The first time Richard and I went to a Chuck E. Cheese with Violet, we vowed that we would never be back. But then one of her classmates announced a birthday party at – you guessed it – Chuck E. Cheese. So we sucked it up. After all, it wasn’t about us. She’d have fun. Clearly, the sting from our initial visit a year earlier had dissipated. How bad could it be? We had forgotten.
This is a scary, scary place.
Okay maybe this innocent picture of a cartoon mouse doesn’t scare you, but this will!
Auuuuuuggggghhhhhh! Look at this place! It’s the student body of twelve elementary schools smushed into a florescent-lit box with more commercial branding than you could absorb in an entire childhood!
If you’ve never heard of it, it’s actually a place where people bring their kids to play on structures like the one below, play video games, eat horrendous, unspeakable ‘pizza’ and run around in a white flour / sugar haze until the parents just can’t take the noise anymore. It’s also a very popular place for kid’s parties – so popular that there are frequently five or six birthday parties at a time, side by side lined up in parallel picnic tables, with barely enough room to squeak by in between, as pictured above in that bone-chilling image.
But like all horrible experiences, there were moments worth remembering. For example, the parents of Violet’s pal were awesome and well aware of the horrors they were bestowing upon us all, which was kind of funny.
And then there was Violet’s fascination with this lovely creature:
At first I think she was just attracted to the ‘stage’ area in general because there weren’t forty million people in that area, and these life-sized dolls would break into song every few minutes. Here’s the whole ‘band’ on ‘stage – you can see that Violet is quite taken with the animated duck.
I watched her watching this duck for a long time, and I realized eventually that she had decided there was a real person inside the costume. She kept waving and trying to catch her eye, and seemed to get frustrated when the duck didn’t acknowledge her.
I went over to explain to her that these were all animatronics, and that there weren’t any real people inside the costumes. She believed me when it came to the dog on guitar and the dinosaur on keyboards, but somehow this singing duck was real to her. I sat with her until their next song ended, at which point she showed me her evidence that the duck was real. The duck’s eyelashes flicked open and closed at regular intervals, and her body moved around at random, even when the music was off. This wasn’t the case with the other animals (which were probably just broken). Violet kept yelling, “Hello! Hello!” to the duck and it was starting to freak me out.
So I looked around to see how much harm it would do to put her up on the stage for a closer look. A guy (in the white T-shirt on the right in the picture) who also witnessed Violet’s obsession said, “Who cares? Just let ’em kick you off if they have to” and I thought, Right, don’t be so Canadian! So I hoisted Violet up onto the stage. She poked the duck and felt the microphone she was holding. The duck dumbly flicked its eyelashes at her. Violet was not deterred from her original hypothesis. She shook the duck’s hand, imploring her to just say hello!
Thankfully, the pre-taped Chuck E. Cheese birthday video began to roll, and Violet was needed back at the crammed picnic table to sing the song and eat some cake, so she finally left the duck alone.
When we got back to the table, I realized that the sugar quotient was going to be way over the top. There was not only a giant birthday cake, but there were also cake pops. See below:
They gave out these cake pops during the time it took for the Chuck E. Cheese birthday song to play on big screens, which, granted, was a shockingly long amount of time. Then Chuck E. Cheese himself came out (further evidence to Violet that duck must be real) in a big mouse suit and took photos with all the birthday boys and girls. By the time they cut the cake, the kids had already eaten cake – it was so weird and excessive.
Now, take a look at Violet’s eye-line in this picture. Is she looking at the cake pops? Hell, no. There were three princesses on this cake, and she wanted the pink one. And guess who else wanted the pink one? Every other girl in the party, including the birthday girl. Luckily, us seasoned moms could see the fight coming a mile away, and we went in for the ‘talk.’ I told Violet that this was not her birthday party, and that the princesses belonged to the birthday girl, and that if she wanted her own princesses, she would have to wait for her birthday. Unsurprisingly, she was full of reasons why she deserved to have the princess “today,” but manners finally won out.
Here is the princess, awaiting retrieval from the birthday girl. You may think she looks like she’s headed for the trash can here, but don’t be fooled. If Violet had made a move, that birthday girl would have been in tears for an hour.
I decided to get Violet away from the cake scene as soon as possible. Besides, I hadn’t seen Richard in quite a long while. Where did he go?
This brings me to the next moment worth remembering on our Chuck E. Cheese adventure. Where was Richard? He was gambling!
Now, Richard is a lucky guy. He once won ten grand at a casino in Vancouver, which is one of the reasons we’re together – he used the money to go on a trip to Palm Springs where we met. He’s gambled at many different places in his life – a lot of world class casinos in famous cities.
Chuck E. Cheese in Valencia is not one of them.
But nevertheless, the gambler in him emerged and he started winning. But you know, when you ‘win’ at Chuck E. Cheese, you don’t win cash, you win tickets. And these tickets get cashed in for prizes, which of course are all kid’s toys and branded crap. This did not deter my man. Soon Violet was helping her father stuff all the won tickets into the ticket muncher machine, and we cashed out.
And so, the birthday party ended. Violet had eaten her cake and cake pop, grabbed her goody bag full of toys and candy, but her extravagant experience didn’t end there. We capped off our trip at the prize counter, cashing in Richard’s winnings. A line of people waited behind us while Violet pointed to item after item, toys piling up on the counter like a pyramid. The prize guy kept saying, ‘twenty more points’ or ‘ten more points’ and finally we just asked him to give us the rest in stickers so we could get the hell out of there. I think Violet was a bit confused, but she had a lot of stuff to examine and keep her busy in the long car ride home.
And I had a lot to think about too. What is this place, Chuck E. Cheese? How did it come to this, America?