Finding therapy through McDonald’s!

Some families have the memories of trips to the beach or pool to bring them together. Other families have college football games or camping trips.

I grew up in the era of fast food restaurants. …

I know, I know. It’s bad for us. How could I raise my kids on fast food? What was I thinking? How fat are we? … I hear your comments as I write this. We’re not fat. We’re also not wasting away. Any health problems we have can mostly be blamed on lack of exercise after a life spent in front of the TV or a PlayStation. 

 1933811_1254706291573_7454863_n(This is from my brother’s wedding a few years ago, but it’s my favorite!)

When the boys were little, I would take them to the McDonald’s PlayPlace to escape cold, snowy winters up north or hot, rainy summers down south. I remember one particular playground in Vermont where a rambunctious 36-month-old Wil climbed through the tubes and got scared. Pregnant me had to climb through and rescue him. Memories.

Wil had particulars!

Because of his childhood Apraxia, at first, I was the only one who understood what he would say. I was his interpreter in the playground, in the nursery school, at home. I was exhausted. One particular cold, dark, solitary New Year’s Eve because Hubby was working, I had a mini-breakdown no one really knows anything about.

I was a stay-at-home mom dealing with an infant and an autistic son I didn’t know was autistic until he was in middle school. Maybe I was dealing with post-partum depression, too, but I rarely voiced my complaints. I just sucked it up and lived on a schedule – Tuesdays and Thursdays were the days for playdates, and many of those would be at a fast-food play place. 

That’s how I maintained my sanity.

To those who have never had the pleasure of that life, my reality may seem foreign. No matter how much I fought it at first, our home life centered around the needs and opinions of our mildly autistic Wil. Even the baby’s development mirrored Wil’s. In fact, for the first few years of elementary school, Thomas had to attend speech therapy because he was inadvertently mimicking his brother’s speech patterns. Never mind the nightmare of potty training two boys at the same time, even though Wil is almost three years older than his brother.

No one understood my life. I’m sure there were plenty of rolled eyes and “tsk-tsk’s” thrown around behind my back as I pulled a tantruming-Wil from family functions or friend’s houses when we had overstayed our welcome!

As far as meals, at home we were able to talk him into eating foods that were homemade (or at least home-prepared.) Dinner always had three parts to it: a meat, a starch, and a vegetable – when he was little he liked ‘little trees’ (broccoli.) No matter whether I or his father cooked, we usually focused on those basic three. That was my life.

Arguments, autistic meltdowns, butting-heads and impatience ruled at home. Many times, there was rarely any peace.

That’s where McDonald’s comes into my therapy. Really, that’s what it was. My therapy. My escape. Even though he is mildly autistic, Wil always wanted to have friends, he just didn’t know how. On the playground inside a McDonald’s restaurant, children are equal, brought together by their love of nuggets and burgers and fries and running around. Happy Meal toys were things to compare and share.

Birthday parties were easy and enjoyable. Afternoons I wanted to write, they played while I typed away at my laptop.

And when McDonald’s started varying its menu, Thomas began his transition to being different than his brother. He prefers snack wraps or grilled chicken sandwiches now.

Now, again, McDonald’s marks my evolution.

On my road trip this summer, when I longed for home, I always knew I could visit the golden arches. The employees working the drive-thru loved meeting Minnah (my puppy) and sometimes even gave her a treat. I also knew that if my data plan was dangerously close to overloading, I could always count on McDonald’s to provide me needed WiFi access!

Now, again, I look to McDonald’s as I consider embarking on a new road trip with Wil soon – a tour of restaurants around the nation. After all, he’s always wanted an adventure!

Let’s see how he handles living my life, now!


  1. Mariolga, you are a really good writer, who makes the little intricacies of life interesting a la Richard Russo…..keep at it.


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