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January 5, 2002 - Saturday
My god!..we are a stereotypical American family. We have two kids and a house in the (distant) suburbs and today we went to McDonalds Playland for lunch with Harry and Jeremy. We were out shopping for the morning, at the warehouse club and the local Home Depot, both places Harry seems to like visiting, and things ran a little late. Since it takes at least 20 minutes to get home and we weren't really done with our errands, McDonalds seemed like a better solution than a hunger-based meltdown from Harry. The novelty of Playland with sure to divert that; but, the tricky part about going somewhere novel for a meal is actually getting Harry to concentrate on the eating part. Fortunately, Harry's been surprisingly accepting lately of our helping him eat and it took limited encouragement to get him to eat almost an entire hamburger patty and some French fries.

Playland itself was more intense than I thought it would be for both Harry and his parents. I had thought Harry would be able to play as he usually does at the neighborhood playground and that we'd be able to just watch casually from the table. That wasn't really the case. I don't know about other McDonalds Playlands, but this was a four or five-story system of tubes for climbing and sliding that were, for the most part, opaque. A sign suggested the whole thing was designed for children over three years old. Indeed, I could easily picture Harry going in and getting effectively lost, not knowing how to get out, crying or maybe screaming for our help, and our not being able to reach him without making quite a scene crawling into this apparatus made for people under four feet tall.

Of course, we had been talking it up with Harry as a very special place for lunch as we were going in and it could have been a big disappointment. Fortunately, in addition to the main gym, there was a tiny side area for very small kids with a short slide and a little house area with a steering wheel on one wall. It didn't seem enough to keep Harry's interest, but it did for the entire time his mother was ordering the food. He even went there again after we finished eating. In fact, it was I who eventually encouraged Harry to go in the main contraption. I did so eyeing a roughly 4x8 foot "room" off the main entrance to the system of tubes. The room was separated by two large cylindrical, vertical pads that kids could squeeze through and I thought that would be fun for Harry. It was wide open to view, so I wouldn't have to worry about losing my child. And, it worked like a charm. Harry was thrilled and bounced around in there for several minutes while other kids can and went. He never showed much interest in entering the main tube that would take him out of our sight and up into the unknown. When he did move in that direction, he seemed apprehensive enough for me not to worry.

But, eventually he got the nerve up to go in. Maybe he knew we were getting ready to leave, or maybe it was a minor rush of bigger kids going past him, but he entered the tubes and do not back. Since we could not see inside, we had really little idea how far he had gotten until we catch a glance of him up near the top. All we could do it wait and hope he didn't lose his confidence. There were two tube slides in the Playland structure that both emptied out into the main room where we were waiting, but I didn't think Harry would go down the slides by himself. I'm pretty certain he's been apprehensive about slides, tube slides anyway since his leg was hurt at our local playground in one.

So, I waited. Then Harry's mother, having readied Jeremy to go, came to see and we both waited with thoughts of trouble and anxiety. It had to be five minutes before Harry made his way back down to the entrance with a big smile and I'm sure each of us ran through several possible scenarios before then. Unfortunately, at the very moment Harry appeared we were both standing back to try to see up near the top. I didn't particularly want to run over to Harry, lest he think it was a game and run inside again, so before we could grab him he was back in the tubes heading upward anyway. For him to return to the entrance again may have taken just as long, but it seemed a lot shorter. He'd done it once and was apparently ready for more so things couldn't have been that traumatic for Harry.

When I caught another glimpse of him through a window he was coming down again so I positioned myself out of sight of the tube and grabbed him as soon as I could reach him. As we left the restaurant and headed for the car, I started asking Harry if he thought it was the super-duper playground I said it would be, thinking he'd certainly agree. I'm pretty sure he liked it, but more for it's intensity than outright fun. Rather than talk about how much fun he had, Harry started to express his apprehensions about being inside the tubes. His words weren't very clear. He said he "cried a little bit." But, I don't think that's really true. More likely, he felt a little intimidated by a few larger kids moving by him in the tubes and probably a little uncertain about being in a strange place by himself. I think he was a little scared. Naturally, the Playland was a major topic at bedtime and he seemed to concur with the idea that he was "a little bit scared" rather than that he actually cried tears. He seemed to be talking about it as if it had been a fairly positive experience and that's the main thing. Sometimes it's good to be a little bit scared doing something new.

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