This evening we took the kids to an event, put on by the Family Readiness Group (FRG), that was at our local Chuck E. Cheese. The kids had a great time and being a week night, the place was almost empty. We used to take the older kids to Chuck E. Cheese every once in awhile, but as they’ve grown and the younger kiddos have come along, we’ve found ourselves going less and less. This event had me thinking about those days when I would clip coupons and look for a great deal for a family day out. All this thinking led me to remember a paper that Clay wrote on the very subject and with his permission I am going to reprint it here. It was written about 4 years ago which means that Luke-Xavier, who enjoyed himself immensely tonight, hadn’t even joined the family yet!
First, here are a few pics of the kiddos having fun
the boys with Chuck E.
Luke-Xavier using ALL the blue sprinkles on his cookie
Clay, caught enjoying his time at Chuck E. Cheese
Enjoy the story!
It was a lazy, late Sunday morning at the Lang household. We were in and out of Church early. My obligations for the day were fulfilled. I was looking forward to a quiet afternoon of couch, chips and collisions. The collision part meaning playoff football. My wife, Jenni, was clipping coupons out of the Sunday paper. My last peaceful moment of the day was broken with Jenni’s exclamation, “hey, a coupon.”
Still not quite knowing that my peaceful universe was about to be shredded, I replied with a well meaning, if slightly sarcastic, “Well, honey, that IS what you are doing, right? Clipping coupons?” “Well, yes, but this one gave me an idea,” my beautiful bride innocently replied.
Warning alarms blared in my head. In my marital experience “I have an idea” ranks up there with “I’ve been thinking.” I quickly switched over to survival mode, slowly, surreptitiously, sinking into the couch. My attention switched to overdrive; suddenly everything Howie Long had to say was of global importance. My survival depended on it. Please Howie, take me away! I had become a fox, securely hidden in the remotest depths of my den.
My bride, having a bit of marital experience as well, quickly turned into a foxhound and charged into my den, dragging me back out. “No, this is really a good idea,” she bayed. With a morbid fascination compelling me to ascertain the instrument of my destruction, I asked the question, “Ok, what is your idea?”
“Well, this coupon is a, “buy a large deluxe pizza, get another for free.” Plus, you get 40 free tokens,” she started…. Tokens? I thought, Pizza? That could only mean… “At Chuck-E-Cheese,” she finished. “So I was thinking (first, an idea and now, thinking – I’m hosed), being you don’t have anything going on, why don’t you take the kids?”
OH SHT! I panicked. Well, I would love to take them honey. Except I just accidentally jammed both my thumbs into my eyes and swirled them around in the sockets so actually I have to go to the hospital now. Or maybe I could just lay here on the couch and recover; perhaps I could just listen to the game until the pain goes away. No, that won’t work Clay. Nope, the best defense is a great offense. Remember who you are: Lieutenant Commander Clay Lang. Naval Aviator, Ranger School graduate, Reconnaissance Marine, member of the team who took down the soccer stadium in Mogadishu, bringer of stability and security to East Timor, the man who flew into the pitch black dark to rescue (wait, I already told you that one), and most importantly, the Lord and Master of my domain. Time to bring the offense and exert some AUTHORITY around here.
“HEEELLL No!” I exploded. “If you think that I’m going to give up my day off, my chance at a couple of beers and playoff football to go to some commercialized pizza joint run by a big rat you need to think again.” I told her. And now for the finale – I’ll sure tell her, “Take the kids to Chuck-E-Cheese, you must be out of your dang mind!”
So I’m driving the kids to the Chuck-E-Cheese on Sports Arena Drive. I have shoe horned all eight children into the Suburban – sometimes I think I am the only person in San Diego who has a legitimate requirement for a full-sized SUV. There is some initial squabbling about who sits where, but I quickly rectify that by breaking out the seating chart. I am still hopeful that there will be some ruckus that will enable me to at least threaten to turn the car around, but my luck has already been shattered by a coupon in the Sunday paper. The eerie, uncannily quiet trip is one I would imagine being similar to the last stroll of a Death Row Inmate.
We arrive. That commercialized, magical place where “a kid can be a kid.” And a parent can lose his mind. The kids have already run ahead and by the time I arrive they are being held at the end of a long entrance area, the “safety stop.” Security checkpoint, I thought as the fraulein in the green and red polyester getup begins her interrogation. “Are these all yours?” she asks. “Yes, but there have been rumors.” I innocently reply. There is no mistaking them for my children as they all have one common trait, the it just got flattened with a frying pan, nose. She looks up at me from under her ring-adorned eyebrows. She is not amused. What do I care? I thought. I’m not the one wearing a hat with a big rat on it. Eager to strengthen our new bond, I ask her while she is affixing matching plastic security bracelets if they ever thought of just micro chipping everyone. After receiving the “gee, I’ve never heard that one before” look, I decide it’s time to move to the register.
Ordering time. A few pizzas, drinks for everyone, and let’s not forget, more tokens. And the total is – wait I have a coupon – sixty-five dollars. As I shell out the cash, I notice a birthday party winding down. Much of the food has been left, the kids have been too busy running around, losing their minds. Even half the cake is left. I humorously ask if I can cancel my order and just take over where they left off. I again get the look beneath the big rat hat. She hasn’t heard that one before, either.
Now the fun begins. As I try to herd the kids into a yet unbussed booth large enough for everyone I spy a recently vacated high chair belonging to a family preparing to depart. I politely ask if they are done with it. Again, the look. At this point I am starting to wonder if I have an enormous phallus growing straight out of my forehead. “When we’re done with it,” I’m chastised. As I go to check on my children, the family departs and a mom quickly swoops in on the high chair. I’m out of luck. Well I’ll just hold Gabbi (age 1) I thought, as I turn the kids loose to play.
Mayhem. Absolute mayhem. As Kateri (my oldest) divvies up the loot (tokens), everyone takes off in a different direction. I try to take a minute to appraise my surroundings. Yelling, screaming, pushing, shoving. Kids walking up the ramp of the game were you roll the balls into the holes. They are dropping the ball into the 800-point slot so they can win more tickets. Maddi (age 7), hollers down from the top of the play structure that someone threw up in there. I put Gabbi, the contortionist, down so I can check if Maddi has crawled through someone’s yak. Max (3), is walking from video game to video game, putting in a token and walking away. Tristan (6), wants to ride on the little four-seater merry-go-round. There is a girl on it who is screaming that it’s her ride and she doesn’t want anyone else on; her mother explains to Tristan and another boy that they can’t ride until her daughter is done. Max has put half his tokens in the machines and given the other half away. He wants more. Gabbi is trying to sit next to a little girl on a mechanical two-seater car. Her dad takes Gabbi by the arm to pull her off. We lock eyes. He lets her go. Gabbi runs past the security checkpoint. The fraulein is off flirting with a couple of young men in Raiders hats and baggy pants, sporting their ink – Boyz in the Chuck-E-Cheese. I see a woman changing a diaper on the floor right next to the play structure. I pick up Gabbi; she’s ripe. I tell Kateri she’s in charge – good luck – as I head towards the restroom. I already know there won’t be a “diaper deck” in there like there is in the Women’s restroom. Arianna (9), is playing a driving game. A little boy runs up and grabs the wheel. His father, a heartbeat behind, collects him. He tells the boy it is not his turn yet and looks at me apologetically. I ask, “you get sent here with a coupon too?” Finally, an understanding laugh.
Pizza is here. By the time I load the platoon into the booth, the pizza is scarcely warm. Across from me I see a chubby girl. The pizza she is eating is sending down rivulets of translucent orange fat down her cheek, culminating into a large droplet under her chin. If this were Alaska, she would be forming an orange icicle. Her parents tell her if she doesn’t eat her food, she can’t go play. My appetite is gone. What am I doing here? Why here instead of the half-dozen, half-empty parks we passed on the way? Wouldn’t even need a coupon. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t have flown with the kids. For the umpteenth time, I eye the beer and wine on tap at the register. I wonder if they could just run a hose from the tap to my booth.
Back to the mayhem. More running around. More settling disputes. More tears. More tokens. Finally, mercifully, the tokens run out. Now comes the hard part. What pieces of worthless, made in Taiwan, crap do we buy with all these tickets? For one, a whistle (it will never make it home). Another, a kazoo (ditto). Next, a clacker (refer to the whistle and kazoo). A plastic slinky, a rubber snake (this one WILL make it home, in fact, it will find its way under Jenni’s pillow). JJ (12), wants to save up his tickets for a cool pen. I pay the difference now. There is no way I want to leave with any incentive to return. Now we’re off to the security checkpoint. Fraulein peels herself off gangster number one to make sure all my children are still mine. She looks upset that I interfered with her romance. I feel bad – not!
The ride home is much more reassuring than the ride to. I now have the kids that I am accustomed to. Gabbi has already fallen asleep in her car seat. Max is right behind. It is hard to believe that I have just spent sixty-five bucks when I could have experienced just as much mayhem by simply taking them for a car ride. What is it with that place? I ask myself. It’s simple. The countless commercials embedded in every kid show. The smiling faces, fabulous games and prizes, wonderful food, singing and dancing creatures. I only wish they would show the other side: The vomit, the grease, the junk. Three out of eight toys have already been broken. Now I will just need to intercept a couple more before they make it to the house.
The answer is ridiculously simple; parent guilt. The continual feeling that not only are we obligated to do everything within our mental and physical (and let’s not forget fiscal) ability, but that if we do not, then we are setting them up for almost certain failure down the road. When you couple that with the simple fact that parents will spend outrageous amounts of money on their children (my friend has a personal trainer for his ten-year-old son), you end up with an extremely effective marketing tool. The formula is brilliant. Three easy steps: 1. Inundate every show that children watch (even those that they are not supposed to, but researches show that they do) with advertising. 2. Sit back and let the pleadings of the children mix with the guilt of the parents. 3. Count the money as it rolls in hand over fist. And as a bonus, throw in a coupon and you’ll reel in some more. I feel more than a bit sheepish as we drive past those same half-empty parks on the way home. What does it matter that you saved twenty when you still spent sixty-five?
Mom gets the unrated version as the children stream into the house. Someone puked in the play structure. Max gave all his tokens away. A girl wouldn’t let Tristan ride the merry-go-round. I get the “what were you doing if you weren’t supervising the children?” look. Since she is six months pregnant with our ninth, I am happy to give her a little peace and quiet at home. If only it didn’t involve Chuck-E-Cheese. I almost feel guilty about the one good thing that came out of that place – the rubber snake in my back pocket – almost. She often comments that I am nothing but a big kid myself. Who am I to prove her wrong? This is my home, where a kid can be a kid.
Slowly, the caffeinated beverages wear off on the children and we are able to get them off to bed. Only two complained of stomachaches, so for that we are fortunate. Later that night as I watch news clips of the great game I missed on Sports Center, Jenni comments, “When I was putting Tristan to bed he told me that he wants to have his birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese.”
OH SHIT! I panicked. “What? I don’t care if it is double coupon day for his birthday. The last thing you are going to do is to get me to throw Tristan’s birthday party there. I’d rather throw a pool party at a leper colony. Throw Tristan’s birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese. You must be out of your dang mind!”