This is what happens when I take my family to Chuck E. Cheese.
Jarod’s 8th birthday was last week, and every year he likes to go to Chuck E. Cheese with a friend or two to celebrate. We never set foot in there any other time, just once or twice a year for a small birthday. This year, Jarod decided to take his friend Skyler and his brothers and sisters. (Brian and Kender stayed home. That place is just too much for them, not really fun at all.) With everything else going on this month, I didn’t schedule an official party package in advance, so we just walked in around 4:30pm today. We found a table, ordered pizzas, and I got 30 tokens for each of the kids to play with. I expected they would spend them, we’d eat pizza and cake, and then we’d go. 2 hours, tops, if that. I settled into the corner of the booth with my knitting (the effing mittens, as a matter of fact).
We didn’t leave that place until after 8 o’clock.
See, this is what my kids do in places like that. Whether it’s Chuck E. Cheese, the skating rink, an arcade at an amusement park, or anywhere similar, the same pattern emerges. Brenden leads the way in scavenging, and he has taken all the other children as his Apprentice Collectors. They scour the place, checking under machines, under booths, behind tables, around trash cans, every conceivable place (and probably a few inconceivable ones!), looking for lost tokens. In a busy place like Chuck E. Cheese on a weekend afternoon, Brenden can come up with 20 or 30 tokens at a time. With his little team of minions following in his footsteps, they came up with a steady supply of tokens whenever they seemed in danger of running out.
Then there is the cute factor. My kids must have a charisma of 50. Whenever they stop moving, finally turning in a bucket of tickets and then bringing their high-fructose haul back to the table, somebody comes up and drops tokens in their laps. I swear to all that is holy, people just walk up and give my kids tokens. Some people will come up, give tokens to the ones that are there, and then leave extras “for those other two, when they come back.” One of these days I should test them out on a street corner with a cardboard sign. They might bring in enough to pay off the mortgage!
Finally, there is the free labor factor. As bad as their rooms and my house look, my kids love to clean up after other people. They’ll pick up trash, collect lost items, whatever. My girls will go scouring the floors for dropped hangers and those funky little clothing clips while I’m trying on clothes. Brenden will find price tags under the shelves at JoAnn. Tonight at Chuck E. Cheese, Tamara led the way in picking up empty token cups, those little plastic cups they give you at the cash register to carry your tokens around. Soon she had all the other kids following around behind her, digging empty token cups out of places even the staff never thought to look. She collected about a hundred and fifty of those things in a stack that went from her waist to the top of her head, and then…AND THEN…the whole team took them up to the cash register JUST AS THE STAFF WAS RUNNING OUT OF CUPS. The grateful staff HANDED THEM SOME MORE TOKENS for restocking them in the nick of time, and the kids were off and gaming again.
It’s like they have a magical bottomless bag of holding spewing out a never-ending supply of tickets and tokens. Every time I thought we were about to leave, one of the above brought in more tokens.
Sorry, Skyler’s grandma. I tried to get him home sooner. I think he had fun, though.