I’m lovin’ it! Isn’t that their slogan? On this hot spring afternoon in South Carolina, I was in fact, not loving it. Actually, I wasn’t minding it until my two-year-old son got stuck in the steamy, twisty, yellow and red slide at McDonald’s. Up until that point, he’d been allowed to play at the Chick-Fil-A playland, but that slide wasn’t nearly as loopy, as high up, or outside. With my parents by my side, one of us holding my 15-month-old, we let Luke climb up into the kid-friendly tube. There were a few other kids there, having a jolly good time and after all, Luke had had his eye on this since we arrived—holding true to his promise by eating plenty of chicken and french fries.
It never occurred to me that trouble could befall a child in such a wonderland. As I’m chatting with my folks, I hear what sounds like Carol Ann from Poltergeist summoning me from the TV. Help me. Mommy, where are you? I’m afraid of the light, mommy. I realize it is my little boy, somewhere at the top of the maze. I can’t see him, though I shout out to him.
“Mommy’s right here, baby, just slide down! I’m right here.” I’m starting to panic. I tell my parents to stand by the slide to catch him, should he slide down.
I was going in! It’s just a slide. Or is it? Is it a fire pit of tight twists and turns that drives claustrophobia into any adult who dares enter this little kiddie world? I’m pretty petite, and I often think I’m still 16…or at least in my 16-year-old body at age 34. I’m not! I slither up two turns and the heat is enveloping me. All I can hear are the echoing cries of my first-born. I want to cry. I can’t breathe. I can’t go up further. Someone help me, I thought. I may have a panic attack. I think of those moms who fight off intruders, who jump in front of a train, who hold their bare hands to their child’s gushing wounds just to save their baby. And I can’t climb the fuck up a McDonald’s slide? What’s wrong with me? Disappointed in myself and scared for my son, I wiggle out of the entrance of the fun zone.
Defeated. I look at my parents, has he not come down? I don’t know what to do. My heart is racing. Should I grab an employee, clearly trained like a medic, to scale the mountainous slide to save my son? Should I try again and climb through the kiddie tunnels of hell? All I could think about was my son’s fear. Could he even see us? Did he think he was trapped for life? That he’d never again see his loving mommy and daddy? Before the tears start to gush out, the sweetest most giving little seven-year-old girl comes down the slide, almost skillfully pulling my son by his ankle behind her. I run to him, grab him like he’d just been saved from a well like Baby Jessica.
I hug him so tight. He is crying. I’m crying. “Mommy is always right here, baby. Always!”
Once the emotions settled and we were safe in our car, him snacking on the rest of his fries, I explained to him that he has to be brave in situations like this and slide down or climb back down (hmmm, nice advice coming from the mom who couldn’t hack it herself!)
Oh, the guilt we moms find ourselves carrying. When you find yourself thinking I should’ve… or I wish I’d… just remember…you’re human, too, and don’t be so hard on yourself for everything. After all, this will be a funny story when he’s 16, right?