Chuck E Cheese — every child’s dream, every parent’s nightmare. Writer Michelle Kennedy explains her recent experience in the land of arcade games and screaming kids.
Before the question was finished coming out of my mouth, I immediately regretted asking it.
“So, what do you want to do for your birthday?” I asked my son brightly one morning.
“Wait a sec,” he replied and he ran off to his room. Wondering what I had just gotten myself into, I shouldn’t have been shocked when he returned with what amounted to blueprints for the perfect 9-year-old birthday party.
Going through each section of the timeline, he detailed to me who would be doing what, when they would be doing it as well as who (meaning his siblings) would be where. There were also cake details (recipe for said cake was attached in envelope D) and a seating chart for the two cars required to get where we were going.
“And just where are we going?” I asked, trying my best to sound enthusiastic, because I already knew where we were going. We were going to that nightmare of all parental nightmares — Chuck E Cheese.
I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for whomever it was who came up with this giant, money-sucking pit. I hope that it’s not just hot, but I hope they have oversized Beanie Babies playing “This Old Man” over and over again every 30 seconds.
There should be a recording of pinball machines and other assorted arcade noises playing directly in one ear accompanied by the sound of a screaming baby in the other — preferably played intermittently with the sweet sounds of a temper tantrum by the baby’s three-year-old brother who is throwing his shoes and screaming that he doesn’t want to go home.
Then, I hope that a really stuck-up high school girl, like the one who waited on me, comes along with a big fan, an industrial size fan — the kind they use in airplane hangars — and then I hope she takes every dollar that this really brilliant person earned off of the place, and holds them up to the fan. I envision her giggling as the dollars are sucked into the same black hole that holds one of every pair of socks that has been lost in the dryer.
Walking in is easy. A pocket full of cash and excited children, I feel like a hero. I am Mom. I make children happy. It isn’t until I look at the pittance of tokens that my pocket full of cash got me that it begins to dawn on me why it’s been a year since we were here last. But, the kids are happy, and I am too busy to notice how fast the cash is disappearing because I am too busy counting arcade game tickets.
2,000 tickets for that?
Each arcade game puts out about 10 tickets, whether the kids win the game or not. So, why not pitch the tickets? Because we get valuable prizes for certain numbers of tickets. The children will absolutely not leave unless they get the 2,000 tickets (about $40 worth) required to get the really cool pencil and eraser set they saw in the display case. I don’t bother telling them the same pencil and eraser would cost me a dollar in the store, because while I am counting, I notice I have a three-year-old stuck at the top of the playland contraption.
Apparently he was lured to the top of this plastic tube fun house by an older sibling who has since gone on to brighter things, and he couldn’t figure out how to get down by himself. There is nothing quite like navigating a plastic maze designed for a butt much smaller than mine, full of screaming children, on my hands and knees, trying to determine which scream for Mommy belongs to my child. I have a feeling it’s a little too much like the version of Marco Polo that Stanley Kubrick played as a child. There is me yelling, “Liam?!” into an echoing tube and about 10 different kids yelling “Mommy!”
By the time I find him, buried beneath a pile of (I’m sure) very sanitary plastic balls, I had already found and auctioned off three other children who were too paralyzed by fear to go down what I’m sure seemed like the sliding tube of death. At least, that’s what it seemed like to me when I went down with Liam in my lap, but maybe that’s just because my legs are longer than the average five-year-old’s and when my knees were navigating the corner, my torso was still hanging in the straightaway.
When finally the party is over and my clan emerges into the daylight, feeling slightly vampeerish as we blink and squint at the sun, the silence of the parking lot is deafening. On the drive home there is your standard miscellaneous yelling followed by someone holding their stomach after eating too many pixie sticks mixed with root beer. I think insulin should come in the standard Chuck E Cheese birthday package.
The noise in the car would usually bother me, but it actually seems quiet — I guess silence is relative. Another birthday party finally over. I try not to make my pleasure known, but I am having trouble keeping my giddiness to myself. At least I am giddy until my daughter peers over the seat and asks me for a pen.
“What for?” I ask.
“I’m trying to decide who to invite to my birthday party.”