Someone somewhere is enjoying a Happy Meal, and somebody else is sucking it up

Instead of saying hello when I walk in the door, Rachel likes to greet me with statements like, “I’m pretty sure there’s asbestos in our attic,” or “It smells like gas in here.” (Okay, she’s never actually said that she’s sure there’s asbestos in the attic, but rest assured, now that I’ve written that, she’ll be thinking, “Asbestos ... in the attic ... Alert. ALERT!”) It’s a charming quirk, her refusal to embrace conventional forms of salutation, but I’ve learned to love it.

So I should not have been surprised when, one day last week, as I walked in the door, she announced to me, “Rowan wants to buy a Happy Meal.”

She said this to me with the gravity with which other parents might have said, “Rowan wants a tattoo.”

Rachel and I have read Fast Food Nation. We’re committed to not eating at the Golden Arches or any of its cousins. We make pizza from scratch, sneak beet greens from the garden into meatballs made from local, organically raised cows. We’re turning the front yard into an earnest little organic vegetable garden.

And yet, our kids are no stranger to McDonald’s. They’ve been to the Golden Arches for birthday parties. Their grandfather has taken them on occasion. (On Passover, no less. Twice.) Their babysitter takes them there frequently to play in the PlayPlace. And, frankly, I’ve been known to end up there myself — on a dark, frigid Sunday afternoon in the middle of winter in a sleepy northern Ontario town, sometimes it is necessary to take children to a free, indoor park to blow off steam for couple of hours. They bounce around on the slides while I write or read a magazine. And we all leave happy, if somewhat sullied.

What our kids are mostly strangers to is the actual food at McDonald’s. When they go with their babysitter, they bring their own lunches, and when I take them, we don’t eat or I assuage my guilt by bringing our own bottles of water and snacks. Occasionally, I will acquiesce to letting them get a muffin or some milk, but even that makes me itchy. The not eating thing was made easier by the fact that, until very recently, Rowan didn’t like chicken fingers or french fries.

But then he saw the movie How to Train Your Dragon, and then he put two and two together and obliged the marketing powers that be by realizing that the toy from the movie was in that meal from McDonald’s! And suddenly, his desire for a Happy Meal burned with the intensity of a thousand splendid suns.

Which left me and Rachel in a moral quandary. We finally decided that he could have his Happy Meal — provided he used his own money to buy it. I’m not sure that Rowan’s ancestors, upon fleeing ancient Egypt all those millennia ago, imagined that one day a five-year-old would use his afikoman money to purchase a very traif fast-food meal.

And yet, there are many things about my life but I’m sure my ancestors did not imagine, either.

“Do you even like the food in a Happy Meal?” I asked him. “Will you even eat it?”

“Oh, yes!” he said, and then launched into a soliloquy of such praise for the food that I briefly considered getting him an agent: “I love it! I love the chicken fingers and I love the french fries and I love the ketchup that you dip the chicken fingers and the french fries in and I love the drink and I love the apple slices and I will get the apple slices so that you’re not worried that I’m not eating healthy food and I will eat it all. Mom.”

“And you know that it’s only a very sometimes food?”

“Yes, Mom,” he said. “I know.”

And so he (and his brother) went to McDonald’s with their babysitter and their own money and bought — and ate — two Happy Meals and got two plastic dragons with removable wings and eyes that light up when you press a button.

And they were happy.

And I will deal.

But I’m never going to learn to love it.