A friend recently said she was convinced that Hell was filled with cats licking plastic bags. Everywhere you went there would be more cats, more plastic bags. More licking.
I think that is partially true. That is one of the first layers of Hell. It is somewhere around the sections of Hell reserved for fingernails on a chalkboard and women who sing all their songs in nasally voices with vocal fries at the ends of their words. But, as Dante so helpfully wrote, there are many layers of Hell. And I have found most of them.
Somewhere under the cats-licking-plastic-bags layer is the layer that is a giant Toys R Us. For obvious reasons, in this layer of Hell, you are compelled to take excited children around the store with a minimal budget and a full bladder.
Under that layer is Build-A-Bear. You will wait in lines for eternity, waiting to have a bored high schoolers stuff an overpriced teddy with stuffing and plastic hearts. You will be bombarded by knee-biting children and their helicopter parents the whole time. Once you get to the end of the line, you will give the cashier all of your money and get back in the back of the line because you forgot to buy princess shoes for the princess bear.
But worst of all there is a layer of Hell reserved only for the worst people. I’m talking like, Hitler-quality people. This layer of Hell is Chuck E Cheese. At noon. On a Saturday. During winter birthday season. It is truly a cruel and unusual punishment.
Since I lived in rural Michigan during my childhood, I had never been to Chuck E Cheese before. So the only frame of reference I had was that one episode of CSI with the crazy child-stealer who dressed like an employee and learned how to avoid all the security cameras to snatch kids. So, really, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this. But, the boys had been looking forward to this for months so we went there for lunch anyway. On a Saturday. In winter. That was probably a mistake.
If you’ve never been, the first thing you need to know about Chuck E Cheese is that if you have anyone in your family with sensory issues, you would be better off just shining a strobe light in your car while blasting death metal and spinning doughnuts and then going to Olive Garden. It’s just not going to end well and your kid is going to freak out. Probably before getting through the door.
The second thing you need to know is that is that your children will immediately disappear after you get in the building. The could literally be handcuffed to you and they would still vanish. They will come back for tokens occasionally and a bite of pizza. You’ll be able to find them in a couple hours once they run out of tokens and have an over-tired meltdown.
The third thing to know about Chuck E Cheese is that the row of skiball machines is the unofficial parent hangout. If you need grown-up time, find the skiball. You will find a bunch of haggard looking moms and dads racking up tickets, having a beer or seven, and chatting. It’s a great place to escape the noise because the skiball is usually in the opposite corner of the building from the Birthday Party Holding Pen. I made friends with a grandpa from DePere. He showed me how to aim the ball for the corners so it would bank off the side and in to the 10,000 point bucket every time. Awesome.
Even though we left with pounding headaches from the level of noise, it was slightly better than Hell. I mean, we were allowed to leave eventually and even though I would choose a root canal over going back, it did have its high points.
I mean, look at these faces…
But, I do have a tip for parents of young children and parents-to-be: Train your children early that Chuck E Cheese is like unicorns. It exists on TV and in story books, but it’s not real. And you should never try to find one. I won’t tell them the truth if you won’t…