ThreeWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
Lights flash and pop at unpredictable speeds, from untraceable directions. Three-dozen sources of noise clash and compete for control in a cacophony of chaos. Motion compels the tracking eye from every peripheral angle; pupils swirl, desperately trying to keep up with the carnival-ride centrifugal force of activity. Colors assault the eye and violate perceptions of normalcy like nameless, shifting fogs from a Lovecraft story. Human beings devolve into little more than wild animals, running, jumping, rolling and bouncing like pingpong balls in an industrial dryer.
It is not combat.
It is not battle.
It is Chuck E. Cheese.
Our South Florida family arranged a visit to the venerable pizza palace to celebrate our sons’ mid-June birthdays. Evan is now 3 and Sean is 1. I am now 650 years older than when Evan was born, and I appreciate more than ever how fleeting and unstoppable the march of time is.
I had never been to a party at Chuck E. Cheese and did not know what to expect.
Nothing I could have expected would have prepared me for the experience anyway.
God bless the staff and crew at Chuck E. Cheese; as much as I adore my perfect little angels, I can imagine the mental trip from parent to curmudgeon being greatly accelerated by prolonged exposure to the screaming hordes of other people’s delinquent brats at the arcade and restaurant.
For the party, Evan — who between Chuck E., Mickey and Minnie must believe all mice are 6-foot, waving, dead-eyed creatures who spread joy and treats like vermin Santas — was given all sorts of birthday goodies: a Chuck E. Cheese metal lunch box, a nifty Chuck E. Cheese birthday medal, a tableside visit from Chuck E. Cheese, an enthusiastically sung round of “Happy Birthday” by Chuck E. Cheese employees and a Chuck E. Cheese birthday cake. He was also given approximately 3,000 Chuck E. Cheese game tokens, in the same kind of holes-in-the-bottom plastic cups used in casinos.
Sean is too young to understand any of the hoopla, but he stayed focused on the celebration and tried several times to poke his tiny, but insistent fingers through Chuck E. Cheese’s eyes. I am assuming that is natural curiosity, not a critical comment on his part.
After the celebration, I took Evan to the arcade area to start spending tokens. He is too little for the video games and I am not ready to see him with anything resembling a video-game gun in his hands, but there were a number of skill games he fell in love with. His favorite was a ski ball-type game, in which a token freed up five pingpong balls and the object was to throw them into buckets; the farther away the bucket, the greater the ticket value. Evan’s joy was to take all five pingpong balls at once and dump them in the very first bucket. This process took about 10 seconds; the game gives you two minutes to play, so Evan would jump up and down and jam token after token into the machine, waiting 110 seconds for the next round.
I lost track after Round 17.
Before Evan could initiate what I estimated to be Round 22, I pried him away from the machine to explore the rest of the arcade area. A few things caught his eye, but I soon realized I would retain enough left over tokens to fill a small pirate’s treasure chest.
Evan clamored to sit in a motion-simulator ride, so I buckled him in and stood beside him outside the car, expecting a gentle jaunt through a meadow full of animated bunnies; instead, the screen showed an Elvira, Mistress of the Dark-hosted tour of a horror carnival, complete with zombies and every conceivable nasty creature. Evan, uneducated in the ways of the undead, thought the bats were cool and did not seem to realize he should have been terrified. I credit Elvira’s animated, lava lamp cleavage, which kept us both distracted and inspired nostalgia in one of us for our breastfeeding days.
I won’t burden you with the knowledge of how we spent the remaining tokens, but it involved a SpongeBob SquarePants machine and attempts to drop a token, hoping it would land on a specific square; we hoarded almost 300 tickets for that little pastime.
All of us were exhausted and battered by the Chuck E. Cheese experience, but Evan had so much fun he talked about it nonstop for three days. Which is the point, right? It may be laughably simplistic to reduce the parenting adventure to an evening at Chuck E. Cheese, but the analogy is so perfect it demands consideration.
Our boys are 3 and 1, and the months have consisted of lights flashing and popping at unpredictable speeds, from untraceable directions; three-dozen sources of noise clashing and competing for control in a cacophony of chaos; motion compelling the tracking eye from every peripheral angle; pupils swirling, desperately trying to keep up with the carnival-ride centrifugal force of activity; colors assaulting the eye and violating perceptions of normalcy like nameless, shifting fogs from a Lovecraft story; human beings devolving into little more than wild animals, running, jumping, rolling and bouncing like pingpong balls in an industrial dryer.
It is combat.
It is battle.
It is parenthood.
Happy birthday, Evan and Sean.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.