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Monday, July 29, 2013

Bride of Chuck-E

No, not this Chucky:




I may blog about a lot of things, but I draw the line at scary kids' toys with crazy eyes. 

This is the Chuck-E to whom I am referring:




I went to visit this little rodent this weekend. Thank you, in advance, Jennifer, for inviting us to Andrew's birthday celebration, thus providing the idea for this blog.

My children love Chuck-E-Cheese. L-O-V-E. I am pretty sure that when they picture heaven, it's a 24-carat gold version of this place.




I am also pretty sure that when I picture hell, I see it resembling a non-air conditioned version of the very same place.

Up until a couple of years ago, Chuck-E-Cheese was but a distant, fond memory from my childhood. I am pretty sure my eighth birthday party was celebrated with the Chuckster, and I am pretty sure it was the greatest day of my life. I still remember how their cheese pizza was made with a sauce that had tiny diced tomatoes in it, and that I was allowed to have root beer to drink. I remember the anticipation that would build in my gut during the moments leading up to the Chuck-E stage show, which in my mind ranked right up there with the Country Bear Jamboree at Disney World. It was a magical, magical place.

Or so I remembered.

It's a funny thing, time. It has a way of painting beautiful pictures of events that, in all actuality, were horrific in every single way.

This seems to be the case with Chuck-E-Cheese's (where a kid can be a kid).

My first adult encounter with Chuck took place about two years ago. I took my children to a birthday party there. On a Saturday.

If you're a parent, you just shuddered. 

At first I was so excited. Overcome with a major sense of nostalgia, even. I built this day up for my children, preparing them for what was to be the best moment of their short little lives. The games, the tickets, the prizes. The mini ferris wheel. The ski-ball machines...oh, those ski-ball machines. My kids could hardly sleep the night before, and, let's face it, neither could I.

We drove up to this little-piece-of-heaven-on-asphalt and anxiously made our way inside, where a wall of noise like nothing I have heard before hit my ears like...a loud wall of noise.

The frequencies that assaulted my ear drums were piercing on every level. High screams, low screams, wails, shrieks of excitement. I felt a bit disoriented, like maybe I had accidentally walked into the wrong place, a place that resembled Dante's seventh layer of hell.

As we were herded like cattle through the railed walkway, we pushed and shoved our way to the entrance gate, where one of Chuck-E's happy helpers stood ready to stamp our hands. You see, at Chuck-E-Cheese's, security is of the highest priority, so they make sure to stamp parents' and childrens' hands with matching numbers, so that upon exit they can confirm that adults are, in fact, leaving with their own children and not someone else's. Which is pretty funny, if you think about it, because after an hour in that place, every adult would be so sonically and experientially scarred by what had just gone down that even a child predator wouldn't try to leave with someone else's kid. Actually, most probably try the opposite, try leaving alone for the sake of some blessed quiet.

Anyway, we made it to the gate, and the pubescent boy stamped my hand with the number 16. He stamped my daughter's hand with the number 16. I sent her through the gate, and turned around to find my son. After locating him (he was drinking from another child's sippy cup), I grabbed him and pulled him to the gate to get his hand stamped. The happy helper stamped his hand. With a number 19.

Huh?

"You must be mistaken," I told him. "You stamped me with the number 16. You just made him a 19."

"Oh, that's close enough," said the boy.

Ok, can we pause here for a second? I know that our public schools are not what they used to be (sorry, teacher friends, but we all know it's true), but seriously? CLOSE ENOUGH?

Choosing between the value of my time spent trying to explain this concept to the boy and my concern for "security," I opted to just go with it, nod my head, and enter Dante's inferno.

The next hours were a blur of activity. Trying to get my children to participate in the birthday party at hand while the sights and sounds of Chuck-E-Cheese beckoned to them. Trying to keep my eyes on my children at all times while they ran in opposite directions, worried that my son would be joining the family of number 19, never to be seen again. Taking potty breaks every five minutes because their bladders were loaded with red-dye-number-40-fruit-punch. Apologizing profusely because my daughter pushed open the emergency-exit door and set off the site-wide alarm. Twice.

The noise. The people. The smells. The tickets. The tokens.

The ticket redemption.

Oh, the ticket redemption process. There's really not anything more frustrating, is there? First of all, any parent worth their salt knows that you only give little kids a couple of choices, at most. Otherwise, decision-making becomes the most laborious, stressful process under the sun.

My daughter had 89 tickets. At Chuck-E-Cheese's 89 tickets could mean anything. Nine toys from the ten-pt bin, or three toys from the 25-pt bin, or one toy from the 50-pt bin plus one toy from the 25-pt bin, or two toys from the 25-pt bin plus four toys from the ten-pt bin, or...you get the idea.

But even this isn't really the problem. The problem is that she wanted the 50,000,000-pt bag of cotton candy up on the top shelf. Top shelf items aren't for sissies...they are for ski-ball champions. Which I am pretty sure my five-year-old is not. And so we end up leaving with 2 packs of Smarties, 1 temporary tattoo, 1 sticky hand, and one gorgeous "diamond" ring. And tears because we were cotton candy-less.

Sigh.

Honestly, I'd be okay with never setting foot in the place again. Unfortunately, my kids beg, BEG, to go there. If they are working toward a special outing, if he is trying to earn a treat for five nights of a dry pull-up, or she for five books read on her own, what they usually want to do is go to Chuck-E's. Even though, at the end of it all, they usually leave disappointed and in tears. And cotton candy-less.

I am a lot like my kids. I have grand ideas in my mind of what will bring me happiness and fulfillment. I live in a world of "if only's." If only I can do ____, I will be so happy. If only I can get ____, I'll be content. But the truth is, I'm never satisfied.

And we are all this way. Do you know why? 

Because we were made for more than this life can offer us. We were made for more than Smarties...we were made for the Cotton Candy. Problem is, we live in a Smarties world. However, if we know and trust Christ, we have an amazing promise of hope. We have the promise of Cotton Candy from the Master Candy Spinner Himself.

This might seem like a stretch of a tie-in, but go with me here.

In the same way that Chuck-E-Cheese's is heaven-on-earth for my children, I have my own activities and things and trips and you-name-it that I look to for happiness and fulfillment. I think, if I can just make it to my vacation, then I'll be relaxed and happy. And the vacation is all well and good, but then it's back to reality and I face disappointment. I anticipate the day I can buy ____, and once I get it I feel a sense of let down, because I realize that there is a void in me that no object can fill.

Don't get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with THINGS. There's nothing wrong with vacations, or leisure activities. These are all well and good. But they don't fulfill us. 

Because we were made for more.

When you're made for heaven, even a week-long trip to the British Virgin Islands is a little bit of a disappointment, know what I mean?

When you're made for Cotton Candy, Smarties are a bit of a let down.

I am the bride of Christ, not the bride of Chuck-E. Nothing else is going to satisfy me like Him, here on earth or in eternity. And I know that, once I see Him face to face, once I enter life as it should be and not as it is now, I will never lack for anything again. I will be fully satisfied, never disappointed. I will be drowning in Cotton Candy.

"What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived -- the things God has prepared for those who love Him." 1 Corinthians 2:9

We can't conceive the ultimate satisfaction that He has in store for us. We can only guess, grasping at tiny fragments of fulfillment we experience here on earth.

May we live with the hope of Cotton Candy, a hope that shines the light of Jesus to those around us.

Lastly, I just want to say that, after being reawakened to the mouse, the myth, the legend that is Chuck-E-Cheese, I am actually 98% sure I had nightmares as a kid from watching the robotic Chuck-E sing his songs with those demon eyes and motorized ginormous mouse hands.

Feel free to laugh!