Why I Make My Kids Play at the McDonald's Playplace

I make no attempt to defend McDonald’s to its critics. Truth be told, I am a critic. The way they make that weirdly addictive food should be illegal. However, I am a fan of the McDonald’s playplace. Here’s why:

The McDonald’s playground is a microcosm of the world, a place where children from all socioeconomic, religious and racial backgrounds meet. On the McDonald’s playplace my girls encounter black, Hispanic, Indian and Asian kids. They figure out how to play with boys who can’t speak English. They chase girls whose socks match their shoes and whose shoes match their bows. And they chase kids who clearly grew out of their pants months ago. Maybe most importantly, they encounter kids of all moral varieties: mean kids, nice kids, manipulative kids, masterminds, huggers, liars, etc.

Everybody eats at McDonald’s; McDonald’s is a good place to teach my kids about life.

Take this week. A handful of kids were already playing when the girls and I arrived, mostly well-dressed, well-coifed girls about London’s age. As she and Eve approached the playground I could see this wasn’t going to be an easy group in which to jump. Within minutes London was running my way crying.

“They won’t play my game, Mom.”

I suggested London not ask them to abandon their game and join hers. What if she asked to play their game?

She perked up and headed back into the fray.

I watched as she asked politely, smiling, if she could join in, and I watched as her face crumpled like paper at the answer. London stared at the biggest girl, a sassy, hands-on-her-hips boss of a five year old, and said something I couldn’t hear before slinking away and sidling up to me in the booth.

I asked her how it had gone. She sighed.

After a long silence, she looked up at me and said, “Those kids are mean.”

Then, “Mom, I said, ‘I forgive you.’ But they didn’t say sorry. So… [long pause] so, I just forgived them.”

I pulled her up into my lap and hugged her tight until she wiggled out, dashing off to the playground, ready to try again.