Staying Sane at Chuck E. Cheese’s

Remember childhood birthday parties?

I do.

My most memorable childhood birthday party was venued at a kid’s party place called Chuck E. Cheese’s.  It was tagged as “a place where a kid can be a kid.”  They could have added, “and where a parent should be on Xanax.”

Chuck E. Cheese’s, like Gaul, was divided into three parts: the video arcade, the restaurant, and the pit of plastic balls.  For a brief period of time in my life, it was the place to be.  Nintendo was still a few years away, and a room full of video games was a fantasy that most kids had only heard about in books.  There was also skee-ball, and a mechanical seat that spun vertically on an eight-foot disc, just so that no parent would be deprived of the anxiety that a kid would fall on their watch.  There were no windows, and the dim lighting punctuated by glowing neon beckoned children as they ran from game to game, their little pockets filled with tokens that bore the visage of Mr. Cheese.  It was a lot like a casino.

The restaurant area was next to the arcade.  I don’t remember them serving anything other than pizza.  Even then, it was not so much pizza as a child’s conception of pizza.  It was as if someone had taken an already baked crust, poured on tomato sauce straight from a jar, threw on a few individually wrapped slices of cheese, and placed it in a microwave that said “Fisher Price” in the top right corner.  A pie of this toy pizza cost only $15, with an additional $3 for Maalox.

Whilst dining, the children were entertained by band of robots dressed to look like Chuck E. Cheese and his entourage.  When the music played, the robots would jerk their heads and shoulders around, and their arms would hold up instruments.  If you ate enough pizza, you could pretend you were seeing Joe Cocker dressed as a mouse.

The best part of hosting a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s was that the kids were constantly running around and screaming.  In the melee it was hard to keep track of which kids had been picked up by their parents, and which ones might be still be snorkeling in the ball pit.

My father went looking for the missing, but he was told that you had to be under 4 feet tall to enter the pit.  So he had to rent an ocean-floor sonar scanner to find the rest of my guests.  While the machine was on someone thought it was a video game and lodged a token in the circuits, and my father couldn’t get his deposit back.

Finally, the guests had either left or the search ended, and my parents and I sat amidst a pile of wrapping paper, pizza crusts, and a cake that an aspiring acupuncturist had poked with a thousand stabs of a plastic fork.  I don’t remember blowing out the candles, and I don’t remember unwrapping the gifts.  But the look of relief on my parents’ faces as we walked to the car will stay with me forever.

Did you have a memorable birthday party as a child?  Did you ever throw your child a birthday party and survive?

Inspired by “The Birthday Party, by the numbers,” by Leanne Shirtliffe at IronicMom.com.

15 Replies to “Staying Sane at Chuck E. Cheese’s”

  1. Yes! I had my 9th b-day party at C&C. But of course I did since we’re tracking here, you and I. I love the line about Gaul too.

    I also don’t remember any food, just mechanical puppets, arcade heaven, and presents. I still remember a couple of the He-Man figures I got. Ah, glorious youth.

    • Just keep rubbing in the salt about Mr. He-Man and his plastic friends. Let me guess, it was at C&C that you got Castle Gr…No, I’ve said enough. Forget I said anything. I’m glad you had a good time at your ninth birthday party. My ninth birthday party was at a bowling alley, and my final score was a 2.

    • I once went to a place called Dave & Busters. They had graphic video games batting cages and mini-basketball hoop shooting. They also served alcohol and buffalo wings. My first thought was, “This place is like Chuck E. Cheese’s for adults.”

  2. It is my understanding that CEC’s now serves beer in addition to soft drinks, so you know somebody thought of that whole self-medicating the adults thing as a major money maker thang and is making a lot of cash.

    As far as b’days go, once we made homemade puppets. I think I was bratty and had to go to my room while everyone else ate cake. Yeah, that sounds right.

  3. the most memorable party i had was at an A&W [remember those?]. since my brother’s birthday is 4 days before mine, and he’s a mere year older, we had to share all of our parties up until about the age of 10 or so. at said A&W party, a rootbeer float fight ensued, boys against girls, natch. it was hilariously fun until someone who will remain nameless hit my then humorless father smack in the coke-bottle thick glasses with not only the rootbeer float, but also the glass it came in. thankfully he did not lose his eye. just his temper.

    • I do remember the A&W restaurant. You’re story just goes to prove the adage that it’s all fun and games until someone (almost) loses an eye. With regards to birthday parties in general, there appears to be an inverse relationship between the fun level of the kids and the sanity level of the adults.

  4. Almost all of the birthday parties I had as a kid were at home, with streamers and balloons, up to ten friends, and homemade pizza and cake. Once in 5th grade, however, I begged for a bowling party. I was allowed up to 5 friends, we got into the car, went to the bowling alley, and if I remember correctly, were somehow unable to bowl. I think we walked in during a tournament day or something like that. We ended up at McDonald’s and then went home. It was kind of a flop. I stuck to the small, quiet parties at home.

    I don’t have kids but I can tell you right now – there is no power in heaven or on earth that would convince me to have a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese or anything like it. Unless I didn’t have to be there. The thought of it is seriously a nightmare.

    • Maybe there’s a service that parents can hire to host birthday parties for their kids. Just supply a guest list with an asterisk next to the known troublemakers so that their cake intake can be restricted. Parents could even sign a special proxy that terminates the party if their kid gets too out of hand.

  5. Your wife once punched a large bully in the nose via a cheese hole for not allowing her girlfriend to enter the ball pit. She waited outside the hole, much like a cat and mouse game. When his red headed and freckled face came out the other end she really let him have it. Not surprisingly, my parents were more proud than mad… his parents were mortified that he got beat up by a girl. It was a glorious moment in the history of Albright.

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