Lord of the Fries: Our Afternoon Adventure at the McDonald’s Indoor Playhouse

You know that scene in Lord of the Rings when the Fellowship is being formed at Elf Central and they are discussing how to destroy the ring and Boromir says with his hand on his forehead like he’s talking to morons, “One does not simply walk into Mordor and destroy the ring.” ? I felt a little like Boromir yesterday as our family was getting rounded up to make a shopping trip in Tulsa and was informed that Husband and older son, Will, had made plans for us all to go to McDonald’s to play on their indoor playground.  My first reaction was “Um, no, Joel will have a huge meltdown when we leave and it will be a huge disaster.”  When you have a child with Autism and sensory issues, one does not “just go” to McDonalds for a little recreational playtime.

I thought we were decided on the issue, but as our trip progressed I could see that Husband didn’t quite want to give up on the idea.  After all, Joel would have a great time while he was playing and he isn’t overwhelmed by strangers or loud sounds.  It is also a recommended therapy for proprioceptive input.  The only thing we had to worry about was an exit strategy.  So, I said, “What the hell?  Let’s give it a try.”

We finished our shopping trip and located a McDonalds that also had an indoor playground.  Before exiting the car, we took a moment to find some mental clarity and worked out a plan.  James would go to the line and order us some french fries and ice cream while Maya, Will and I would go straight to the playground area.  Maya and I changed Joel’s pull-up in the family bathroom, washed his hands, removed his shoes and set him free to roam.  He took to that thing like a pro.  He climbed and slid down the slide and had a blast.  The other children ran around him and he barely paid them any mind.  He just did his thing.

Will, on the other hand, struck up a bit of friendship with a few vey rowdy boys his own age, whose parents/guardians seemed to be nowhere in sight.  It turned into a bit of a Lord of the Flies scenario and at one point, I could have sworn I heard someone shout, “Kill the pig!” but that was probably just my sometimes-overactive imagination at work.  Will was quite the protective brother and at one point, Husband and I overheard this exchange between him and one of the other boys:

Will: Hey, be careful of my little brother.  He is Autistic.

Other Boy: Yeah,my little brother is a little like that, too.

Husband and I got a little smile out of that.  Meanwhile, Joel came out on a couple of occassions to inspect the world “outside”.  He did try to get a little friendly with another family who was eating.  I pulled him away before he could grab anything and apologized.  The mom just smiled and said it wasn’t a problem.  I brought him back to our table and he sat down with James and ate some french fries and watched a video on his IPad.  We decided that that was probably a good time to try leaving the playground and we geared ourselves up for a meltdown.

James picked Joel up and carried him out the door to the car.  Maya and I gathered up our things and Joel’s shoes and we met up with Husband at the car.  Joel not only got into the car seat without a hitch, he even helped James buckle him up and gave him a kiss before James closed the door and got into the driver’s seat.  We completely avoided a meltdown…

…until we got home.  We pulled into the driveway of our house, Joel realized we were home and our trip was over and he began to cry.  His crying became a meltdown.

Once inside, James and I tried using weighted items to calm him.  That didn’t work.  We ran him a bath and he slowly started to calm down.  Then, Husband had the most brilliant idea yet.  He pulled out a can of cheap shaving cream and sprayed some on the shower wall.  Joel immediately stopped crying and was fascinated.  He squooshed it in his hands and had a blast.  James squeezed some directly onto Joel’s palm and Joel made it float on the water.  After that, the meltdown was over.

So, I’ve come away from this with a little perspective.  Sometimes, you have to take chances no matter what the expected outcome may be.  You just may be very pleasantly surprised.  I’m expecting we will be making this a regular-ish activity for our family, especially while the temperatures are as extreme as they are now.  (Temperatures in the 100’s here in our neck of the plains!)  I will also work on trusting others when they have an idea that I may think is crazy.  And, last but not least, I will be making sure we are fully stocked up on cheap shaving cream!