Like most American children, my children (Satchel, 6, and Jiro, 4) love McDonald’s. What do they love about it exactly? The hamburgers? No. The French fries? No. The chicken nuggets? No.
What could it possibly be…oh, yes, that’s right. The toys.
Every once in a while some kid at school shows up with a toy from McDonald’s that the monkeys want and their demands start in earnest.
I am much better at saying no to McDonald’s than I am at saying no to other things. I say no because I know they only want the toy and that most of their food will be wasted—or worse, eaten by me. I can usually count on them to eat their French fries and drink their milk, but still, there are about a million other things I would rather feed them. (For the record, toys are available for purchase without food.)
But like most American parents, sometimes I need to bribe…er, reward…my children for good behavior.
On a Wednesday night in the not so distant past, Warren had Kendo class and I had a meeting. I took the monkeys with me since the meeting was in a friend’s backyard. I promised them a trip to McDonald’s if they stayed out of trouble.
At 8:30pm we approached the 24 hour McDonald’s on Union. The monkeys were both very excited about the Transformer toys that came with the Happy Meals. I suggested that we get their Happiness to go, but they argued that they wouldn’t truly be Happy unless they were eating inside.
As we walked in to the nearly empty restaurant, I verified that Satchel wanted a hamburger and that Jiro wanted chicken nuggets. “White milk or chocolate?” I asked. (White for Satchel, chocolate for Jiro.)
Inside, I walked to the counter to place their order. They walked to the Transformer display opposite the counter that showed the six different toys that were available. They started pointing at the different figures and saying things like, “I want that one. No, that one. I want that one. Oh, no, that one!” and on and on and on.
“You don’t get to choose,” I reminded them.
The incredibly nice woman working behind the counter smiled, look towards the boys, and called out, “Which ones do you want?”
“Bumblebee!” Jiro said.
“Megatron!” said Satchel.
Wow I thought. What an awesome McDonald’s employee! The monkeys were clearly ecstatic.
The woman quickly found Bumblebee, but Megatron was nowhere to be found. And seriously, she looked everywhere. By this time, I felt awful. “Please, it’s okay, stop…” I pleaded, but she was determined to find the toy.
Eventually, she had to admit defeat and Satchel begrudgingly showed her his second choice, Optimus Prime. I thanked her profusely, and we sat down to eat.
Normally, I would hold the toys hostage until after the meal, but in this case the toys were already in their possession. I tried to be patient as they transformed them and kindly encouraged them to eat their dinner.
“Wow, check this out!” Satchel said as he expertly transformed Optimus Prime from a robot to a car, and then back again.
“Cool,” Jiro cooed as he tried to come to terms with the fact that his first choice, Bumblebee, was kind of lame. Seeing how cool Satchel’s toy was sent him into a rage. “I don’t want Bumblebee!” he said. “I want Starscream!”
That’s when I lost it. “That nice woman let you pick out which one you wanted, now be quiet and eat your dinner!” I yelped.
“NO!” he screamed. “I WANT STARSCREAM!!!”
He was sobbing, inconsolably chanting the phrase “I want Starscream” over and over.
I was mortified. And furious. Who were these children??
“Be quiet or we are going to leave,” I said in my very meanest voice. There was no way I was going to put up with this after the woman had been so accommodating.
“I WANT STARSCREAM!!!” Jiro continued to sob.
“That’s it. Let’s go,” I said as I started packing up our stuff.
Just as I was about to yank Jiro out of his seat, another employee, this time a young man who had been sitting by the window either on his break or waiting for his ride, came over and handed Jiro a Starscream toy.
The crying stopped immediately. “Thank you,” Jiro sniffled.
“Oh, no, you don’t have to do that,” I said to the nice man, but he disappeared just as quickly as he had appeared.
Now, what is a mother to do?
Clearly the McDonald’s employees were going out of their way to make us happy, which I appreciated, but…they were totally undermining my attempt to teach the monkeys a lesson! I didn’t want to take Starscream away and cause an even bigger scene, but I also didn’t want Jiro—and Satchel—to think that screaming and crying is an acceptable or appropriate way to get what you want.
I quietly stewed while they happily played with their toys and ate some of their food. After a few minutes we packed up the remnants, thanked the nice employees again, and left.
In the car, I informed the monkeys (somewhat hysterically) that I had never been more embarrassed in my life and did my best to explain in a way that they could understand why their behavior was so bad. Satchel listened intently and said, "So even though Jiro cried and got the toy he wanted we shouldn't cry to try and get the things we want?" he asked.
"Right," I said.
"Even though it works?" he asked again.
"YES!" I said knowing that once again I was failing as a parent.
Stupid woman. Stupid Happy Meal! Stupid toys!! Stupid all-consuming consumer culture!!! It is so frustrating to just want to do something nice for your kids only to have it blow up in your face.
I have two new mantras: “Going to McDonald’s is not rewarding for anyone” and “Happy Meal is a misnomer.”