I got back yesterday, home to my family. Smart Wife had already dropped the bomb on me that we were going to Chuck E. Cheese's today, to reward the somewhat stir crazy four-year-old. I had a couple days to make the choice of staying at home with the baby or going along.
The baby and I found ourselves in a whirling noisy circus full of aggressive children and the comatose parents they drug along in their wake. It was brought to my attention that beer and wine are served at Chuck E. Cheese's to help draw adults in and keep them there. We got there sort of later in the day so that possibly explains some of the logy behavior in the grown-ups, but maybe it was just the sheer volume and force of the youngsters that would make anyone else look slow.
Blurs of families blew past our table, shrieking and pounding the floor. They huddled around video and bowling games, scores of kids, overamped winners and whining losers, all keeping up the low roar. I found myself reading SW's lips, catching snippets of her words, something about going to order pizza at the counter.
We traded perfectly good American money for the shiny coin of the realm. The four-year-old and I, fresh from a brief afternoon nap on the couch together, wandered off in search of machines to feed. Some were undoubtedly out of his league, but Chuck provides for even the smallest token-holders with odd little diversions. The Snake Drop (I think that's the name) is one where the kid takes a heavy ball and rolls it down a lane, pretty much straight into a hole at the end. You allegedly steer the fleeing ball, but it just bangs against the plexiglass walls on its way to the Inevitable. We played an Elvis pinball machine, and the four-year-old was alarmingly natural at the flippers, considering how many dollars in quarters both SW and I lavished on the game as undergrads. There was a game where an uncontrollable toy monster truck popped a wheelie and collapsed a glowing red rubber Camaro which reinflated after the round was over. I even strapped the four-year-old to a chair and sent him around a clock twice, which was slow but satisfying for us both.
There was a game near our table, a variation of Whac-a-Mole with snake heads instead of rodents. My kid tried it but it was a little too hard to get enough wallop out of him to beat enough snakes back into their hidey-holes. Not the case for a pony-tailed dad and his two unkempt little kids of indeterminate gender, who each took two holes and pounded the living shit out of the game until it coughed out a dozen tickets and then died; between SW and myself, we told seven different people that the game was broken, some who ignored us and fed the coin slot anyway. After it was fixed, a small boy asked me if I could help him fish a lost token of his out of one of the holes which were, alas, too small for me to get my fingers in.
We followed a life-size Chuck E. to the stage where the 'band' seemed to short-circuit in the middle of a song, clothy mouths agape. It was too disconcerting and inert to stay long, but we checked back in later while they were jamming on "Takin' Care of Business" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
The four-year-old took off his shoes, ignoring a questionable Sneaker Keeper, and crawled into the tube play structure that lines the ceiling in the front of the place. He got a short admonition from me to 'keep it moving in there' which preceded an influx of speedy children of various ages shoving their ways in. The SkyTubes are about sixteen feet up; there are a few windows, but none through which anxious parents can see their progenies crawling by. I tried to use my X-ray vision, but I admit I lost track of my child in the SkyTubes and began to panic a little. The last time he'd gotten in the 'Tubes, he freaked out, couldn't find his way and began tearfully banging on windows when he'd get to them--his very pregnant mother sent another child in after him, both kids exiting via the slide. SW could tell I had no fix on him from our table. I kept thinking about the story of the guy who lost his car in the carwash. "How ... WHAT will I tell his mother?" He did eventually reappear in the entrance to the structure. calling "Dad! Dad!" and we went to eat our pizza after that.
Some of the games paid off (using the term loosely) in tickets. We force-fed them in twos and threes into a receipt printer before we left, and I helped him pick out what his hard earned seventy-two points would get (tattoos of, yup, Chuck and a miniature Tootsie Pop).
He wore four of the Chucks to bed after sucking down the candy, so of course it took a few more chapters of Captains Courageous than usual. His last sleepy interruption for the night was "Daddy, did you have fun at Chuck E. Cheese's today?" Yes, in fact, I did. Thanks, buddy.