I am proudly from the birthplace of the chicken sandwich at its finest. Atlanta, GA, the home of Kris Kross (may he rest in peace), Home Depot, and all of the goodness that is Chick-fil-A. There are very few things that excite my taste buds as much as a spicy chicken sandwich with a freshly-carbonated-from-the-fountain Coke Zero. If you're not from the south and you wonder what the culinary masterpiece is to which I am referring, #1., I pity you, and #2., I say head south. There's nothing like a southern-fried chicken sandwich, and it's worth the drive!
Chick-fil-A is known for going the extra mile, for being a company that is founded and led in integrity, and for creating an atmosphere in their restaurants that focuses on serving the customer and creating an enjoyable experience from start to finish. How many other fast food restaurants deliver your food to your table, walk around and offer refills, and are generally just awesome? Yes, you read that correctly - I did use the words "fast food" and "awesome" in the same sentence. They even have their own corporate language, answering "my pleasure" instead of "you're welcome" when a customer says thank you.
My family frequents Flick-fil-A, as we affectionately call it. They have fabulous play areas for the kids, and we have spent many a rainy morning on the Chick-fil-a playground. There is one experience, though, that stands out from the rest. One fateful evening that is forever etched in the deep recesses of my mind. An experience that left me so emotionally scarred that I felt borderline home-bound for days, fearful of reentry into society. This is the story of the night my children terrorized Chick-fil-a.
It's a Saturday evening sometime in September, 2011. My dear, sweet husband is attending a conference for the weekend, which means that I am single-mothering it with a three-year-old, a two-year-old, and a three-month-old. Every mom out there (except you single moms, who get a special shout-out HERE) knows how it feels to get to Friday, that glorious, heaven-sent Friday, knowing that the weekend is upon you, Daddy will be home to tag team baby duty, and you can get some semblance of rest and recuperation. You also know how it feels to have a disruption in the routine, a weekend when Daddy is away. I am not diminishing the importance of our hubbies getting away every now and then, but neither am I diminishing the stress it puts on us as moms to move from one week into the next without a break.
This particular weekend had been rather crazy in our house. Brandon left for his conference early on Saturday morning while I ran around like a crazy lady, dressing and feeding the kids and packing them up to drop off at my mother's house so that I could go throw a baby shower. It's always fun to start Saturday morning in hose and heels, right?
So, after a crazy, non-stop day, it's now dinner time and I find myself without an ounce of energy in me to prepare a meal for my kids.
No problem, because there's always Chick-fil-a!
How can one go wrong with chicken nuggets and "lemolade?"
I load my kids into the minivan (have I mentioned yet that it's blue, awesome, dented on one side, and missing a hubcap on the other...kind of a representation of the current state of my life), and off we head to devour some fried chicken goodness. We arrive at Chick-fil-a, and I begin the process of unloading all three children, including the baby in his infant carrier, and getting everyone into the restaurant. I order dinner, get everyone situated, and settle in for an easy, yummy dinner.
Insert foreboding, evil laughter here.
Immediately, after one chicken nugget, both of my older children announce that they are no longer hungry and that they want to get down and go play. The same children who were "starving" just moments before, crying and weeping over the three-minute wait for our dinner. This is a universal parenting phenomenon, is it not? At any rate, I allow them to go play because, if for no other reason, I can have a few moments of peace, and honestly, what do I care if they eat cold nuggets later?
While I watch my children play in the glassed-in monkey cage playground, I decide to go ahead and feed my newborn his bottle, and for a few moments all is at rest. The kids play, the baby eats, and I zone out, probably with a small stream of drool dribbling from my mouth as exhaustion sets in.
Then I feel it.
And I smell it.
That unmistakeable smell. Baby poop.
It appears that the baby is so enjoying his bottle that he decides to fill his diaper to make room for more milk in his precious little belly. And fill it he does. His proverbial cup runneth over.
I lift him up to find that he is covered in runny, nasty baby poop, and so is the front of the dress that I am still wearing from the baby shower I hosted earlier in the day. My heart sinks, but I refuse to panic. I look around for the diaper bag, quickly realizing that I left it in the car. Of course I did.
I debate grabbing the kids out of the play area, but that will just add to the chaos, so I ask this random woman sitting next to me if she would mind making sure my children don't escape the restaurant while I run out to the car to get the diaper bag. She says she will, so I grab the baby and run out to the car to get clean-up supplies for this poop situation. I run back into the restaurant and brazenly ask the unassuming woman if she would mind helping me once more, keeping an eye on the children while I run to the bathroom to clean the baby and myself up. She agrees, this time a little more warily, but I hear a "yes" and I take it.
In the restroom I strip the baby down to nothing, wash him off, and diaper him. He has no other clothes, so we have no choice but to go redneck style here - diaper only. I try rinsing the green poop out of my dress, but with little success I give up and head back out to get the big kids and head home.
It's about this time, as I am exiting the restroom and headed back to my table, that the poor, random woman comes walking toward me with my three-year-old daughter in tow. "Um, Ma'am, she says she had an accident."
Me: "What kind of accident?"
Random Lady: "She says she wet her pants."
With one look this becomes painfully apparent as I see her shorts soaked through and still dripping.
This. Is. Not. Happening.
I ask her, "Sweetie, what happened? When did you tinkle in your pants?"
To which she replies, "I couldn't hold it, so I tinkled up at the tippity-top of the playground."
Yes, that would be the same playground that is currently overrun with at least a dozen children on a busy Saturday evening.
About now is when the angel and demon both came out to play. The demon on one shoulder tells me to grab my kids and get the heck outta dodge, leaving before anyone can realize what has happened. The angel tells me that, no, I must do the right thing and report this to the authorities. Darn angel.
I tentatively walk up to the counter where two teenage girls are talking working, and I say as quickly as I can, "I'm so sorry but my daughter just peed in the playground!"
Both girls stop talking and stare at me for a moment, I'm sure processing what I just said. The looks on their faces were priceless, and I wish I could've taken a snapshot to enjoy later. Then girl A turns to girl B and says, "well, I'm sure as -BLEEP- not cleaning it up!"
The other girl looks embarrassed by her coworker's behavior, and tells me not to worry, that they will take care of it. I apologize profusely, and then go to gather my remaining child, my two-year-old son, off of the playground so we can leave.
On the way into the play area, I stop and put the baby back in his carrier, sans clothing, and leave him out on our table. He hates his carrier. He screams.
I enter the playground and call to my son, "Sutton, it's time to come down and go home!"
As I am hollering, in behind me walk two employees, one with a sign she is taping to the door that reads PLAYGROUND CLOSED DUE TO CONTAMINATION.
The other employee shouts out the door to all parents in the area, "parents, please clear your children out of the play place; we must close it due to a child having desecrated the area with her urine."
Okay, she doesn't say that exactly. But she does tell them to get their kids out and that the playground is now closed for the night because my kid has peed up at the "tippity top."
Parents rush in to get their children. A little girl comes down the slide to her mother, and her mother screams in horror, "Oh, honey, you're covered in URINE!"
I felt like telling her to calm down, that at least it's sterile. However, I think that offering that unsolicited advice might earn me some slashed tires, so I use self control.
I continue to call my own son down from the top, and after a moment or two I find that I am the only parent left, the only parent with a child that refuses to obey. He has decided that this is the moment to wage war against his mother. He. Is. Not. Budging.
I start threatening the pain that will soon be inflicted on his rear end if he doesn't choose obedience, a threat at which he laughs. Again I call him down. Again he says no.
My daughter is now crying at my side because her shorts are wet and she's cold. The baby is still crying on the other side of the glass in his infant carrier. People are staring. And a two-year-old is holding me hostage.
So I do what any other fed up mother would do in a dire situation. I get in the car and drive toward California.
I kick off my heels and I start to climb. Up the spiral staircase. Through the tunnel. Up the net. To the very "tipity top" where my son is cowered in the corner, quickly realizing the fate that awaits him. I grab him and hurl us both down the twirly slide which shoots us out onto the ground below. I grab our shoes and march all three of us out to get the neglected baby, who at this point is out-of-control crying while a "new" random lady rocks his infant seat in hopes of calming him down.
Feeling the burn of people's glares, I do that evil-whisper, the I-sound-possessed type thing us moms do, telling my children to get their daggum shoes on and to stop fussing. As I bend down to help my son velcro his shoes, my daughter stands up and picks up her chocolate milk off our table. She turns around and instantly drops it, and as the almost-full bottle of chocolate milk hits the ground, it explodes onto every single table and person in the general vicinity. There are very few ways you can drop a bottle of milk to make it explode up and out like that. She does it right.
Lord, beer me patience.
With all three in tears, and baby carrier in hand, I march back up to the counter, this time beyond caring what they think, to let them know that we now have a "slight" problem near our table, a milk explosion of sorts. The girls just stare at me. I stare back.
My two-year-old decides to tell me at this moment that he feels like he needs ice cream. This coming from the kid who made me scale what felt like Mt. Everest in my church dress. That is a gutsy request if you ask me. And since he does ask me, I answer him. "No." And not only no...
Well, he doesn't like that answer much, so he lies down on the floor in the middle of the line of customers waiting to order and starts pitching the world's loudest and ugliest temper tantrum. He is so out of control that I am unable to deal with him, seeing as how I am carrying an infant carrier in one hand and dragging my blubbering three-year-old with the other. So I decide to join in, and I start to cry, too. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right?
At that moment, the Lord intervenes and an angel disguised as a Chick-fil-A employee has compassion for me. He comes around the counter and scoops up my son, offering to carry him to the car for me. I smile at him through my tears and together we somehow get everyone safely to the car and physically restrained.
I climb into the driver's seat with poop still smeared on the front of me, a cold, crying daughter behind me, and a two-year-old still asking for ice cream next to her. The baby has conked out at this point, too traumatized to stay away I'm sure.
It takes everything in me not to curl up in fetal position and start the shut-down sequence. I pull out and start the drive back home, listening to a chorus of "I'm hungry's" and "I'm cold's," thinking, "well, golly gee whiz, I'm just dandy right now, so thanks for sharing."
I pull into the driveway to find my husband's car parked there. He is home. Oh, boy, is he gonna be sorry that he's home. I march the kids to the front door, ring the doorbell, and as he answers I shove our precious angels at him, announcing that he's "on." I dare him to contradict me as I stare him down. He sees the pure fury in my eyes and doesn't say a word; he simply takes the children, ushers them to the bathtub, and knows well enough to steer them clear of me for the remainder of the century night.
Later that night, after I have had a few glasses of...I mean, a few hours to cool down, he sits down across from me.
"What happened?" he asked.
"You don't want to know," I reply.
"Yes, I really do," says my superhero husband.
After unloading the ugly details on him (while he tries to hold in his laughter), I sigh and say, "I just wish we had normal children. Not the kind of children that act out. Not the kind of children that speak their minds. Not stubborn-as-mules kids. No, the kind of children that are seen and not heard, that are EASY."
In that very moment, I hear the Holy Spirit speak to the innermost parts of me.
"No, you don't."
And He is (mostly) right.
You see, if I am honest with myself, I don't want robotic children who make parenting super-easy while at the same time sucking the joy out of the very life we are trying to build.
I don't want quiet, subservient children that are seen and not heard, that are afraid to be themselves and to stand apart from the crowd.
I don't want to raise human beings with no fight in them, who aren't willing to dig in their heels for something they really believe in and duke it out to the end. I want them to be stubborn for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of truth, and for the sake of what and Who they believe in.
I could have done without the stubbornness at the "tippity top" of the slide from my son, but hey, you win some and lose some, right?
And honestly, even though the experience we had a Chick-fil-a that long-ago evening was horrific (and it really was), looking back I wouldn't trade that amazing, no-one-will-believe-this string of events for anything in this world, because through it the Lord allowed me to realize that I am no different from my kids.
I mess up, and when the you-know-what hits the fan, the first person it usually hits is my Savior. I am really good at allowing my sin, my nastiness, to taint people's perception of who He is. I mess up, it's obvious, and unfortunately I can make Him look pretty bad.
I am also stubborn. He calls me down from a place that I am not supposed to be, and instead of listening and obeying, I dig in my heels and refuse to come down. He is good enough to climb to my rescue, not leaving me there to fend for myself, but in my disobedience I reap consequences that He never desired for me to deal with.
I throw temper tantrums when I don't get ice cream. Okay, maybe not ice cream, but I have been known to pitch a fit when my comforts are not catered to. When I am inconvenienced. When the answer He gives to a prayer is not the answer I wanted. I am as spoiled as my son appeared to be that night at Chick-fil-a.
And yet He made me, and you, this way.
He made us with wills and with dreams and with tempers and with stubborn streaks when he could have made us robotic, unfeeling worshippers. Why did He do this?
Because there's just about nothing worse than a manufactured relationship with the ones you love. What good is it to love another if you don't see them for who they really are, even if it means you're forced to see the worst in them? I believe this is how the Lord feels about us. He wants us to be free to be ourselves as we learn and grown in our walks with Him, and as we learn more and more what it looks like to live and love like Jesus. It's because of the gift of the cross that we have this freedom. No more rules. No more rigidity.
This is the same thing I want for my children. No facade of perfection is going to give us depth in our relationships with one another. Just because it's easy doesn't mean it's worth it. And because I love my children, I need moments like the one at Chick-fil-a.
One of my favorite sections of Scripture supports this argument, and it's found in Galatians 2:
Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.
What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
Lord, may I be identified completely with you, with an ego that is crushed under the weight of your gift of grace. May I learn to live in relationship with you, real relationship, and not hide under the facade of perfection.
And may the same be so for my children.
Lastly, I would like to point out, unrelated to the spiritual content above, that Chick-fil-a has a fascinating rule I'd love to fill you in on! Did you know that if you ever tell any Chick-fil-a corporate employee, store operator, or store manager that you had a less-than-desireable experience in one of their restaurants, they are required to give you coupons for free food? I'm just saying, and helping some sisters out...