Under the right conditions, the playground at our local Chick-fil-A is paradise. It is indoors. It's clean. It's safe. There is only one way to get in and out. The room is even surrounded by windows which allows you to finish off your waffle fries at your table and still keep an eye on your beloved offspring. Yes, when there are four or five kids, it is about as perfect as perfect can be. I would just bring my computer and work from there as my sons happily played themselves into exhaustion.
But if you add two or three more children to that mix it turns into Lord of the Freaking Flies. In my experience this typically happens on Saturday. During lunch, there might be 15 kids in there at the same time, which turns a pretty spacious playground into a claustrophobic closet.
The stairs and tunnels get clogged. There are about three kids trying to slide down the slide at one time while another kid is climbing up the slide. There are always two kids chasing each other with no regard to what happens to the others. There is a constant high-pitch scream that fluctuates as they climb up, go through the tunnel, slide down, and repeat: AHHHHHHhhhhhhh-ahhhhhhhhhhmmmmmmmmmm-ahhhhhhhHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
The issue isn't the playground itself, it's just the enormous influx of kids which always seems to include a few catalysts of chaos.
One is the boy or boys who have just finished playing a Saturday morning sport. This isn't all kids who play sports, mind you, but there is always a kid in a soccer/basketball/baseball jersey who is insanely hyper and aggressive. It is likely because after his game, he got a juice box and Little Debbie snack which, while delicious, gives a child the prepubescent version of roid rage. They believe that they are unstoppable. This is the kid who eggs another kid into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. You can almost hear the funky 70s cop show music playing in the background as they leap off of stairs and nearly knock over others.
The other catalyst is a group of girls. The odds sound crazy I know, but there are almost always three sisters in a tight age range; about seven to twelve years old. Because they come into the room as a united front, they come in with the idea that they are going to run this town like Kanye, Jay-Z, and Rihanna. And what is any other kid going to do? This trio has the numbers. Kids at this age haven't figured out how to unite together to form a more peaceful society (heck, I'm not sure if we adults have really figured that out). It is every child for themselves. You either join in or you flee for safety in the little cow car up top.
I know what you're thinking: "Surely the parents wouldn't allow this post-apocalyptic playground scenario to play out." But here's the thing: because of those windows, you can sit anywhere in the restaurant and you're technically keeping an eye on the kids. You don't need to go in there. And why would you want to? You can eat peacefully at your table, glance at your kids, and see they are having a pretty good time. Or you can sit in that glass box and experience sheer chaos that makes you question our societal mores.
I was in there this afternoon. I kept waiting for Virgil to walk in and explain to Dante just what circle of the underworld this place was. My main goal was to watch out for our youngest. Liam loves the playground, but he is not yet two and thus gets lost in the shuffle even when his brother is looking out for him. Thankfully, our youngest son is tough like a brick house.
Whenever a kid forced Liam down the slide or climbed over him, I would politely but firmly ask them to watch out for the littlest kids. They briefly would stop and stare at me like they kind of had a sense of what I was talking about; sort of when you catch a sentence of Spanish on Telemundo that has survived in your memory since high school. Then about half a second later, they realize that I'm not mom or dad and charge on.
That's all I would do. Now what did I want to do? "FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, STOP YELLING! AND YOU, STOP PLAYING NINJA! YOU ALMOST KICKED OVER A THREE YEAR OLD GIRL! AND ALL OF YOU: THE STAIRS ARE FOR GOING UP AND THE SLIDE IS FOR GOING DOWN! NO, DON'T TELL ME IT'S OPPOSITE DAY! AND HOW ON EARTH DO YOU KNOW THE LYRICS TO THAT MAROON 5 SONG? YOU ARE FIVE!"
I would never do that. I'm not that person and it sort of oversteps parental boundaries. Also? For all the ways that being in that glass cage makes me want to curl up in the fetal position until Memorial Day, 95% of the kids love it. Sure they are going 200 mph and they might get knocked down, but they, even my boys, are having fun (well, except when Jim said that soccer jersey kid was scaring him; he did have a Nicholson in The Shining vibe going on).
If I yelled like that then I would be the cranky old guy screaming for the crazy kids to cut it out. I don't want to be that guy. So I will simply watch out for their physical and emotional safety and ride out the chaotic storm. And then I will come home and vent blog if need be.