I go back and read this post regularly just to remind myself – Never falter. Never fail. Never step foot into Chuck E. Cheese.

E. Cheese, that is.

Chris and I made it four years, ten months, and three days into our parenting career without crossing his threshold. And we were well pleased with ourselves.

Then we received an invitation to a good friend’s son’s birthday party. A friend that Ali would be disappointed to miss his celebration.

(A friend whose mother agreed that I should write this post, for what it’s worth.)

He had been begging his poor mother all year long to have his birthday at Chuck E. Cheese, and despite her attempts at helping him pick a more lovely place, his heart was set.

I didn’t think about the invite for too long – I knew Ali would be thrilled to go, and my parental guilt of not taking my kid to the place Where a Kid Can Be a Kid earlier in her life temporarily eclipsed my intense desire avoid that GermHole at all costs.

Plus, it couldn’t be as bad as I imagined, right?

I was so deluded in my planning for our attendance that I even nonchalantly agreed to take both kids alone if Chris wasn’t able to leave work early enough to join us.

Fortunately, God did not smite me that ruthlessly.

We set out as a family to The Chuck. Our first clue of what was to come should have been the fact that there was nary a parking spot available.

No, all of those cars definitely weren’t there for the eerily empty looking Japanese Steakhouse next door.

Nor were they there for the ABC State Liquor Store on the other side.

(Although I have a feeling that more than a few parents have been driven to it’s doors after visiting The Chuck.)

(In fact, I now have a strong suspicion that their choice in location was no accident.)

No, all of those cars were there because the fire code was being grossly violated at none other than Chuck E. Cheese.

Chris dropped Ali and I at the door, and he and Noah set off in search of a faraway and mythical parking space.

Ali and I crossed the threshold.

…and were both immediately in shock.

I have been to the Circus. I have been to the mall during Christmas. I have been to many Alabama football games with the attendance over 100,000. But I have never seen so many people crammed into so little square footage in my life.

It was bone-chillingly frightening.

And deafeningly loud.

And there was a very distinctive odor.

So distinctive in it’s unique mixture of vomit, feces, and germs in their most natural form that it was the first thing Ali pointed out.

Not the arcades, not the blinking lights, not her friends (that she couldn’t see through the throngs anyway), not the prizes behind the counter…

“Mommy, it smells really bad in here.”

“What baby?? I can’t hear you!!”


Maybe this was all because it was a Friday night… and Veteran’s Day… and that they had obviously booked as many birthday parties in one night as would possibly fit in their building AND the empty steakhouse next door… but whatever it was, it was more shocking than I could put into words.

I only managed to get one picture of the madness, and it doesn’t do it justice at all. But to give you a small taste of the ocean of people…

(See that tunnel in the sky in the background? Remember it – it’s important.)

After several minutes of trying to schematically figure out how it was possible, Ali and I squeezed and pushed our way through the multitudes to find our party. We got some tokens and headed into the Corral of Crazy.

I am no germophobe, but the inch-thick layer of grease (that I’m sure could be grown out in a lab to reveal several new mutations of filth) on each and every arcade game about did me in. However, I held in there, began to get amused by the situation in which I found myself, and dove into the deep end of the germ pool.

A few days later after finally finding a parking spot and fighting his way through the front door, Chris and Noah found us. I barked out stringent orders to not let Noah come within eighteen inches any surface anywhere, and Ali and I went back to playing.

Then Ali saw the PlayPlace in the sky.

“I wanna climb in there!”

“What?? I can’t hear you!!”



And she headed off.

Chris stole a few tokens and headed to the Skeeball machine, leaving me to commiserate visit with some other Mommies and watch for Ali in the windows above my head.

A few minutes in, I could see that the other guests were beginning to congregate in the birthday party area. I watched for Ali to pop up in a window, and when she did, I waved for her to come on down.

At which moment, she realized that she didn’t know which direction to crawl to get out.

She was only around one corner from the slide and the stairs, but she inherited from her mother a gene of panic-first-when-out-of-control.

And I saw it happen, in silent slow motion.

She had a meltdown, up in the sky tunnel.

She began crying, which drew a crowd of other tunnel dwellers around her.

But Ali also has a severe issue with her personal space being invaded by strangers. So the crying turned to weeping, and the weeping turned to screaming.

All silent, of course – at least from my spot on the ground. I’m pretty sure it was reverberating nicely in the tunnels, though.

I tried to silently comfort her from my spot and point profusely in the direction in which she should crawl.

Complete panic, no room to pay attention to me.

One of the other Mommies sent up her daughter, a year older than Ali, to retrieve her. Ali loves Abby – surely this would work.

I watched as Abby arrived at Sky Zero and began to comfort Ali and tell her that she knew the way out.

Nope – she was completely frozen in her all-encompassing panic attack.

More kids were crowding around, except this time they looked angry with the panicking, tunnel-barricading child. Ali reached for me, crying pitifully.

I had no choice.

The way up to the tunnel were those half triangles that are purposely impossible for adults to snake through – I am pretty sure I had to bend my backbone in four different directions to weave up eight levels of germy plastic to make it to the tunnels above. I finally made it up, and was gaggingly horrified at the thick layer of dirt, mud, probably a little poop, and botulism that coated the floor of the tunnel.

I wish I were exaggerating, but it was thick, dark, and I had to put my hands all up in it to crawl to rescue my daughter.

As I was turning the corner, I heard a kid screaming obscenities. He was coming around the corner towards me, still screaming with his head looking back over his shoulder. AT MY DAUGHTER.

He saw me, and instead of getting polite in the presence of an adult, he started screaming at me.

“You better get her ass outta here!! GET HER CRYIN’ ASS OUTTA HERE RIGHT NOW!!!”

That kid was so lucky that there was a slide at his feet. He popped through it and disappeared, as I began to shake with lividity.

I reached my hand out to Ali and led her back around the corner to the stairs made for invertebrates. We made our way down together, her crying, me boiling with horror and anger.

Of course, by the time we made it to the bottom, the eight-year-old cuss factory had disappeared into the masses.

I picked up my poor, sweet, innocent, panicking daughter and held her close.

She told me in my ear that she got stepped on – twice – and that it hurt.

And that kids were mean to her.

I managed to not begin weeping with her and apologized for the fact that there were awful, nasty, mean kids in the world.

We both made it to the birthday party, at which point I showered Ali in hand sanitizer, and she was soon lost in eating Pizza and birthday cake and watching a six-foot-tall electronic mouse dance the night away with his fake and nightmarish smile.

Fortunately, children are infinitely more resilient than there parents. Because I can guarantee you that I was the one that left the most traumatized that night.

…Well, me and the poor Mom who had to throw the birthday party – her row was a far worse one to hoe than mine, and she deserves the hugest of Mommy Scouts Badges for making her son’s birthday dreams come true.

But the next time we saw each other on Sunday morning, we pinky swore (or the Mommy equivalent of pinky swearing, anyway) that no member of either of our families would ever, ever, EVER step foot into Chuck E. Cheese ever, ever, EVER again.


chuck e cheese copy
That trip did not only leave us emotionally traumatized. The health results were quite horrific as well, and can be found here.

14 thoughts on “The Chuck.

  1. We’ve had one of our children’s birthday parties there, too. A few years ago. I think I was pregnant with my third child. I also swore that we would never go there again. I’m not a germ-a-phobe, but the level of scum even horrified me, and I didn’t even see the inside of that tunnel. *shudder* But more than that, it’s the crazy, mean, thoughtless kids and ignorant parents that made me swear to never go back.

    I’m relieved to know I’m not the only parent who feels that way.

  2. Gurrrlllllll…you did it all wrong for your first time! I’m not a fan of The Chuck either, but mostly because it brings out the gambler addicts in my children who pound token after token in the game that has all the balancing coins, and then they cry because they are out of tokens in 5 minutes and have 2 tickets. Sigh.

    However, during the day it’s not too bad. Games are a quarter a piece, which is unhead of nowadays. The Chuck to me is less of a germ fest then the mall play areas. I hate those! I abhor them!

    Still, I can not believe some devil spawn swore at your kiddo. That’s awful. I would have stalked that child and confronted him. Ugh. Awful!

  3. I think every person is obligated to save a child from a play tunnel at some point in their lives. For me, it was my sister. We’re 12 years apart, and our mom and her dad both got laid off from their jobs when she was a toddler. They got new jobs, but it was a bit hard on us. I went to school during the day, then I’d take care of my sister while my mom was at work in the evening, and my stepdad was at work 3rd shift. So although I don’t have kids already, I feel like I’ve already raised one. My sister is 20 now, and I am so proud of her.

    At any rate, for her 5th birthday, she wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese. I was a teenager at the time and hadn’t been there since I was little myself, back when it was Show Biz, so things had changed a bit. So I had fond memories and was kinda excited to go back.

    The only thing our parents remembered was that the pizza was crappy, but there would be beer.

    Again, I was a teenager. It was not as a remembered. Crappy pizza, creepy animatronics, and screaming children. Of course, my parents sat in our booth the whole time (thank goodness she didn’t have a party), so instead of spending all my money on skeeball, I was the designated babysitter. And I couldn’t have the beer.

    When she went in the play tunnels, I got my video game break. (Although, other than skeeball with missing balls, they didn’t have any of the cool video games any more.) Then our pizza was ready and I had to retrieve her. From the outside of the tunnels, we couldn’t see her, but our parents were sure that’s where she was. So I went on a play tunnel exploration.

    First, I found a little boy in one of the turns who was crying. I asked him if he was lost, and he nodded, so I told him to follow me. While leading him out, I found my sister. And then, before we got to the slide, we happened upon yet another lost girl.

    Those play tunnels must lead into another dimension or something. I bet there’s an old man crawling around in there, growing up in those tunnels because he could never find his way out.

  4. There is a trick to going to this place. Did you know that they open at 9am? Yes, they do. When you go at opening it is quiet and your kids get the run of the place. I know this because my family is quiet and does not like big crowds. My hubby is the worst he LOVES to go there.

  5. I’ve been to three birthday parties at The Chuck. The first two were not that bad so it let me into false hope that maybe it is not as bad as I thought. The came the 3rd party….in February…..lunch time on a Saturday….just call it HELL ON EARTH! That’s what it felt like. every table for parties was slammed. All tables for “other people” slammed. My 4 rd old is getting bumped by adult butts like a pinball machine. I couldn’t wait to leave and when we left the line waiting to get out of the building was way down the side walk. CRAZY! My child asked me this morning if she could have her next birthday party there…ummm NO!

  6. We have been to exactly ONE party there, and it was my first and last time ever. Fortunately, the party was at 10 on a Sunday. In Georgia. (Translation: we were possibly the ONLY people in metro Atlanta not in church.) It was, for about 21.5 minutes, glorious in an if-I-have-to-be-at-CEC kind of way, because it was relatively empty. (It was, however, still loud.) By 11:30, it was unbearable.

    The kid who screamed at your daughter? I’d be in jail for murder.

    (On a related note, in our little pocket of Maine, there are many — and I happen to think one is too many, but there are MANY — children like that. I routinely stop and ask CAM to tell me where she is from and how children behave. “I am from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Good little girls have manners and act like ladies.” I’m pretty sure she’ll be reciting that in therapy one day!)

  7. A kid was saying that about Ali? That’s awful. What a mouth. Wonder if his parents taught him that.

    Years ago, my sister and I took her twin daughters to the Chuck. Her husband and my then boyfriend tagged along, mostly for the games.

    A few days later, my boyfriend ended up with what his eye doctor called “the worst case of pink eye that she’d seen in 20 years”. IN BOTH EYES.

    I loathe that place. Since that day, I have never been back.

    But the kids have gone a few times during the summer with the YMCA. I bathe and scour them upon return and pray for wellness. So far, they’ve been fine.

    1. Ick!!! Yes, we all got sick from that trip, too. But no pink eye, thank goodness! That pink eye had probably been marinating on that skee ball for years…

  8. Grrrr. Ossss. BLEH!!!! I will never ever go to CEC. NO one can pay me any amount of money to go into that place – even if it is brand spankin new and we are the lucky family that gets it all to ourselves on opening day. Never. Never ever. Nope. You are a much stronger, braver woman than I. I don’t care if it is BFF – NOT HAPPENING! EW!!!!!!

  9. Chuck E Cheese “sponsors’ our PBS station, so now after the horrifying Martha Speaks, we hear about how a kid can be a kid. My girls totally want to go even though they readily admit they don’t know what it is.

    Thankfully the nearest C-E-C is over an hour away.

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