Check­ing out Chuck E. Cheese’s

South Shore Breaker - - NAVIGATE ATLANTIC - HEATHER LAURA CLARKE THE MOM SCENE heather­lau­r­aclarke@gmail.com

Our son turned eight ear­lier this sum­mer and his birthday fell dur­ing our fam­ily’s va­ca­tion to On­tario to see my dad and step­mother. We’d toyed with the idea of tak­ing the kids to Canada’s Won­der­land for the day but it felt too ex­pen­sive — es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing nei­ther kid would be tall enough for any of the “good” rides yet.

Then I re­mem­bered my dad men­tion­ing there was a Chuck E. Cheese’s nearby in Mis­sis­sauga. I didn’t re­ally know any­thing ex­cept there would be pizza and games — I kept pic­tur­ing the Whack-a-mole one. I also knew their tagline, prob­a­bly from watch­ing United States com­mer­cials as a child: “Where A Kid Can Be A Kid.” It sounded per­fect.

I Googled a three-minute Chuck E. Cheese’s com­mer­cial and played it for the kids — they were en­thralled. This place was REAL?! They were go­ing to GO THERE?! They were as ex­cited as if we’d planned a trip to Dis­ney World. (Not gonna hap­pen.)

They bounced in­side, star­ryeyed and could barely hold still long enough to get their kid­nap­ping-pre­ven­tion stamp. (Par­ents and kids have their hands stamped with in­vis­i­ble ink codes, so no one can leave with­out their proper guardian. It’s great!) In­stead of tick­ets or to­kens, they were armed with plas­tic swipe cards called Play Passes that would work on any of the games or rides.

Once we were safely in­side the gate, we turned the kids loose and they bopped around a large room from game to game. And oh, there were MANY games. There were classic ar­cade-style games where you shot bas­ket­balls or tried to knock coins into holes. There were ride-on rac­ing games with cars and mo­tor­cy­cles. There were dig­i­tal games like Crossy Road and An­gry Birds. There was even a skip­ping game where you had to leap over a flash­ing jump rope pro­jec­tion.

The adults ended up buy­ing Play Pass cards to share so we could play in­stead of just watch­ing the kids have all the fun. I al­ter­nated be­tween Skee-ball and Deal or No Deal and pre­ferred the lat­ter be­cause it lasted the long­est.

The kids were noth­ing more than blurs as they zoomed around the room. Some­times I’d spot one of them re­lax­ing in a “ride” (the kinds of rides they have in malls) while the other was mer­ci­lessly beat­ing plas­tic go­phers back into their bur­rows. They’d ap­pear at our sides when­ever their cards were emp­tied, and I de­cided it was best not to ask my hus­band how much he spent reload­ing them.

Af­ter each game, the ma­chine would spit out tick­ets — usu­ally be­tween two and five, depend­ing on how well we did. The birthday boy ac­tu­ally won 500 tick­ets in a sin­gle game of An­gry Birds, which was very ex­cit­ing.

Even Chuck E. Cheese him­self made an ap­pear­ance ev­ery halfhour or so. He’d round up the kids for a quick dance and then shower them with free tick­ets. If you’ve ever watched chil­dren des­per­ately scram­ble for candy out of a pinata, you can un­der­stand how smoothly this went.

When it was time for din­ner, we sat down to eat some sub­par pizza and sip pop from dis­pos­able cups. TV screens blared a con­stant stream of Chuck E. Cheese videos, and ev­ery few min­utes — or so it seemed — we’d find our­selves groan­ing as we were treated to the sur­pris­ingly hip hop tune Chuck E.’s Happy Dance.

“Put your hands in the air as you jump up and down,” we’d find our­selves singing un­der our breath as we watched the mu­sic video for the bil­lionth time.

“Then you bop side to side, then you turn around. Then give your­self a high five! Just give your­self a high five!”

When we were ready to leave — well, the adults were ready to leave, the kids would have hap­pily lived there — it was time to re­deem our tick­ets. All of our pock­ets were stuffed, so you’d think we would have cleared out the prize counter.

Um, no. Six peo­ple play­ing games for about three hours earned enough tick­ets for two bags of cot­ton candy and a hand­ful of plas­tic mouse-shaped whis­tles. #facepalm.

Chuck E. Cheese was pricey and some­what an­noy­ing, but I can’t deny that our kids had an amaz­ing time there and are dy­ing to go back. I wouldn’t be sur­prised if Hal­i­fax earned its own lo­ca­tion soon, and it would cer­tainly be a good spot to throw a birthday party or just give the kids a spe­cial out­ing.

In fact, I could eas­ily see my­self go­ing with a cou­ple of friends and park­ing our­selves at one of the booths, drink­ing Diet Coke and eat­ing moz­zarella sticks, while our kids ran around and played — con­tent in the knowl­edge they can’t leave the build­ing with­out us. That sounds pretty nice, ac­tu­ally!

Heather Laura Clarke is a free­lance jour­nal­ist who mar­ried her high school sweet­heart. They moved from the city to the coun­try, where they spend their days mak­ing messes and mem­o­ries with their eight-year-old son and six-year-old daugh­ter. Fol­low their fam­ily’s ad­ven­tures over at www.heather­shand­madelife.com.

Heather Laura Clarke

The kids weren’t the only ones who en­joyed them­selves at Chuck E. Cheese’s, ac­cord­ing to Heather Laura Clarke.

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