Posted by: Kate | January 20, 2008


Something very strange happened here tonight.

It’s so odd that I’m having a hard time putting it into words.

I’m really quite discombobulated.



We’d been having a somewhat-rough day. Not outright horrible – no day can be outright horrible when you’ve made vacation plans, methinks – but just that sort of low-grade irritation that comes from a pair of housebound children and a stressed-out grad-student husband and a seriously-in-pain self* all stepping on each other’s personal space on a cold January day.

Around 4:00, Gretchen called to see if I wanted to get the kids out of the house for a while. I really, really did, but I know that she wasn’t asking whether I was thinking of building a big trebuchet and just letting fly. I was in that haze of having spent too much time indoors and stagnant, and was tempted to just continue the laziness, but instead I agreed to bundle up the kids, and we met at Chuck E. Cheese. (Which, as an aside, that right there is the sign of a true friend: someone who is willing to meet you for dinner at Chuck E. Cheese when they don’t have children of their own.)

Chuck E. Cheese is normally a hellacious and overwhelming experience for me. I find everything about it annoying, from the decor to the crowds to the noise to the poorly-behaved children to the even-more-poorly-behaved parents. I avoid it at all costs.

But tonight? It rescued the day, turning it from a dreary and noodgy experience into a decent evening.

I have no earthly idea why. It was busy; in fact, busier than I’ve ever seen it. It was loud. It was full of people acting like children, and only about half of them actually were children.

But my kids played happily and independently, and Gretchen and I were able to sit and knit, with the occasional bit of shouted conversation. I’ve developed a system for Chuck E. Cheese, because a clear battle plan offers my only hope of escaping with any remaining neurons still firing. We enter, get a table (it was so busy tonight that we were seated by an employee), and make the kids sit still for five minutes or so, so that they look around and orient themselves to where the table is in reference to the nearest games. Then I keep the little cup of tokens with me at the table and dole them out to each child two or three at a time, so that they’re forced to return and check in with me on a regular basis. They play until the pizza arrives, then they take a break to eat as though I haven’t fed them in months, and then they play until either someone in my family cries or I start to twitch in time with the animatronic stage performances by the Big Creepy Mascots. We turn in any tickets, redeem them for wildly overpriced cheap plastic toys, and head for the door. My kids have the routine down cold, and we’ve never had a tantrum when it’s time to go, so it seems to be working.

We left Chuck E. Cheese – how strange is this? – in a collectively better mood than when we arrived. That never happens. We were even able to make a quick fabric-store stop before my pain medication had entirely worn off, and we made it home and threw the kids in bed with minimal fuss.

And Gretchen followed us home with ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery, so we watched the earliest episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and consumed unreasonable amounts of calories. Couldn’t you just weep?

Something in the universe is a tad off-kilter tonight, but I can’t complain. This time, the karma’s in my favor.

* An update on the back pain: I gave in and went to the doctor on Thursday. After a physical exam and an x-ray, she has definitively ruled out a fracture and tentatively ruled out a herniated disc, both of which are bits of good news. Some vertebral compression did appear on the x-ray, which, I’m told, coupled with the swelling and bruising from the fall, could be causing the brain-melting pain I get at odd moments, in between feeling perfectly fine. The theory is that this should fade away as the swelling goes down, without any further medical intervention (aside from some lovely chemical companions), over the course of the next two or three weeks. It’s good to have a battle plan, at least. As for the spinal compression, I’m told that’s not likely to ever go away, but once the swelling goes down I should be fine until I injure it again. And, trust me, knowing my level of grace and coordination, that is decidedly a “when,” not “if,” sort of proposition.



  1. Yeah! No herniated disc! Yeah! You enjoyed Chuck E. Cheese!(I did not know that was pyschologically possible). Oh I forgot, my heroine can do anything…wink.

    Very gentle hugs.

  2. Back pain is the worst…mostly b/c people seldom have sympathy for the make-your-hair-fall-out pain.

    Feel better!

  3. Yay the evil mouse place to the rescue! I am glad that you have such a good friend as Gretchen who not only goes to the evil mouse place with you, but also follows you home with CSC in hand.

  4. Glad I could help change the outcome of the evening. I firmly believe that pizza and ice cream can fix anything, regardless of the setting in which they are consumed.

  5. You returned from CEC in a good mood?! You truly are a saint. You have my undying loyalty.

  6. I have no children, but do have a niece (technically best friends child) and have attended Chuck E Cheese and I must say I really like there pizza. And back pain totally sucks, here’s to good drugs until the healing kicks into gear.

  7. Hi Kate,

    that does sound like a very nice friend. my kids were there the same day. though if you mean supper literally then I think you didn’t cross paths. g & I went for a much needed afternoon date while our parents brought them for their first ever Chuckie Cheese experience. i think they were there around lunchtime for goodness knows how long 🙂

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