Life in a Play Place

I don’t know about you, but the play places were always the best part of eating at fast food restaurants. No limp cheeseburger or poorly-designed Kim Possible toy could ever compare to the feeling of sticky plastic under my clean socks. Play places were unequaled. Unparalleled. Unsurpassed. Wriggling through the brightly-colored tunnels, I was Queen of McDonald’s. Nobody could stop me.

The sound of my mother’s call would interrupt my reign. I knew it before she finished her sentence–Daddy had finished eating. The greasy burger paper and french fry pouches had been thrown away, the chairs tucked back up against the table. Obediently, I began squeezing past other ambling children to reach the slide, which would ultimately take me into the shoe cubby area and out of the play place. All would be going well until I failed to find the slide entrance. I could look out and see the shoe cubbies and eating areas, but I couldn’t find my way out. I was, to put it simply, stuck. As time wore on, my melodramatic side kicked in. I started wondering about having to spend the rest of my life in the play place. Would the cleaning staff throw me cold french fries up through the slide? How would I ever grow up and get married to a perfect Prince Charming? Would I have to kiss a stale strip of salted potato and hope it could be able to magically turn into a man to rescue me?

When you really think about it, life isn’t much different from these play places. Sometimes we’re searching and searching for something and end up walking in circles, wondering how we can ever escape our cramped place of frustration. We might begin to get a little stale or sour, like–well–french fries or Happy Meal milk. Hope exists, but it seems so unreachable, just like how I felt looking down through the smudged plastic windows.

Certain parts of the play place genuinely frightened me. There was a suspended tunnel made of material that looked like red and blue seat belts arranged in a checkerboard pattern. Every time it was walked on, it would wiggle a little bit. Logically, it was perfectly secure–but that’s not what mattered. What mattered was that I could see all the other children go through the tunnel, including my little sister, but I couldn’t bring myself to it. I would always have to find an alternative route during tag, hide-and-seek, and even playing house. So of course, when I needed to find the exit, I avoided the seat belt tunnel. Maybe the slide was just beyond it–I didn’t know. I would never be able to find out.

I was faced with a choice: fall through the seat belt tunnel and die, or spend the rest of my life trapped in a McDonald’s play place nibbling on mustard-coated pickles. The two choices kept widening and widening, like a sidewalk crack turning into the Grand Canyon, until I could no longer keep one foot on each one. The chasm created by the fear of the escape route and the desire to leave by the escape route threatened to swallow me up. There was only one thing left to do–call for Mommy.

I think in life sometimes, we see a potential escape, but it frightens us. We’re afraid to be hurt, to fail, to find way out only to discover just another dead end. So we don’t try. We turn back and keep walking in circles. It’s like opening the fridge, seeing no food, then closing it, only to open it again. Trying the same things over and over again but expecting different results will drive us insane. Heck, that’s what Albert Einstein believed was the very definition of insanity!

We reach a point where we at least recognize the fact that if we don’t do something, we’ll be trapped in an infinite loop forever. That’s rock bottom. That’s the breaking point. Nothing else has worked, nothing is hopeful, and we feel so sickeningly alone. The only thing left to do is cry. Cry in, cry out, cry everywhere and on everything at every time.

That’s what I did. As soon as I stopped walking in circles and simply cried out, Mommy came through the tunnels and got me herself. I no longer had to be afraid when she was there with me. I was finally, finally safe.

I really don’t know how to end this post. I could try the sappy hopeful finish–“God is the same way! Just believe! Hope! Happiness! Smiles! Love!”–but how can I write something I can’t even feel and believe myself? I could try the gloom and doom option–“But that won’t ever happen, and we’re all screwed! Ha!”–but is that entirely true, either? It’s certainly closer to how it feels, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s going to always be that way, every day, for the rest of eternity.

I don’t have an ending for this post because I don’t have the answers. I simply had a thought. A balloon floated across my mind, being blown about by the winds of chaotic inspiration. There it goes, now–an idea flying by. No real beginning, no end. Just an idea.

Will you chase it with me?

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