The illusion is shattered, if it ever even existed. My children now know (if they didn't before) that I am not perfect.
During breakfast in Plainfield at this morning (which has excellent food, by the way), my mother chose to share with my children one of the more embarrassing stories of my childhood over our breakfast of eggs and ham.
It conveys one event in a long line of humiliating things that have happened to me. I was about 12. Some of you may remember that had come out with a contest to win a Big Mac. To win, you simply had to harness the courage to stride right up to the counter and sing “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun” under a certain time limit. That’s it.
How simple! Even I could do that! I practiced and practiced and had polished my Big Mac song to a competitive time. I was ready. That burger was all but mine. They'd surely never had anyone sing it faster. I would probably be asked to do a commercial. Everyone would know of my special talent.
My long-suffering mother took me to McDonald's one day so that I might give it a try. We chose the Crest Hill restaurant for the scene of my mortification. Savvy readers might notice mortification and McDonald's start with the same letter.
Entering the restaurant, my mother nudged me up to the counter and before I knew it, and more importantly before I lost my courage, I was at the counter loudly belting out my version of the Big Mac song to the gum-smacking, bored-looking cashier behind the counter.
She stood there with her head cocked, letting me sing it out, and when I was done I looked at her, hoping I had sung it under the time limit…
“That contest ended a week ago,” she said snarkily. “Are you going to order?”
There would be no free Big Mac. No commercial. I had just sung a song in front of not only the amused McDonald's crew, but also several hungry customers who were studiously avoiding any eye contact with me. It seemed like the McDonald's workers got a little more industrious with their napkin filling and ice replenishment.
It was over. I had sung a song that would win me not a burger, but years of humiliation with a large side order of embarrassment.
However, something good has come out of that debacle at Mickey D’s almost 33 years ago. My kids laugh so hard when they hear a story like that about their mother that they have tears running down their faces. Watching them, I laugh so hard I get tears in MY eyes, and my husband laughs so hard he gets tears in HIS eyes, and on it goes.
And there we are, the day after a wonderful Christmas, my daughter’s 21st birthday, sitting at a table as a family and laughing our fool heads off.
I wish I could go back in time to that 12-year-old version of myself and let her know the embarrassment would wear off, she’d win other contests, her barely breathing social life would recover from that catastrophe, and she’d (eventually) be able to go back into a McDonald's without needing a Xanax.
I would also tell her to avoid ordering a certain fish sandwich at the Burger King in Melrose Park, but we’ll save that for another day.