Friday, May 18, 2007

Mystery Solved

For all you moms of small kids out there and all you children at heart who, like me, at an age far beyond that which was posted, like to romp in those playgrounds at fast food places, this one's for you.

It seems that every fast food restaurant these days comes equipped with an indoor playground, complete with windy slide, floor to ceiling tunnels, and step ladders galore. What is noticeably lacking in these playgrounds are the ball pits. You know, the big open pits filled with hundreds of air-filled balls. These were a big hit when I was a kid. Heck, I remember romping in them with my friend Kimo during the weekly after school McDonald's trip as late as 16 years of age. We would gorge ourselves on cokes and fries, then go relax in the ball pit (assuming we were not displacing any little kids, mind you...we might have been immature, but we weren't rude) to wax philosophical on our latest adolescent woes.

You can't do this anymore. And no, I don't mean indulge your childhood fantasies with your 16 year old friend in the ball pit at McDonald's. I mean you can't partake of ball pits at all. They've been done away with. "Why," you ask. Good question. At some point, the CDC or the Health Department or whoever it is that regulates cleanliness in restaurants deemed a giant pit of balls an unsanitary place for children to play when preceded or followed up by food consumption.

I can't imagine why. I mean what does it matter if the wee one takes his or her greasy hands in there and slathers the wall with lard remnants? Or for that matter, what's the harm in a random fry or two sitting at the bottom of a ball pit (which you know they don't empty and soak the balls in a bleach concoction once a week like they should) for an indefinite period of time, only to grow mold and fungus from the warm environment created by 500 air-filled balls and numerous sweaty toddlers pressing down on said fry? And who cares if your toddler uses the restroom, wipes (if that's what you could call it), doesn't wash his or her hands, and then dives open-handed into a sea of soft, cushy balls, palming each one as he/she wades through? Or what about the "lost diaper" that remains undetected for days on end? Big deal. What's a little e.coli between playmates, right?

My point: I can understand why they did away with the ball pits. Even if they were fun. And I've always wondered how sanitary the newer, more user friendly playgrounds are. Admittedly, like most moms, I've been lulled into a false sense of security about the cleanliness of these places, especially in the face of an impatient toddler on the verge of a meltdown if denied the privilege of, "just 5 minutes in the slide." That is, until today.

Yes, Emma has once again made her mark on not only the world, but my impressions of motherhood. She and her grandmother and I went for a nice leisurely lunch at the local Chick-Fil-A this afternoon before a shopping trip for diapers and wipes (aaah...the irony here is killing me). All was well. She was eating well, despite the QUART of strawberries and blueberries that she'd just scarfed down in the car on the way over. And since she's normally a picky eater, I was pleased by her voracious appetite, and encouraged her to eat more. She did. Apparently until the point of being sick....because after lunch, as I had promised when we drove up to the restaurant and she squealed with delight at the sight of the playground, I allowed her to play in the playground...where she got sick...and had diarrhea...all over the slide.

Picture if you will: grandma lovingly watching Nicky make his way to the top of the stair ladder, me chatting delightfully away with another mother, and Emma giggling her way down the slide, trailing a....well, let's just say she was trailing. Then picture: my face....horrified, the other mother also horrified, shouting for her child to come out of the playground immediately with audible panic in her voice, grandma swooping up Nicky as he eagerly tries to chase after his sister grabbing at her...trail, and Emma gleefully sliding to the bottom, covered in...well, covered.

I'll spare you the clean up details and simply reassure you that it WAS cleaned up. But I will say this, if you were ever wary of the cleanliness of those facilities, you have reason to be. I mean, I figure that if it happened to me and my daughter, how many other mothers have encountered this little problem. And I'm sure that most of them were not as tenacious as I about getting up into the slide to clean it all up.

So today, my daughter taught me yet another very important lesson: TWO boxes of antibacterial wipes are what is required to clean up an 8 foot long twist slide covered in the remnants of a quart of berries that have just passed through a toddler's digestive system. Oh. And with enough determination, and an agile back, a 5'6" adult can fit up in one of those slides.

Incidentally, the best part of the experience was parading her to the bathroom, THROUGH the crowded restaurant, reeking of poop, and into a crowd of 50 people gathered in front of the hallway to the bathrooms, waiting to get autographs from a local country music star. Glorious autograph signing for him, I'm sure. And I'm sure all the diners we passed along the way enjoyed the remainder of their meals. Finally, to the lady who snapped a picture just as I walked by with my reeking daughter, you may want to catch the singer again at another signing for a better picture. I'm pretty sure I saw your guest grimace in disgust right as the flash went off.

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