If sports parents aren't crazy enough for you, go to Chuck E. Cheese
If you have children in sports, or children of any sort, you probably already know about the hell that can be Chuck E. Cheese, where the ad tagline says it’s a place where a kid can be a kid, but leaves out that a parent can be a fucking maniac. Watching their kid at a ballgame can bring out the worst in some parents, but even close access to weaponry such as hockey sticks or baseball bats does not bring out the level of mayhem as close access to animatronic rodents and lousy pizza.
Like the executives at Chuck E. Cheese say, the vast majority of the time you can bring your children there and have a pleasant experience, especially if you give your children a Karen Silkwood-style disinfectant shower afterward. However, the presumed kid-friendly environment is a powder keg of subsumed violence ready to explode at any moment, such as if someone is taking too long at the photo machine.
That was the cause of a Feb. 15 fight in a Memphis location, which ended up with four people being arrested, and is part of the reason I’m reminded at this moment about the worst of Chuck E. Cheese.
A few days later, in Indianapolis, a Chuck E. Cheese security camera showed a mom who used her 5-year-old to help her jack another patron’s purse.
That Chuck E. Cheese is a place where your child can play grab-ass while you play punch-face is hardly a recent development. The Wall Street Journal two years ago had a great story about the chain’s criminal customer element that started thus: “In Brookfield, Wis., no restaurant has triggered more calls to the police department since last year than Chuck E. Cheese’s.”
Fights among guests are an issue for all restaurants, but security experts say they pose a particular problem for Chuck E. Cheese’s, since it is designed to be a haven for children. Law-enforcement officials say alcohol, loud noise, thick crowds and the high emotions of children’s birthday parties make the restaurants more prone to disputes than other family entertainment venues.
The environment also brings out what security experts call the “mama-bear instinct.” A Chuck E. Cheese’s can take on some of the dynamics of the animal kingdom, where beasts rush to protect their young when they sense a threat.
Stepping in when a parent perceives that a child is being threatened “is part of protective parenting,” says Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University and former president of the American Psychological Association. “It is part of the species — all species, in fact — in the animal kingdom,” he says. “We do it all of the time.”
That explains the Saturday night in a Bradenton, Fla., Chuck E. Cheese, when I looked up and saw my oldest, heretofore quiet, even-keeled son, then 4 years old, huffing and growling repeatedly, mama bear-like, at another boy in the rat tunnel. He was baring his teeth enough, I thought perhaps my son had turned into Way Pre-Teen Wolf. When he came down — I couldn’t physically get up there to extricate him — my son explained that the boy had pushed aside his 2-year-old sister, and that made him mad. As heartened as I was he was protecting his sister, it was clearly time to go.
The post-toddler growling was the climax of a night that featured what causes the tension at Chuck E. Cheese: parents of varying parental ability gathering in one spot to let their children run buck-wild because Chuck E. Cheese is a place where a kid can be a kid, and a parent doesn’t have to be a parent.
So why do we as parents keep going back? I’m not sure I have a good answer to that question. My kids have generally had a good time there over the years, and after Brandentongate we learned to never go on a Friday or Saturday night again. But I must admit, entering a Chuck E. Cheese makes my adrenaline rush like a walk through an unknown bad neighborhood, part fear of what might come, and part excitement for a chance to witness mayhem and make my dull suburban life just a little more exciting.