It is 1993. My son Trevor is two and I am nine months pregnant, and we go to McDonalds for lunch. It is a sunny, warm day, so we sit outside by the jungle gym, and after he eats his Chicken Nuggets, Trevor crawls inside The Balls.
He plays for nearly twenty minutes, mesmerized by the thousands of blue, red, orange and yellow plastic spheres the size of softballs. But when I tell him it’s time to go, Trevor refuses to budge.
I try to be tough.
“Trevor, get out. Now.”
“Time-out if you don’t get out this instant,” I threaten.
I look around. Three moms are enjoying their Quarter Pounders and Fries with their toddlers, grins on their faces, trying not to stare at me but obviously entertained by this fight between a very pregnant mother and her very stubborn two year old.
My mothering skills are now on display. I need to show
those women my kid who’s in control.
I take a deep breath and climb onto the tiny platform under the circular orange opening. My belly makes it impossible to kneel down, so I crouch through the opening, obviously designed for small children— not hefty women. I jump into the pool of plastic, and close my eyes as the colorful spheres fly everywhere and hit me on impact. I land with a plop on my back and lay there, spread-eagle for a few seconds, to catch my breath. I gained 45 pounds during this pregnancy, and my huge belly sticks out like a volcano in a colorful sea of plastic.
Trevor moves away from me to the other side of the pen. I struggle to get up and make my way through the never-ending wave of balls to go after him.
I must look like a fool. Oh well, I always wondered what it’d be like to play in the McDonald’s balls, and here I am. Times sure have changed. We didn’t even have Happy Meals when I was a kid.
The resistance of the plastic makes going forward a challenge. I swing my arms back and forth to get some momentum. Trevor scrambles the other way. But my high school track experience comes in handy, and I gain on him, corner him, and grab him by the shoulders. He kicks and flails his arms and yells in protest. But I am strong. I put my right arm around his waist and lift the boy into a football hold and storm back to the circular exit like an NFL fullback. I push Trevor through the hole, and he lands on the ground with a thud. Then I use my arms to pull myself through and somehow manage to crawl out after him.
When I finally get out and stand up, I smooth out my shirt, which has bunched up to expose my huge belly. I glance at the other moms, hoping they’ve lost interest. But they are all staring at me, just as I feared.
How embarrassing. They saw the whole thing. I look like a whale and my kid is acting out and they must think I’m a horrible mother.
But they do something that completely takes me by surprise.
They put their hands together, and clap.
Tears come to my eyes. I am really embarrassed now, because all eyes are on me. But it is a satisfying feeling, knowing I did what it took to handle my boy, and these young mothers can relate.
I smile back at the women, and bend over in a slight bow. And then I realize Trevor is opening the door to the restaurant. I salute my audience, and stumble after my toddler.
I’ll show that kid who’s in control. He’s in for an extra- long time-out, that boy!
And when we arrive home, I break the timeout rule of one minute per year, and set the timer for three long minutes. Trevor sits in his corner patiently. And after that, he never stays in the McDonald’s Balls for too long, again.