I knelt down and said, “Buddy, that basket wasn’t for sale. I’m going to try to win it for you. But now is the exciting part. We’re gonna ride Thomas!”

Ellison whimpered and walked with fogged glasses (which adorably happens every time he cries).

We rode on Thomas for the 20 minutes in each direction to and from the dump. The first five minutes are deafening: kids screaming and parents frantically shouting to smile for pictures. It’s mayhem.

And then the passengers just stare at swamps and the back of dilapidated houses located near the railroad tracks. The return ride is understandably quieter.

Ellison sulked the entire time.

After disembarking from the train, I suggested we visit Sir Topham Hat (some poor sot forced to dress in a stifling plush costume.)

I forgot that meant walking through a massive Thomas pop-up toy store.

Ellison’s head almost exploded as we entered the store. He sprinted frantically around the displays grabbing and pointing. None of this happened last year when he had no concept of acquisition.

Apparently capitalism ruined my son over the last year.

I was suddenly re-living my childhood with my mom. During our summer road trips, my number one destination was gift shops. I’d beg her to buy absolutely anything: toys, books, doilies, figurines, ashtrays. Didn’t matter what. Acquisition was the name of my game. I’d hurry us through museums, memorials and monuments to GET TO THE GIFT STORE. I’d present crap as “educational” to help my case. Usually I came up empty-handed. Mom was no impulse buyer.

Eighty-seven years later, I’m watching my son act like the Tasmanian Devil and asking myself, “What would Mom do?”

When I said “no” to the dual train set of “Iron ‘Arry and Iron Bert”, Ellison’s channeled his inner Claire Danes in her 1990’s tearful glory; hands shot into mouth, glasses fogged.

And Thomas enraged me.

During the next few hours of bartering with Ellison, I looked around: were ANY of the other parents having fun? Was I the only adult infuriated with Thomas? Why have I become so bitter?

And then Ellison peed his pants. Again.

More tears, more internal rage.

Gavin: he’s 3. Give him a break. You need to be better about stopping to make him pee every 30 minutes.

Thomas soured me on any fairs. They’re chock-full of ways to make kids cry.

I should have managed expectations better. Do I say, “You can buy one treat?” I suppose so. But why must I feel obligated to buy something, anyway? Must I check asceticism at the door?

My mom never bought me shit from things like Thomas or county fairs or street fairs or Disneyland. Because of that, I loathed festivals like “Taste of Colorado” or “Lakewood on Parade”. I was a diabetic in a candy store. But I didn’t throw tantrums, cuz I expected nothing. I just wondered why we bothered attending. Mom liked the free concerts. But Julio Iglesias was not interesting to me as a 9-year-old (nor is he now.)

Back to my kids: how on EARTH do you manage DisneyWorld/Land/Hell? Seriously…tell me your secrets.

The day would have been more fun if we’d just gone to a lake and thrown sticks in the water.

Simple pleasures.

We did exactly that later in the afternoon. And it was bliss.

When we sat down for dinner, Ellison was starving and shoveled kale salad and asparagus into his mouth. (I know. Roll your eyes, now.) I asked, “Has it been a good day, Buddy?”

“Yes.”

“What was your favorite part?”

“This,” indicating his empty plate of vegetables.

I surrender.

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