We spent most of Sunday afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese’s. I have a long history with CEC because I had my seventh and eighth birthday parties there, back in the early nineties when Chuck wasn’t trying to cool it up for the kids. In grade school, our principal tried to be hip with the youngsters so to get our attention she would say in the whitest way possible, “Yo!” While this was not the same as a white lady pilfering from the young vernacular, it is very different from my Chuck E. Cheese’s. There was an animatronic banjo band, not covers of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and all of Justin Bieber’s discography. And Chuck looked like a regular vest wearing mouse dork, not this slim pants, big puffy sneakers homeboy. I know what’s underneath there, your hardworking teenage self, hoping these kids just leave you alone so you can study for AP finals in the kitchen next to the pizza oven.
I find Chuck E. Cheese’s a fascinating place to watch other parents. It’s what my friend Summer says–“General public.” That includes me: big hair, furrowed brow, instructing my oldest to look after his brother and the $$$ worth of tokens in his cup.
There were moms in high heels and fresh blonde highlights though of all the places to strut your stilettos, this is not one of them. Then there were other moms in pajamas and tank tops, making me wish I could wear my leopard print footy pajamas since sleepwear was the bottom rung of this fashion ladder. But it would be too hot, as I’ve found wearing this and trying to do any physical activity more strenuous than reaching for the remote control. I need a button-up flap in front to air out my hot, bulbous body. Like a kangaroo pouch, only with no room for my kids to hop in because I need to have at least one kid-free space and I would like that to be my own body.
I cut out the part where a dad jumped in front of me to catch some of the tickets, the tickets that were meant for these jumping, screaming children. And then there was the child who emerged from the melee with only a few tickets in his hand. He cried and his Team Stiletto mom snapped, “See! All that for only three tickets! Now let’s go!” and not something a little bit more soothing like, “It’s okay! They’re only tickets! You did a great job! Bob’s Burgers is on at seven so let’s go!”
But I feel for parents, especially in a place like this where you’ve already spent way more money on food and tokens because you wanted a salad and that’s seven bucks extra and you can only get one beer per hour unless the next shift’s manager comes on board and doesn’t realize you already hit your limit. Then after all that to have your kid screech, “I want to get free tickets now!” even though your kid has many tickets, not 10,000 tickets, but enough to get some sweet tarts and what kind of world do we live in when kids are not satisfied with a delicious roll of candy? And then your kid enters the fray and does not gain victory over these other little grabby people and so there are tears and your feet hurt and you say the only thing you have the energy to say: “LET’S GO.”
Neither of my kids cried when we had to leave, but I’m sure they would have loved to stay here a few more hours, or days or whatever payment plan I could afford (none) that would let them sublet the area near the Fruit Ninja game or the skeeball machines. Nathan said on the way home, “I really love it when we spend time together as a family.” I didn’t plant words in his mouth. Though if I did he would have added, “And you’re so great, Mommy! You made a wonderful footwear choice with those sneakers. Good job.”