Monday, February 27, 2012

The necessary evil of Chuck E. Cheese

So Jack got invited to a friend's birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. You veteran parents know how this works: You go to Target, buy a gift in the toy department, wrap it, take your kid to the House of Cheese and either drop him/her off (if you're smart) or else agree to stay and help supervise (if you're not).

My good friend Lenny Luscher once called Chuck E. Cheese "Babylon for kids," and I think that's pretty accurate. Contained within those four walls is every possible kid form of sin and vice...and, thanks to the addition of beer and wine to the menu, some for the adults, as well.

The rides and games vary by Chuck E. Cheese location, but there are at least three constants no matter which one you visit:

(1) A jumbo-sized Habitrail in which kids crawl around and share germs with others their age
(2) A variety of games that introduce them to gambling by offering tickets for the winners
(3) Noise - lots and lots of noise

That last point is crucial. Do not go to Chuck E. Cheese thinking you'll be in for a relaxing time while your child eats pizza, ingests mass quantities of sugary soda and plays skee-ball. The Cheese Experience is loud, and it's almost always uncomfortably hot. Little kids will constantly run into your knees like tiny Ndamukong Suhs, trying to get from one activity to the other. No matter how well you have trained your children, they will quickly conform to the pattern of obnoxious, rude behavior so favored by the tiny denizens of The Cheese.

And yet, I would argue the world needs Chuck E. Cheese. It wouldn't bother me if I never walked into one again the rest of my life, mind you, but it's my firm belief that there's a certain ying and yang between grown-ups and kids that needs to be maintained.

Think of it from a child's point of view. Ninety-five percent of the time, kids are forced to live, work and play in decidedly adult-oriented environments. Even when they're around other kids, like at school, they do it in a setting created and supported by adults.

Chuck E. Cheese is one of the few places they can go that is entirely theirs. That fake Chuck E. Cheese band up on the stage? They love that! Seriously, they may not admit it, but listening to that animatronic band strike up a bluegrass version of "The Farmer in the Dell" for the 27th time in less than an hour is like scoring front-row seats to Led Zeppelin for them.

The games, the grimy ball pit, the noise...this is paradise for small people. They can do what they want for as long as they want (or at least until the tokens run out) and no annoying grown-up is going to yell at them for being too loud or for having too much fun.

Trust me, this is a good thing. If we as the people in charge were to take away that last 5% of freedom they possess, they would revolt. Mark my words, there would be a full-scale kid revolution if we shut down Chuck E. Cheese and places like it. These kids (who already tend to be fast and agile) would be angry, as well, and pre-adolescent anger is sufficiently powerful to destroy civilization as we know it.

The Chuck E. Cheese people understand this. Which is why they offer booze now. They don't want you getting crazy ideas in your head about how their environment is probably damaging to your child's long-term mental health, so they offer up fairly low-cost Chardonnay and Budweiser to head you off. That nice little buzz you get not only gives you the stamina to endure the chaos, it also keeps you from setting fire to the place.

Trust me, as parents and as a society, we need The Cheese.


  1. As a mother of 3 I feel the same about Chuck E. Cheese (ie. germs, sugar) but you are right the kids need a place to let loose. Well written.

  2. Thanks, Karen. I thought the term "necessary evil" was especially appropriate for that place... ;)