Monday, June 27, 2011

Surviving 5 Kids and Chuck-E-Cheese

More likely than not, anyone who enjoyed childhood sometime in the past 30 years has fond memories of spending an afternoon at Chuck-E-Cheese’s. For some it may have been a rare special treat; for others a more regular occurrence. But one thing I think is universal: your parents didn't enjoy it nearly as much as you did.

A couple times a year I work up the nerve to take my crew to Chuck-E-Cheese’s for some quality-time over pizza and games, usually when the weather is poor and staying in the house all day would likely result in fatalities. Never have I been so bold as to attempt this outing on my own (I simply refuse) so I coerce my husband or mother into going along for the "fun." While I believe my mother truly enjoys these excursions with the grandchildren (a possible sign of impending senility), I think my husband is in it for personal gain. Only men with small children have a good excuse for running around in their socks playing skee ball.

Upon entering the building, everyone in your group is immediately issued matching hand stamps of the high-tech variety, visible only under special black light fixtures near the exits. In order to leave the building your blurry faded hand stamp must marginally match whichever screaming kid you are dragging out the door. I assume this shtick is intended to relax parents, allowing them to focus on the other tasks at hand (like spending money). However, I've never been fooled by these so-called safety measures. The master plan is ingenious, sure, but it is enforced by pimple-faced high school students and far-sighted senior citizens; the chances of flawless execution are slim. I think I'll keep my kids within sight for now.

The first order of business is purchasing your food. After standing in a long line of customers, all oddly eager to drop 30 bucks for a plain cheese pizza and four small fountain drinks, the irony of it all becomes apparent: you are in the world’s first mouse-operated human trap. But don't put that wallet away just yet, Mom and Dad—you still need to purchase tokens! Lucky you.

A bitter but chatty Chuck-E-employee once explained to me that the tokens that customers purchase cost 25 cents apiece while the tickets that we spend all afternoon struggling to get out of the machine are valued at a whopping penny each. Brilliant. Big Chuck isn't surviving on church-mouse rations, I can tell you that much. By the time all is said and done, even the most frugal parent has doled out a good 50 bucks to leave with nothing but heartburn and one yo-yo for all the kids to share.

Yes, that would be my husband
For a while I was able to stay one step ahead of The Rat. From my very first visit with the kids I simply never bought any tokens. That may qualify me as a "mean mommy," but what they didn't know didn't hurt them. My little ones were content to meander through those tubes and slides forever. Long gone are the ball-pit glory days, but there was still plenty of free fun to be had. Then my husband tagged along one day. After climbing through the tunnels a few times himself (you know, "for the kids’ sake") he got bored and fed his first $10 bill into the token machine. He stood in a zombie-like trance feeding coins into a video game while the kids nabbed tokens out of his ridiculous cartoon cup.

Tony assumed a spot at the machine next to Dad, his tongue poked out in concentration. But the girls’ excitement began and ended with merely inserting the coin into the machine. The games were too complicated and the rides too dull, so they entertained themselves by dropping our hard-earned money into random machines as they ran past. By the time Brian returned to the table, the poor schmuck couldn't figure out how he had blown through $30 worth of tokens in 10 minutes. I confiscated his wallet and sentenced him to baby-duty for the remainder of the night.

Right about now is when the Big Cheese himself makes an appearance. Even when the dining room is especially crowded you can always pinpoint Chuck E. by the location of the screams. Half the children are squealing with delight at seeing a furry, life-sized cartoon character walking amongst them; the other half, the smart ones, are recoiling in horror at the very same thing. My kids are oddly unaffected, as if hugging this motley mouse-man with an oversized head is not worth the time it takes to get out of line. Perhaps seeing Daddy every morning has left them unimpressed by large hairy creatures lumbering around a slew of children.

By the time the kids’ energy finally depletes to a faint buzz, it's time to pack up the troops and head home. Sometimes the ritual of putting on shoes and coats is met with resistance, but more often than not they are too pooped to pout. For the younger ones there is a small window of opportunity between “tired enough to be done” and “over-tired enough to have a meltdown of epic proportions.” Not timing our exit correctly results in embarrassing screams of protest so desperate, the underpaid exit guards double check our hand stamps as we file through the doors. My husband and I always swear to each other that we're never returning to that overcrowded money pit. But like hoards of other parents desperate to provide indoor entertainment to snowed-in children over the past 30 years, we always come back for more.

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  1. You know, one thing I've always wondered, since I've never actually been in one....what is the pizza like?

  2. Michele Matoushek-Propes6/27/11, 9:55 AM

    Once again you said it perfectly! We call CEC the 6th circle of hell. You described my husband completely right down to his tongue sticking out while he wastes all the tokens. I have learned to dress my 5 alike because one time the pimply faced kid at the door was really doing his job. Three of my kids stamps had worn off and unfortunately it was the 3 adopted ones who are a different race and not the little blond hair blue eyed ones that are clones of me. We get checked and are able to walk passed as are our two bio children but then we come to the other 3. They ask my 4 year old(then 3) who are those people? "She tells them we are Mommy and Daddy and her Brothers." They come to my 8 year old (7) and say, "Who are those two boys.?" "That's my Brother Christian and Alex." Then they come to our 9 year old (8) who has FASD and is not attached to us at all. "Who are those people? Is that your Mommy & Daddy?" Just as I figured, "No! I wanna go back with my Mommy and Daddy" she points back towards the games she wants to go play. She was already kicking, screaming and refusing to leave and she always is on the hunt for "better" parents than us. We are there trying to tell her to stop lying. Luckily my MIL came back in to see what was keeping us so long and my Daughter said, "Grandma!" or we probably would have been making a trip to the police department to straighten the whole thing out! Wish I could say that was the only time that happened! It just made me hate CEC that much more. Once when I just had the two oldest girls we went there and my two SN girls were small like 3 and 4 and they got stuck in the tubes. The youngest was a preemie and only the size of a baby and she had lots of sensory problems. She got stuck in one of the little dips and one of the bigger kids and farted in the tubes which set off her sensory issues. I could see her little snotty, pukey face peak up over the window and bang on it and then it would disappear while she slid back down. My big butt could not fit into the tubes so we finally had to send my size 2 SIL up to get her. Was a long time before that kid went back in those tubes but now she's a tough cookie and very strong though still has the sensory issues! I also hate the pizza. Gives me a stomach ache. Wonder if it's a Psychosomatic thing because I hate the place that much. My 8 year old lost another tooth last night and the toothfairy never seems to have any money so "she" gives CEC tokens. Today my Daughter got up and excitedly looked under her pillow and found tokens.. She gave a sigh and said, "Oh, tokens again. I wish she would bring money because I never get to go to CEC to spend my tokens." Guess we best get there soon. She has about 10 teeth's worth of tokens!

  3. LOL! I remember those days. As a matter of fact, Lily and I had a Chuck E. Cheese flashback just yesterday. She was cleaning out her room, finally getting rid of the toys she hasn't played with in 3 years, and came across a backpack FILLED with Chuck E. Cheese tickets. Some of these actually belong to her sister, who earned them when she was 7 or 8. She is now 19. Lily is pumped and ready to take those tickets and turn them in for "GOOD STUFF". You know, like the stuff she just cleaned out of her room yesterday.

  4. My kids all genuinely believe that ChuckECheese restaurants are always under construction. Or, being cleaned. I have managed to keep this lie going for years. "Oh sweetie, I would LOVE to take you all, but sadly its closed right now! I know, Mommy is upset as well."

    I know my time on this is limited, but I will keep it going as long as I can. We go once a year, for one birthday. Its a horrible place.

  5. I know it has to be done, but you seriously make me question my sanity in holding a birthday party at the chateau du fromage. What am I getting myself in to? Thanks for entertaining like always :)

  6. We are heading to Chuck E Cheese this afternoon as my 4 year old has been begging for weeks to go there. I have 4 children. I've survived it many a times. You get coupons off the internet, buy 1 pizza and small drinks (as there are free refills), let the kids roam while you bring a good book. They come back to eat and go off to play at their own pace. Set a limit at the beginning to the number of tokens and divide them up in the cups. Set a time to leave and remind the kids about 30 minutes before that you are leaving so they can finish those tokens, get their tickets and their prizes. Yes, it is somewhat of a rip off, but if you are just going for the fun and think of it that way. Then it isn't bad.


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