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Chuck E's and Love
by Amy Silverman

This is the summer of Chuck E. Cheese.

“Jesus,” my friend Todd said, when I made the pronouncement. “I hope it’s just the summer.”

At this point, it’s hard to tell. Every morning when she wakes up, every night as we put her to bed – and several times in between -- Sophie looks up expectantly, holds her hands out, then rubs them together: sign language for the word cheese. My husband Ray made up a game, where the answer to the hand rubbing is an exuberant, “Sophie! We’re not going to Chuck E. Cheese!” Usually, she points to her chest, signing that she will drive herself. Everyone laughs, and that’s the end of that game. But sometimes (and yes, I’m embarrassed to admit how often – several times in a week, sometimes two days in a row, although never twice in one day, not yet, at least) we do go to Chuck E. Cheese.

C’mon. It’s summer in Phoenix, it’s hotter than hell in a place where this season begins in mid-April and ends sometime around Thanksgiving. What am I supposed to do with two kids under five? Annabelle, who will start kindergarten next month, is very specific about her long list of desires. Sophie’s not as picky. I do think a lot of that has to do with Sophie’s vocabulary. Most three-year-olds would be chattering by now, but Sophie has Down syndrome, so she’s a girl of few words, most of them signs. She asks for crackers a lot, but my bet is that’s because she doesn’t know the sign for pretzel. So maybe Sophie’s really jonesing for a trip to Nordstrom but doesn’t know how to ask.

I don’t think so, though. I think she truly loves Chuck E. Cheese. And when Sophie truly loves something, you'd better get out of the way, because this kid’s affection knows no boundaries.

And so I plug my nose (literally, on some visits) and dive into the Vegas for toddlers. Strike that because there’s nothing glamorous about Chuck E. Cheese. From the salad bar to the bathroom to the mechanical life-sized Chuck E. onstage, it’s all creepy and, well, cheesy. 

The pizza’s not bad, free refills on the Diet Coke, and tokens are pretty cheap. Ray claims a trip to Chuck E. Cheese is practically therapy, with all the chances Sophie has to develop her fine motor skills -- putting tokens in the slots, trying to play the video games. One night I realized I was pushing her aside, eager to step on the “spider” (a blinking light, really, in one of the games) and win extra tickets.

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By mid-June, we’d been so many times I knew the pizza/token package specials and the music on the continuous Chuck E. show loop by heart. And since Ray and I took turns with the girls on weeknights, so the other could make deadline at work, I was getting lonely. I had to find out if I had turned the corner, landed in a pool of cheesy denial over my lot in life, eager to embrace something as dorky as this. So I invited my friend Deborah, who arrived with her eight-year-old daughter, Anna. Anna was thrilled. She’d never been to Chuck E. Cheese on a Tuesday night, just because. She and Annabelle rushed off to play air hockey. Deborah winced at the cooling pizza and checked her cell phone for messages.

The birthday song came on; it comes on about every half hour. It’s a music video featuring the lead singer from the B-52s – I can never remember his name, although I saw them in concert at least once, in the 80s. I’d grown fond of the birthday song, a very silly, catchy tune. I mean, okay, they’re old, but no one can say the B-52s aren’t cool. “Hey, look!” I said, pointing to the video monitor, eager to have someone hip confirm my find. “I know they say how stupid this place is, but there’s that guy from the B-52s, singing the Chuck E. Cheese birthday song!”

“Uh, you’re thinking of Fred Schneider,” Deborah said, eyeing the screen. “That’s not him.”

I was crushed. Of course, she was right. Deborah opened her cell phone again, then looked up suddenly. Something shiny had caught her eye from across the room.

“Skeeball! The smoker’s sport!” she shrieked. “I’ll be back!”

She was gone for the next 45 minutes.

Another successful Chuck E-head.
About the Author:  
Amy Silverman
lives in Tempe, Arizona with her husband Ray Stern and daughters Annabelle and Sophie. When she's not wiping noses and butts at home, she's associate editor of New Times, the alt weekly in Phoenix, where she also spends a lot of time wiping noses and butts -- and editing. She's a contributor to KJZZ, the Phoenix NPR affiliate, and although having kids has pretty much limited her traveling to San Diego and Disneyland, she's been writing quite a bit lately for The New York Times travel section. Amy's proud to say she's been published by both Playboy and Fit Pregnancy, and that John McCain once yelled, "Can't you shut your daughter up?" at her father in the Senate dining room, to which her father responded that that was impossible. Amy likes to balance her motherfucker persona at the alt weekly by co-teaching the Mothers Who Write workshop, which focuses on memoir/fiction and poetry for mothers of all ages and writing experiences.


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