What a delightful, and unexpected, journey I experienced this afternoon, led by a child. The path my granddaughter, Aubrey, set us on provided moments of fun, embarrassment, moving beyond discomfort and an opportunity for paying love forward. It also, in an amazing way, brought me full circle on a journey that began a year ago.
After I picked up Aubrey from school, I intended to take her to one of her favorite after school hangouts for a snack and playtime. However, today she informed me she wanted to visit McDonald’s instead. One of their restaurants is just down the street from Aubrey’s school, but no, she wanted to visit the McDonald’s on Main Street. And rather than go through the drive-through, she asked if we could eat inside. Since I say “yes” as often as I can, I agreed to her idea and off to the home of the golden arches we went.
I placed Aubrey’s order for a child’s Happy Meal and three chocolate chip cookies, and I ordered an unsweet tea for myself. The cheerful young man behind the counter took our order then flashed a huge grin at me. “Sing….and your whole order is free,” he said. “What? No way,” I replied, thinking he was pulling my leg. (Okay, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the McDonald’s commercial during the Super Bowl last night.) Aubrey and I exchanged looks and the little smartie retreated to a safe distance….behind a wall to the rear of us, where she could peek around the corner. The young man behind the counter assured me he was sincere….if I would sing, the meal and cookies and drinks were free. The manager came over to tell me it was a promotion. I just had to sing.
I sing all the time…in the shower, in the car, while I’m working, and especially when I’m cleaning house or just feeling exceedingly joyful. My song last year was “Let It Go”, from the Frozen movie, and I can belt that tune out with gusto. This year’s song is “My Life”, which I know equally well. With two McDonald’s employees smiling at me and a line of people behind me, waiting and watching, and Aubrey peering around the edge of the wall, I sang the first song that came into my head in that moment….Happy Birthday. Oh yes, as in:
Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear McDonald’s employee,
Happy Birthday to you.
I know without a doubt that my cheeks were pink by the end of my little rendition, and not from exertion! We received the meal for free, and the smiles and accolades of everyone around us. Aubrey came out from behind the wall and chatted with customers, asking me later if I knew those people. We found a place to sit and talked about what had just happened. I realized the current promotion is McDonald’s “Pay with Lovin’”, which just began today. Through Valentine’s Day, participating restaurants will choose customers at random and allow them to perform an act of lovin’ in exchange for a meal. The options include calling a family member or friend and telling them you love them, a song, a fist bump, a hug or complimenting a person in line. While I was initially surprised by the request to sing, Aubrey and I agreed it was fun, and she laughed at my choice of songs. I was embarrassed by my choice of songs! And yet, it was good for Aubrey to see me move past discomfort and do something unexpected.
Aubrey’s reaction to me singing Happy Birthday
Aubrey thankful for her free meal
In fact, Aubrey entered wholeheartedly into the lovin’ and made a donation to Ronald McDonald House, writing her name herself on a paper heart. She was thrilled to discover that the heart would be attached to the wall and it gave me an opportunity to share with her about the goodness that Ronald McDonald House does in sheltering families while a child undergoes treatment at the hospital. She also received a small yellow heart in her Happy Meal with #Love on it, which she proudly held up in front of the wall of hearts in McDonalds. I loved sharing the experience with Aubrey, watching her give and grow.
And there was even more to the story than Aubrey realized. Almost a year ago, on February 14, 2014, I stepped WAY out of my comfort zone, purchasing white roses and handing them out to strangers. I focused on people who were working that evening, rather than spending time with a loved one, and people who were eating alone on Valentine’s Day. One of my last stops that night, was the McDonald’s on Main Street. Inside the restaurant I handed a rose to the young woman working behind the counter, and then gave roses to four men who were scattered among the tables, each sitting alone. The looks on their faces and their soft “thank you’s” were priceless and I left feeling a love in my heart that was so much deeper than romance.
It felt, today, that that act of kindness had come back to me, in the form of a free meal, and the fun and lovin’ atmosphere within the McDonald’s that Aubrey chose, not knowing what I had done there almost a year ago. I love the grace and affirmation of that return. And that Aubrey chose to pay it forward, keeping that great Lovin’ energy going, by making a donation. It will come back to you too, sweet girl, even as that love goes ever outward. Just you wait and see!