Me to Velvet Rope Dude: “Can I just go in? My husband’s already here, and he’s already setting things up.”
Velvet Rope Dude: “Your personal party host will be here in just a sec.”
Me: “But, um, I’m holding a lot of stuff, and my arms are kind of going numb . . . . I just want to set everything down . . . .”
V.R.D.: “It will only be a sec.”
More than “a sec” later, Personal Party Host Jordan arrives and advises me that our assigned space in the Party Room is Aisle 6. This comment annoys me for several reasons:
1. Technically, the Party Room is not a room at all. The entire C.E.C. is one open space, the Party “Room” being one portion of it. (Hey, I’m a real estate attorney who does a lot of commercial leasing work. Demising walls are my stock in trade.)
2. Aisle 6? I thought I booked a party at C.E.C., not Sak ‘n Save. Also, there is nothing to indicate what “aisle” (AKA “row of tables”) is which. Personal Party Host Jordan might as well have said, “Your space in the Party Room is the sixth aisle from the right.”
3. Personal Party Host Jordan really didn’t need to identify my Aisle at all, given the fact that my Aisle was clearly labeled with a humongous balloon that said “Parker, 6” on both sides.
Also, did I mention that my husband was already unpacking?
4. I have had three parties at this particular Chuck E. Cheese. I am three for three in being assigned “Aisle 6” – being the row of tables that tees into the blue screen. Which is a problem, because . . . well, more on that later.
Here’s how the rest of our C.E.C. experience went down . . . mirroring exactly C.E.C. experiences #1 and #2:
Personal Party Host Jordan spent several minutes explaining how a C.E.C. party works. This was unnecessary information, given the depth of my C.E.C. experience, and also ate up critical time, because – did I mention that you get fifteen minutes for setup? I tried to convey, as politely as possible, the fact that I didn’t really need the intro. And, in fact, could give it myself, verbatim. Personal Party Host Jordan was not be dissuaded.
Personal Party Host Jordan followed up the intro with the standard interrogation: what kind of pizzas do you want for the kids? What kind of soda? Will you be ordering for the adults? Except, P.P.H.J., like most C.E.C. employees, was a mumbler. Half of the time, I had no idea what he was asking me. It’s possible that some of my yes answers could have represented inadvertent confessions to crimes I did not, in fact, commit. Nevertheless, I managed to remain chipper throughout the interrogation process, and P.P.H.J. FINALLY went off to fetch our pitcher of Sprite and pitcher of Sunkist (the latter of which looked suspiciously like a second pitcher of Sprite, but whatever).
As per the C.E.C. usual, one party guest arrived immediately on time, and therefore prior to Distribution of the Token Cups, resulting in much awkwardness as the aforementioned five year-old party guest squirmed and glanced LONGINGLY in the direction of the game area (which I’m sure the C.E.C. folks consider “the Game ROOM”).
Token cups arrived, along with more guests. The kids commenced to play, employing the two known C.E.C. strategies:
1. The Big Kid Strategy: Stick to the games that award the most tickets, thus eliminating the games that are the most fun. Because, to the Big Kids, C.E.C. is not about fun. The Big Kid philosophy is most definitely “(s)he who dies with the most tickets, wins.” Much time is spent discussing how many tickets they have in total, how many they were awarded in a single play, and what they plan to do with the tickets.
Big Kids are kind of annoying.
2. The Little Kid Strategy: Run around like madmen and women, lose your shoes and token cups in the process, and receive, collectively, five tickets. Which you fail to redeem from the machine, because, really, they are irrelevant to you. It’s okay – the Big Kids will snatch them up, along with your abandoned tokens. Which is also okay, because after playing Skee Ball and Whack-a-Mole and riding the flying bicycle and the roller coaster simulator you retire en masse to the “Giant Habitrail in the Sky” that hangs suspended over the game area. The Giant Habitrail costs no tokens and yields no tickets.
Little Kids are tremendously fun to watch.
That is, for so long as they permit you to watch them. Once they disappear into the Giant Habitrail, you only catch glimpses of them through the bubble windows – which is problematic when it’s time to transition into the next phase of the C.E.C. experience. At approximately the one-hour mark, a disembodied voice announces that it is time for birthday children X, Y and Z and their respective parties to return to their tables. The Big Kids ignore the announcement, because that is what Big Kids do. Also, the announcement is delivered by someone impersonating an adult from the old Peanuts holiday specials. “Wah, wah, wah, wah, WAH.”
The Little Kids ignore the announcement, because they cannot hear it form inside the Giant Habitrail.
After several minutes of kid wrangling, everyone gathers at the table (in our case, on Aisle Six), and because our table is immediately opposite the blue screen, said gathering only holds for 1.4 seconds. That is how long it takes for the kids (Big and Little) to register, “Hey, blue screen!” Then they all pile up in front of the camera that is pointed at the blue screen so that they can watch their obnoxious images superimposed over various video footage. When I say “pile up,” I’m not exaggerating. They end up in a ginormous kid pile on the floor, which is entirely counterintuitive, because the camera ends up filming a point in space over their collective heads.
I hate the blue screen.
Pizza arrives, kids are dragged, in some cases literally kicking and screaming, to the table, and it’s quiet for, like, twelve seconds. Then Chuck E. himself arrives, after a little song-and-dance number featuring the giant animatronic Chuck E. in the corner (immediately opposite Aisle One; again, how come I never get the animatronic Chuck E. aisle?). My very observant father notes that animatronic Chuck E. has two protruding rodent teeth, whereas live-action Chuck E. does not, and isn’t it funny that the kids don’t notice the difference? I respond that, if the kids can get past the fact that there are two Chuck E.’s standing in close proximity, ignoring differences in their overall appearance isn’t a stretch, and we are talking about the same kids who can encounter three different gentlemen in Santa suits back to back and fail to take note of the hundred-pound swing between the skinniest and the heaviest ones, material differences in height, age and coloring, etc., etc.
Chuck E.’s arrival invariably strikes terror in the heart of at least one guest. Yesterday was no exception. Greenleigh, if it’s any comfort, he skeeves me out, too.
When Connor was little, he barely tolerated the Chuck E. photo op portion of the party – not because he was afraid of him, but because the whole thing was just so unnecessary. Bear in mind, this is the child who never for a second has thought that people in animal costumes are anything but. Parker, I’m sure, holds no illusions that Chuck E. is a real rodent. But Parker is my center-of-attention child; thus, he wore his inflatable token crown proudly and, in fact, insisted on standing in his chair so as to minimize the height differential between himself and Chuck E. (and, no doubt, so that he could be assured of maximum attention).
Then we sang “Happy Birthday,” blew out candles and ate cake.
Cute cake, huh? Here’s a close-up of the comic book-inspired image superimposed onto the icing:
“POW” bubbles were the baker’s idea, although to her credit she asked me before adding them. I thought it was a brilliant notion, and told her so.
After cake, it was Parker’s turn in the ticket booth, which is like one of those money booths, but instead of blowing dollar bills around it blows C.E.C. tickets.
Around this point, guests began to depart, resulting in much chaos as Mom and Dad chased them down with party favors in hand. One female guest balked at receiving a Batman treat box and left with just a fairy princess coloring book. I had a fairy princess coloring book to give her, because – well, this wasn’t my first six year-old rodeo. One of the hallmarks of the six-year-old party is the “Starting-to Get-a-Little-Prissy Girl Guest.” Connor’s S.T.G.A.L.P. Girl Guest was named Alexis. She showed up to his pirate/knight/Viking party dressed in a pristine lace party dress with a satin ribbon sash, white socks and Mary Janes, hair braided in two neat pigtails, and looked upon the boy (and tomboy) party guests in abject horror. I suggested that she could serve as my party assistant, and she seized on the suggestion like a Titanic passenger might launch herself at an approaching lifeboat.
So, yeah, I came prepared.
My favorite favors were the Batman masks, purchased at JoAnn in their unfinished wood state and painted black with some white accents. The backs of the sticks read, “Thanks for coming to my party. Love, Parker.”
We did not open gifts onsite. This was not planned; it just sort of evolved out of the overall level of chaos. I decided not to fight momentum, but typically I insist that my kids open their gifts publicly. I can still remember the birthday where I received a Nancy Drew book and bluntly advised the gift-giver, “I already have this one.” I can also still remember my mom’s hand digging into my arm as she hauled me halfway around and hissed words of warning into my ear. I credit that incident with teaching me tact, and I have tried to instruct my kids in the basics of Gift-Opening 101 from an early age:
You already own the item, but the gift-giver doesn’t know that: “Oh, thanks. I love [name of item].” Nothing more needs to be said, and it’s a true statement – you do love the item, seeing as how you already have it.
You already own the item, and the gift-giver knows (because they just saw the item in your room, another guest blurted out the information, or they just saw you open the same item as given to you by another guest):
[If the gift consists of LEGOs or something else where duplication can be a good thing]: “Awesome, now I can build two Tie Fighters and stage battles!”
[All other situations, where the gift came with a gift receipt]: “Hey, cool – I can exchange this for [name of different item].” It is imperative that the substitute item named relates somehow to the item given (example: an accessory or add-on pack). To name a completely different item could convey to both givers that their selection really wasn’t what you wanted in the first place.
[All other situations, where the gift did not come with a gift receipt]: “Hey, cool – now I can have one at home and one [for the car/Nana’s house/etc.].”
Went off on a tangent there, didn’t I?
So we opened gifts after we went home. Among other items, Parker received two Pillow Pets. This pleased him to no end, as he has wanted a Pillow Pet (actually, Pillow Pets plural) for some time now. I thought that that was a bit odd until I heard him explain to no one in particular that “I am going to transform my penguin into pillow mode.” Ah, yes – to a boy, a Pillow Pet is just a novel new form of Transformer. The penguin (purchased by Grandma, because of the Batman party theme) has been christened Oswald Cobblepot, which is Penguin’s name in the Batman comics. The dog (purchased by friend Lauren Grace, because Lauren Grace liked the dog) has been christened Krypto the Superdog.
I wrapped our gifts to look like part of the Gotham skyline and used them as centerpieces:
At the two-hour mark, we were evicted from Aisle Six, remaining gifts departed soon thereafter, and the third hour of our C.E.C. experience consisted of Honorary Aunt Robyn and me sitting at a booth and chatting in relative quiet while Dad played Seawolf and our boys contemplated their ticket redemption options. Parker selected, among other items, a paint-your-own-plaster-shark kit. Connor got a storage box for his Bakugan (hey, that’s actually useful!), a C.E.C. token caddy (also useful!), a rubber scorpion (not terribly useful, but not likely to scare me unnecessarily, as the scale of the thing was pretty unrealistic) and . . . a trick chewing gum package with a faux cockroach in it. Party. FOUL. I fully intend to dispose of it when he’s not looking.
All in all, it was a very good day, notwithstanding the fact that Birthday Boy, after coming down from his sugar high, became Highly Developed Sense of Entitlement/Extreme Whininess Boy. Par for the course, I guess.
So, six year-old party over and done with . . . . Eleven year-old party coming soon to a blog post near you.