Parenting, McDonald's, and shame.

I love McDonald's. I have since I was 18 (before this I was in a Burger King family) when I traveled in a musical group with my friend Joel, who had just finished a many-year stint as a career climber in the McDonald's Corporation. We'd go to a McDonald's restaurant and I'd learn the inside story on the "7 steps of customer service," "suggestive selling," and other deep dark secrets beneath the arches. But I also love free refills on Super Size Iced Tea, cheeseburgers with ketchup only, and of course the french fries.

When Dawn and I had our son Paavo we did a good job sheltering him from TV, child marketing, and fast food. He didn't go to McDonald's until he was almost 3 years old, and even then, we almost never exposed him. Eventually he caught on to the marketing, and became very interested. As a stay home parent of a preschooler in a cold, snowy climate, I discovered the joy of an indoor McDonald's playland. Paavo could climb and explore the colorful tunnels while I sat comfortably in a booth nursing my caffeine and reading The Onion. Everybody wins.

Now that we have a second child, our daughter Svea, it's a bit disturbing to see the effects of this exposure upon her. As a younger sibling, her eyes have been opened to the extravagant wildness of McDonalds at a much younger age. Way before she was 2 (her birthday was yesterday, by the way) she would see the Golden Arches passing by outside the car window and she'd yell "AH-NALD" (for "Ronald," of course). Her brainwashing has begun.

I still love the Playlands (Twin Cites secret: the best McD's playland is in St. Louis Park at the location just to the West of Highway 100....don't bother with Nicollet and 494 'cause it's always gross and dirty) and the parenting respite they offer, but I must say I'm getting annoyed with Ronald's effect on my kids.

Today we drove from Minneapolis to Upper Michigan, a seven hour journey. Me alone, with the two kids. I stopped in Wausau, WI at McDonald's for lunch (Clean spacious restaurant, but no playland! Baah!) Svea was yelling AH-NALD the entire time. I get Svea the apples (fear not, I always bring other food for her), Paavo gets a Happy Meal, and I get a Number 2, religiously. Here's what bugs me: Paavo only cares about the toy. He east about 2 bites of the burger, shares the fries with Svea, drinks his milk (thankfully), but I usually end up throwing most of the food away. He's totally only into it for the Hotwheels Car (or Batman toy, or Star Wars toy, which were much much cooler). So I get kinda miffed that we come there to eat, but the kids don't really care to eat. Maybe I should just take them to Toys R Us instead and eliminate the step of throwing away the food.

All this is yet one more reason I struggle with shame for going to McDonald's. Yes, I've read the book Fast Food Nation. Yes, I've seen the movie Super Size Me. Yes, I know unhealthy my favorite order really is. I think many of us Americans are filled with shame about our McDonald's patronage. I witness it constantly with other parents. It's like this:

+ you catch a ride in a friend's car and there's a McDonald's bag or cup in the front seat. The person says "Uh, I never go to McDonald's but, uh, I had to the other day 'cause it was my only option"
+ you go to the home of someone with small children and you see a McDonald's Happy Meal toy: the parent says "I know I'm a horrible parent, I took my child to McDonald's. I really try not to do that!"
+ you hang out with hip, healthy, good looking people. You go out to expensive and healthy restaurants. Everyone talks about how gross McDonald's is. Jonathan stays suspiciously quiet.

Shame shame shame, we're all filled with shame.


Justin Rimbo said…
I go to McDonald's WAY too much lately (shame!), and I give the following excuses:

1. Since becoming a parent, I have less patience to go around, and McDonald's is fast.
2. McDonald's, unlike some other chains like Culver's (which is also good), is relatively cheap.
3. Their food is delicious.
4. Monopoly.

And when I give these reasons, they seem kinda lame, because it's what EVERYBODY says (fast, cheap, good), but it's TRUE! I also blame YOU, sir, for switching me. In high school I was a Burger King supporter, and then, when I read your last blog about McDonald's being better, I got defensive. So I went to Burger King a few times to prove to myself how good it is, and . . . it totally sucked.

Now, my "doctor" should tell you that I "shouldn't eat at" because my "blood pressure" is "pre-hypertensive," but I still predict that I will be eating there a few times later next week . . .
Anonymous said…
Jonathan...hilarious and so spot on! I can't believe how accurate your read is on our household's relationship to McD's. No more! I'm coming out of the closet. Big Mac's are delicious and I am no longer going to be embarrassed to admit it in public. No more hiding the toys when our more evolved friends come over.
Anne said…
I often hear my students tell me that they will be stopping at Mc D's on the way home. Fine, except I tend to hear it every week! Now that I'm a parent and shlepping my kid to classes and appointments, I find myself fighting that urge. Erik likes McD's but doesn't request it. I tell myself it's not that much harder to go home, make the cheese sandwich, give him an apple and milk and he won't know he's missing out on a hamburger. It's annoying that I live less than a mile from the Twin Cities' best Playland - constant temptation.

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