Crying over heated milk in McDonald’s


I’m sat in McDonald’s (having a porridge, relax! OK, well maybe a bacon & egg muffin too, alright, get off my case!) and I’m a struck by a situation that, although I am more than familiar with, had never encountered first-hand before, and it touched me in rather a profound way.

I love single parents (no more than non-single parents, but I love them nonetheless and know the difficulty of their lives to some degree). I know, very often, it is not of their own doing, or of their own choice, or, if it is, it is a choice not easily reached. Single parents do amazing work and are an incredible inspiration to me and many others too.

As I complain in my head about the incompetence of McDonald’s staff to, yet again, provide me with what I actually asked, despite saying “with maple syrup” twice (I don’t think I have a particularly strong regional accent or a major speech impediment, although a gentle lisp occasionally creeps in), I am approached by a very cute toddler who looks at me in a bewildered and yet curious manner. I smile at him in a “he’s making me smile but I don’t want to come across as a paedo” kind of way. His mother, probably thinking the latter, beckoned him to come nearer to her, but still he persisted in his fascination of me and my laptop.

The mother was accompanied by an elderly gentleman, her father I would presume. She sat at a table, he lingering a metre to her side, not ordering any food, just waiting.

A few moments later, in sauntered a handsome young Asian chap who whisked the toddler into his arms, smiled at the woman, then turned the other way and walked out the door, while the mother and elderly gentleman walked in the opposite direction. No words were uttered. It was understood that this was the situation.

Then it struck me how this is the situation for thousands of young people of all ages up and down the land. I am not knocking it. For many people, this is the most practical situation for loving parents whose relationships have failed or broken down. We are only human. I do not blame anyone or criticise the jobs they are doing. This is not a critique, only an observation of something that I had never actually encountered at any point in my shallow, sheltered life. That of a child being exchanged from the protection of one parent to another. He understood, I imagine, in his limited capacity as a toddler to understand what was happening. He seemed happy enough. But the manner in which it all happened; so speedily, so unceremoniously, as if it was the dumping of a property from one set of hands to another; a deal; an exchange of money in a briefcase – it all seemed so clinical, so inhuman, so… so sad.

And then I began to shed a tear for this child. For this father. For this mother. For this grandfather. They seemed at ease with the situation. But it affected me to the point of tears. And still I am crying now as I write this to you. Why should I care? Why should I give a damn? These are good people who, I have no doubt, love and care for their child. They just know they can’t do it together. Yet still I cry.

I guess my eyes have finally been opened to a life I do not know and I have a new level of appreciation and empathy for all those caught up in the complications of life, love and the challenges it continues to throw at us along the way.