I can't decide if I owe my parents a profound apology or a profusion of thanks. I always knew that they really didn't like going to Chuck E. Cheese's. Dread is probably the more apt word. And yet I remember multiple visits during my childhood, at least one on the occasion of my birthday. Man, I loved that place. What's better than animatronic rodents singing silly songs, cardboard-like pizza (I distinctly recall my dad using that word), and hours upon hours of skee ball, all culminating in the final visit to the prize counter to redeem tickets for candy and crappy plastic toys? I imagine that to the under-five crowd, Chuck E. Cheese's is strikingly similar to what Vegas casinos are to we adults.
Today we returned to Chuck E. Cheese's after an almost two-year hiatus. During our last visit, Clare (then three-and-a-half) cried almost the whole time, most vociferously when the big Cheese himself came out to wish the birthday boy a happy day. Danny was a mere eight months, but he sat in his stroller and handled himself with way more poise than she did. I'm happy to say that Clare was much happier this time around (though she did keep her distance when Chuck E. came out for the birthday greetings). And Danny? I'm not so happy to say that he loved it. To the point that we left with him in hysterics of a totally different kind.
You may think it's a bit histrionic of me to liken Chuck E. Cheese's to one of Dante's Inferno's Circles of Hell - and you're probably right. But after 90 minutes of pinging games, loud robot performances, and dozens and dozens of kids whining for a multitude of reasons, it honestly felt that way. Suffice it to say, the excursion ended with Danny moaning to me, "Mommy, stop screaming!" (Hey, it was a loooong car ride in what felt to be excruciatingly confined quarters.)
"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" is probably not the marketing slogan Chuck E. Cheese's is looking for, but if they were seeking truth in advertising, I think it would fit. I have in particular abandoned hope of avoiding another visit - a show of just how much I love my children. At least I can console myself with the knowledge that I was (and still am) similarly loved.
P.S. Almost as if to prove my point, astute reader Brian passed along this gem from the Wall Street Journal: Calling All Cars: Trouble at Chuck E. Cheese's, Again