Eleven years ago, when hubby and I were the definition of semi-young, urban professionals living in Denver without children, we swore up and down that you would never catch us in Chuck E Cheese. We would drive by one and shiver. Why would anyone purposely enter an establishment with mechanical, singing characters, an underpaid dude wearing a large mouse suit, sub par food, and way, way too many noisy and germ-enhanced children. Ewwwwwwww. When we had our boys, we vowed we would never take them there. Never.
It turns out never is a really long time when you have a 4 year old and a 6 year old who have been invited to a birthday party there and don’t want to miss it. In fact, it’s amazing how quickly “never” becomes “imminently” when you’re listening to your children whine non-stop about a place they’ve never been. So, hubby and I decided that attending a soiree hosted by the incredibly popular Chuck E Cheese was simply a right of passage into the American Parenthood Club, and we caved.
Perhaps it was because we were so terrified of the place that our first experience there was actually not that bad. We quickly discovered what many parents already had; the beauty of Chuck E Cheese is that you can spend two hours without your children while still technically being with your children. We hardly saw our boys during the time we were there. They were off tearing through the place like squirrels on crack, and no one even noticed their behavior. With all the commotion, our kids’ usual decibel level (which hovers somewhere between snow blower and rock concert) seemed not at all off-putting. Steve and I somehow managed to have an hour’s worth of mostly uninterrupted conversation and we played video games for the first time in 25 years. It was very nearly a date. Our babysitter was a human-sized, baseball-cap wearing grey mouse.
Over the years we’ve come to embrace the occasional trip to Chuck E Cheese as less of a prison sentence and more of a night at the carnival. It’s not something we want to do all the time, but once in a while we can stomach it. Here is how we do it.
1) We bring a friend. Tonight’s friend was Captain Morgan. If you’re going to have kid-friendly pizza and soda for dinner, you might as well make it a meal you enjoy. It’s a little easier to palate the pizza and ignore the ambiance when you have a drink to take the edge off. Sure. Some of the restaurants sell beer and wine, but it’s not worth your money. Besides, it’s more fun to be a rebel, smuggle in your own booze, and spike your own punch. Come on. All the cool kids are doing it.
2) Set yourself up in a booth as far away from the party space as humanly possible. I mean, you can only tolerate singing mechanical animals for so long before your IQ begins to drop. And, it will only depress you when you realize that the animals are singing songs from when you were in high school, and that’s why now you’re singing them too. If you leave singing “Everybody Wang Chung Tonight,” don’t say I didn’t warn you.
3) Come prepared to spend a wad on game tokens. You’ll need an ample supply to keep the kids away, and you’ll need some for yourself too. Think of Chuck E Cheese as Vegas without the show girls. You’re not going to win big, but you’re not really there to win. You’re there to play. So, play. Check your decorum at the door, throw some footballs at a target, and play Frogger if you want. No one will judge you if you try to beat the high score you left behind in 1985.
Chuck E Cheese is not my favorite place. It’s certainly not where I would choose to spend my birthday dinner. But, it was where my 9 year old wanted to have his birthday dinner tonight. Five years ago, I would have freaked out at his suggestion. Tonight, I merely relished the opportunity to kick his little butt at Skeeball. Chuck E Cheese isn’t the Antichrist. It just seems that way at first. Like most things in parenting, it’s all about perspective.