Friday, May 02, 2008

Et Tu Chuck E.

The birth of a child is often presumed as the beginning of parenthood. I’m here to disagree with that argument. Within this document I shall put forth the argument that the first Chuck E. Cheese birthday party is the beginning of parenthood. Certainly there is room for argument, but the argument is no longer when parenthood truly begins, but which truly overwhelming kid friendly restaurant deprives adults of all control for the duration of their offspring’s childhood.

We recently went to a birthday party for one of my daughter’s classmates. My daughter, Cassie, is now 3 years old, and it appears that Chuck E. Cheese, is a universal favorite with her age group. We try to keep her television viewing limited to Noggin, Boom and Nickelodeon, but this eatery is so well marketed that she knows the slogan ("Where a kid can be a kid").




My wife, Elizabeth, and I bring Cassie to this birthday party. We are all in good spirits, Cassie, because we are going to Chuck E. Cheese for the party, (She'd never been there before) Elizabeth and I because we figured it would be a nice family outing. There were going to be about 5 or so families that we knew, at the party. There was even part of me that wanted to see the latest coin operated video games.

As we saw the restaurant, I noticed how small it appeared to be. I went to Chuck E. Cheese as a kid and it was a much bigger place. I remembered the one in New Orleans being a free standing, big structure at the corner of a strip mall. This one was barely visible from the street. It was in the middle of a group of stores. I know I've gotten bigger with age; but that does not explain the entire disparity in size.

We enter and it dawns on me how different this experience will be. I didn't remember getting my hand stamped as a child. It certainly makes sense with all of the security concerns, but the last time my hand was stamped like that I was walking into Tipitina's music club. Little did I know there would be other similarities to that evening.

The interior was very crowded. Not only did it appear that all of the furniture and games were jammed into one another, but I had to continually look down to avoid tripping on children I couldn't see. There were no separate rooms, just one generally open space overwhelmed with the sounds of video games, and crying/screaming children. There was both joy and sadness. It brought a whole new meaning to the term the agony and the ecstasy. Thankfully, Cassie was screaming with glee, most of the time.

I'd told Elizabeth that I was going to show her my skills at SkeeBall, in an attempt to woo her. I am a World Class Skeeball player. The East Germans tried to get me to defect, to be part of their World Renowned Skee Ball team in 1984. Alas, I could not show my talents because there was no skeeball game to play.

There were tunnels that led the children into the crawl space in the ceiling and riding toys that you, dear reader, might remember from trips to the shopping mall; but mostly there were video games. The children all loved it. We ate as a group, and the parents and kids went through the various games; whack a mole, a fortune teller machine that remind me of the movie BIG; and even a strong man game.

With the smell of chef boyardee pizza mingling with cotton candy in the room, I thought I was at the state fair. But then I remembered that the state fair was more controlled. The salad bar looked less appealing than those same items at a public high school. I should know. The drink machine had cups strewn all around it in such a way that it might be the perfect prop for some sort of SNL skit.

After all of the eating and playing, we got ready to leave. We saw kids about 5 years old wandering about the room as if they were on sensory overload. The best way I can describe it is a kid from a strict upbringing being dropped in the French Quarter on Mardi Gras day. The eyes were glassy, the gait was not directed, almost as if some of these toddlers were in a state of shock. It's disconcerting to see a child wearing a 3T looking like they just went on a bender.

Finally, we were able to get Cassie to the ticket counter. The ticket counter is where the children convert there winning tickets for prizes. This is the only place that makes Vegas look like a good bet. After feeding innumerable coins into various machines we were able to get Cassie a prize worth about $2.00. It was made in China.

As we were leaving we saw a child (about 3 years old), who was running around behind the counter reserved for staff. There was an employee right there. He just rolled his eyes. After this overwhelming experience that is all I could do as well. Cassie can't wait to go back.... I can.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Mom said...

Your blog brought back old memories of a double birthday celebration for 2 of my kids, and I started with a splitting headache. I have a more recent memory of an outing with a grandchild for his 5th birthday. After that, I swore, no more Chuck E Cheese. The You Tube is perfect.

4:01 PM  
Blogger pinapina said...

I literally laughed out loud when I read the following, which is so true: "After all of the eating and playing, we got ready to leave. We saw kids about 5 years old wandering about the room as if they were on sensory overload. The best way I can describe it is a kid from a strict upbringing being dropped in the French Quarter on Mardi Gras day. The eyes were glassy, the gait was not directed, almost as if some of these toddlers were in a state of shock. It's disconcerting to see a child wearing a 3T looking like they just went on a bender."

The next time you go to one of these birthday parties (and there will be a next time and a next time and a next time), I suggest you and you wife call for a tax and go your own "bender" first. It'll make for a forgettable experience, I promise.

11:17 PM  

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