There’s just something about that mouse.
Not Mickey. I love Mickey, but the mouse in favor this time around is none other than Chuck E. Cheese.
I guess I’m getting my kid-fix, as I have now been to Chuck E. Cheese in two different cities in the past three months. Pretty amazing, considering it had been more years than I can remember since I visited prior to this winter. I didn’t even know for sure where the one in Knoxville was located, but my friend Michelle and I found it, to her grandson Ian’s delight.
This past weekend, my niece and I took her three boys to Chuck E. Cheese in Birmingham, Ala. Camden is not quite 1, so he was content to sit with his mom, Laurie, while his two brothers and I tried out every game we could wedge our way up to.
Chuck E. Cheese on a Saturday -- whether in Birmingham or Knoxville, or, I suspect, Timbuktu -- is a mass of mostly happy children wearing birthday hats with cake smeared on their faces.
It was my nephew Jackson’s birthday, hence the visit to Birmingham, but this wasn’t a birthday party. It was a great-aunt Sherri outing, which is something akin to a party only I don’t care for hats.
Jackson and Gavin had a good time at Chuck E. Cheese. Gavin didn’t care much for Mr. Chuck in his full costume or animated on the stage, but Jackson dutifully posed for an Aunt Sherri keepsake picture. Gavin happily posed by the airplane.
The memories walking into that children’s fantasyland brought back were amazing. My status as a mom is old enough to remember when Knoxville didn’t have a Chuck E. Cheese, but had Billy Bob and crew at Showbiz Pizza.
My older son was terrified of the animated dog that performed with Billy Bob, but didn’t blink an eye at Fatz the gorilla. Brett was partial to the sleepy-eyed bear, who wasn’t nearly as animated as the overall-clad Billy Bob and got his vocabulary straight from the Beach Boys Greatest Hits.
I remember so well trying to cheat at Skee Ball to get the children more tickets so they could get a 50 cent prize instead of a 25 cent one.
We had at least two birthday parties at Showbiz. By the time Chuck replaced Billy Bob, my children were on to parties at the skating rink and indoor soccer facility.
Surprisingly, not a lot has changed since Showbiz and the early Chuck E. days. The children aren’t nearly as mesmerized by the animated, talking and singing characters as my boys were. At that point, we had never been to Disney or seen anything quite like those characters. I was more impressed than the children back in the day, but I barely glanced at the stage show this time around. I guess six-foot tall fully animated singing mice and bears aren’t so impressive anymore.
As it was eventually even at Showbiz, the games are king. With a good mix of everything from Thomas the Train who barely moves at all to virtual reality helmets that made me carsick, the games were what the afternoon was all about for the boys.
Jackson, Gavin and Ian were all three young enough that the “ticket grab” didn’t mean much to them, so I didn’t have to polish up my cheating -- I mean Skee Ball -- skills. All three were happy with the first tier of prizes, and we even came home with extra tokens.
What I loved about the two trips were the same things I loved about the trips with Trey and Brett when they were youngsters. You just don’t see that level of excitement many places in the world anymore. Pure joy is a wonder to behold, and it filled my heart with the same joy, plus a sense of hope and fascination.
In a world were there is war and hunger and economic gloom, a hand full of golden tokens and a six-inch cheese pizza at the home of a six-foot mouse seems such a little thing to bring so much happiness to bright, shining faces. I was glad to be back into the chaos that is a Saturday at Chuck E. Cheese.
It’s chaos with a spirit of happiness.