Early in my parental life, I signed an oath that I would gladly martyr myself for my children’s joy and well-being. As a result, I am left with a wardrobe that would make the Project Runway judges vomit on sight, and I am often reduced into a sobbing puddle trying to figure out how to juggle school and activities and how to buy and do what my children need and/or want. And if this doesn’t scream torment, I also take my kiddos to almost every birthday party we’re invited to unless it’s at Chuck E Cheese’s.
Then I RSVP “Hello No!” and we keep our asses home.
It wasn’t always this way. It wasn’t until several parties ago that I decided my family would never darken Chuck E. Cheese’s door again. Every time we left a Chuck E. Cheese’s celebration, someone lost their shit. Sometimes it was me. I would honestly rather get a bikini wax from a sadist than go there. Here’s why:
1. Sensory Overload
I’ve never been shrunk and stuck inside a pinball machine, but the blinking lights, beeping electronic noises and maze-like aisles make me feel as though I’ve gotten pretty close. Within five minutes of being at Chuck E. Cheese’s, I’d drop-kick an 80-year-old if it’d get me a valium. If I feel this agitated as an adult, what’s happening to a child? My kids seem jumpier there than someone sitting in a massage chair after a triple espresso. When your kids are acting this way, your near future is a steaming hot mess waiting to happen.
2. Dude, Where’s My Child?
Nothing could be easier than losing a small jumpy kid bouncing around a labyrinth of games, which is exactly what happens in the 3.6 seconds you use to take a deep breath and wonder what crime you committed to be punished like this. So on top of the fact that Chuck E. Cheese’s has stolen hours of your life, you are faced with one of the worst feelings in the world as a parent—the fear that you have lost your child, the very child you will find a few minutes later glued to some game and happier than a raccoon in a dumpster. But hey, at least you can rest assured that headquarters already thought about this with their guaranteed creeper-thwarting, hand-stamping system!
3. Parental Smackdowns
Kids are not the best at taking turns. Feed them shitty food and put them in a place full of noise and flashing lights, and you might as well give them a banner that says, “just try and get my ass off this game,” which means that other kids have to wait, and their parents get ready to go gladiator on the offender and their guardians. I don’t know about you, but getting ripped a new one by Brytnee and Jaxon’s mom because my kid wouldn’t get off the ski racer game is not my idea of fun.
4. Your Kid’s Best Isn’t Good Enough
The first time we went to Chuck E. Cheese’s, my son was not quite 5. He played skillfully and happily on his favorite games and wound up with about 35 tickets. Unable to read, my little man ambled up to the prize counter salivating at the fancy cars and toys lining the walls, just waiting to claim his prize. But like many people at the wrong end of capitalism, he learned that you can work your butt off and wind up barely able to buy yourself a pencil and a piece of candy, which besides his tears, was all he walked away with. A tough, yet valuable lesson? Yes. Something you want your coddled American child to learn when he’s all sugared up at a party from hell? No.
5. Next Stop: Gamblers Anonymous
Chuck E Cheese’s new tagline should be “Where a kid can be a kid who winds up in Gamblers Anonymous!” Seriously, the place is literally a children’s casino. Many an adult will stay too long at the craps table wasting away their car payment/grocery money/rent even though they know they shouldn’t. But children don’t understand “shouldn’t.” All they know is they would rather pee their pants than leave their game because “Yayeee, m0re playing, more tickets!” Since I generally try to limit my kids’ participation in activities where the endgame is a 12-step program, we’ll just sit out that Chuck E. Cheese’s party.
6. A Veritable Petri Dish
Of course, children do play on all kinds of germy things. I mean, God knows what lurks on the park equipment, but Chuck E. Cheese’s seems like a whole other level of filth. I’m sorry folks, but that complimentary Purell isn’t going to cut it. Little Timmy’s mom isn’t exactly keeping him home because he has the sniffles and a little cough. So Timmy, in a completely altered state, wipes his eyes, nose and mouth on his hand repeatedly and then puts his petri dish mitts all over the joystick, steering wheel or buttons of every game in the place. And unfortunately, Timmy’s not the only sickie onsite. Hope you enjoyed your visit to Diseases ‘R’ Us!
I know that my hatred of Chuck E. Cheese’s borders on ridiculousness and that denying my children a few joyful hours of three-fifths of what is wrong with America today is somewhat cruel. But I can’t—not today, not tomorrow, not ever. I don’t often quote Meatloaf, but nothing says it better: “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.”