I made the mistake of counting. Five times. Five times a week, my kids get fast food. We always go to the same chain, which features kale salads and fruit cups and grilled nuggets. But the fries. Oh, the fries. The kids always want to snarf the fries, and I can’t blame them, because I throw down a size large myself. They drink sweet tea, in the South, with all the sugar that invokes. All I can say for myself is that they don’t get dessert, because they’re allergic to gluten and can’t have an ice cream cone.
Yeah, it’s a lot. But I have my reasons. I don’t cook beyond microwaving and scrambling eggs. I could dish up a nutritious meal, if I knew how, so fruit salad and fries it is. At least then I’m not nuking nuggets or doling out sandwiches of suspicious meat products, the kind whose provence you don’t want to request. Even the Animaniacs say you should never ask what hot dogs are made of, and that happens to be another skillet-dish I can manage. If we’re staying home, I shoot for PB&J and some sort of fruit, canned or cut or otherwise.
But usually we’re not staying home, because I’m in a hurry. On Mondays, before their homeschool PE class, I often run out of time, between, you know, actual homeschooling, and dressing myself, and dressing three children, at least one of whom prefers to be naked. And dammit, sometimes I just have to have a shower, for myself if not the good of humanity. Soon we’re out of time, and the fast food place it is. I feel the spirit of a thousand sisters here—I might be rushing to homeschool PE, but they’re running to soccer or dance. They need to nourish their kids before the big swim meet or the recital or karate. They don’t have time to feed them. Neither do I. No guilt from this mama.
If we’re really late, we run through the drive-thru and snarf fruit cups and fries and tea somewhere between the restaurant and the gym parking lot. The kids are pretty decent at downing a good meal in 10 minutes, much like every other kid in America. Some moms might feel shame about this. I think my kids, and the other ones shoveling down french fries in car seats, are American culinary wizards. No mama guilt here either.
After class, we always return to That Fast-Food Place because it’s a good place to meet a friend. At that hour, the restaurant is deserted. We can snag a table next to the play place. I get the kids a snack: fries, shared fruit cups. I get myself a snack: fries, a kale salad. They eat as fast as they can possibly manage so they can rocket into the plastic-tube-filled, rubber-floored kid jungle. Even the 2 ½-year-old goes. This gives my friend and I blessed kid-free time—as much as an hour. That’s why so many moms groups meet at fast food places. We can say the word “fuck.” We can talk about things salacious. Mostly, we can renew our friendships without kids tugging on our hems. It’s a precious gift.
On another day, my kids have music lessons. Both of them have ADD, with a touch of hyperactivity, and concentrate much better after they’ve run off some of their energy. The play place is the perfect venue for that. I can feed the kids lunch—nuggets, split, a small fry each, split fruit cups—which saves me time at home. I can eat lunch myself (two kale salads and some fries). And then I can loose my three sons on the climbing, racing, sliding paradise that is the play place. I let them run for an hour while I sip tea and play on my phone. Then it’s off to their lessons, where they concentrate better, sit more still, and generally behave better.
They eat in the car on other occasions. Often, I need a damn tea. I need it like I need a needle in the vein, and I need it now. When I cruise into the drive-thru line (wrapped around the building), the orders start. “Ma-ma, I’m hun-gry,” they whine. Doesn’t matter if they ate 10 minutes ago. Doesn’t matter if I made my best PB&J effort. They want lemonades, which are basically real lemons and sugar, so no better than tea. They want fries. I try to push the fruit cup, but it’s not happening. They demand snacks, and since I can’t say no to a hungry child, I cave.
Then, they get breakfast. We go to a local place, and it always starts out simple: I just need a tea. But by the time I get to the window, despite having just roasted 12 pieces of toast, I’m ordering hash browns and eggs and sides of bacon. I know I’m not the only mom snagging the Most Important Meal of the Day via drive-thru.
Yeah, when I add it all up, my kids eat a lot of industrial-fried potatoes. They drink a lot of sugary drinks. But it makes our lives run much more smoothly. My husband comes home every night and cooks attractive, nutritious meals, which the boys eat. So they do get their colors and their greens and their meat. During the day, Mama gets her convenience. We couldn’t function without it. And I know I’m not alone.