How I (Barely) Survived a Chuck E. Cheese Birthday Party

Posted April 6, 2009 by

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Last month, I received the invitation that all parents dread. I knew this day was coming: The Chuck E. Cheese Birthday Party.

The worst part was, there was no way to get out of it — the birthday girl was one of my son’s best friends from pre-school, and his future bride, according to both of them.

So I did what any good mom would do. I grit my teeth and emailed back my reply: “Of course we’ll be there! Alex is so excited.”

As the day approached, I had flashbacks to two prior parties at this frenetic, migraine-inducing establishment. At the first, I lost my son in the habitrail tunnel for a good 30 minutes. (He was purposely blocking up the pipe like some kind of toddler hair clump.) And at the second, a random child vomited pizza on my feet. You know how when someone yawns, it makes everyone around them yawn? Uh huh. You get the picture.

So you see, Chuck E. has not been good to me. (Has any parent really ever had a good time there? I ask you.)

Of course, my son counted down the days to the party with the excitement usually reserved for Christmas or his own birthday. Finally, the proverbial big day arrived. We bought a present and wrapped it, Alex made a card, and we headed to the mall. Just to be safe, I took a Tylenol and some ibuprofen. I was determined not to let the Chuck E. experience ruffle me this time.

As we entered the place, we were treated to a blast of stale pizza, ’80s pop, and the din of screaming children, all hopped up on soda and Sourballs. Any misguided thought of serenity immediately evaporated. I knew I had officially entered the heart of darkness, and there was no way to paddle back out of this rat-infested river. (Yes, a big cartoon rat — but a rat, nonetheless.)

The only saving grace that day was the fact that my son is now 6, and can pretty much do the games and rides by himself, with me trailing along behind him like a zombie. In fact, I noticed that all the parents’ eyes were glazed over. A defense mechanism, no doubt, similar to the one that kicks in when you go to the dentist’s office or visit relatives with whom you have nothing in common.

Then, the big moment finally arrived. Chuck E. was announced, and the larger-than-human mascot (I’m sorry, I really can’t get over the rat thing. Mickey Mouse is cute, but really, a rat??) came out to wild applause and screams from all the sugar-laced kids…who then proceeded to maul him. There were children literally climbing up his arms and clinging to his legs like barnacles. My son was among the most hysterical. In fact, he was so enamored of Chuck E. that he followed him back behind the curtain on the mini-stage they have there, and I had to scramble up and catch him before the bouncer got to him. (Well, it couldn’t have been a real bouncer, but he looked the part, anyway!)

We finally got to cake and icecream and present-opening, and I knew we were in the home stretch. I became almost giddy with relief, laughing at everyone’s jokes, patting myself on the back that we’d made it without any unfortunate episodes. That was the exact moment — the moment I let my guard down — that it happened. A piece of pizza sailed by my head, and caught me right in the ear.

I didn’t cry. I didn’t yell. I became strangely, eerily calm, as I always do when I’m very upset or very frightened.

“Alex! Get your coat! We’re going,” I said.

And you know, it was OK. I’m not sure who threw that pizza — it may have been Chuck E. for all I know. And that’s OK. Because as God as my witness, I will never set foot in that place again. At least not this year…and not without a helmet.


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. MarieT Report

    Birthdays are difficult most definitely. I can tell you however that I just had a fantastic Birthday experience at Magicopolis in Santa Monica California. They basically do everything for you. The kids get pizza, juice and cake, have a magic class and see a magic show all while the parents get to enjoy the class and show as well and I really do mean enjoy. The magic show is truly an all age show. It is funny and engaging but most of all it really sparks the imagination of both child and adult. I highly recommend this place!

  2. drjoan Report

    I must admit that I have never sat through an entire birthday party at the dreaded Chuck’s. I have an issue with being completely overly stimulated by noise, toys, kids screaming, and flashing lights. I feel like I’m in Vegas, only without the fun. I love my kids and do tons with them, but really, their entires lives could go by and if they never stepped into a Chuck-E-Cheese they would be just fine. Luckily, they are too old to attend parties their anymore. Now we go to bowling parties. Sigh.

  3. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Maria, good luck to you! Please let us know how it goes afterward…and I hope you fare better than I did! (Tip: wear something dark, in case of spills, but dress your son in something bright so you can find him.)

  4. Maria E. Report

    My son loves going to Chuck E. Cheese. It’s one of his best behavior rewards. And I get to take him without Daddy for a little Mommy and Son time. I found the best time to take him is on a Friday at about 4pm. We play some games, have our pizza, and play some more. We finnish off with an Icecream out of the machine, and go home. He’s home in time for regular bedtime, and we missed all the crowd that were just getting there when we were leaving.
    I can’t say that I’ve had a bad experience at C.E.C. But when it comes to birthday parties, wish me luck. Because that’s where he wants his B-Day party this month.

  5. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Dale, you’re right about being more chilled out at Chuck-E’s, and I’ve decided the best way to do that is to let my husband go next time! πŸ™‚ (But it’s true — it’s been a long time since I’ve dodged flying pizza slices in a school cafeteria.) And “Laura near Austin”, you get the mom award of the year for going to Chuck E.’s on Mother’s Day! (Hope your 7-year-old remembers and that you get to go to your “regular” place this year. :))

  6. Laura near Austin Report

    We wound up there on MOTHER’S DAY last year!!! Had promised a treat to my 7 yo and wound up near one (not the one we’d been to twice before) with all of us hungry, so decided to combine two things in one. Dad very nicely did the escorting around and I just sat and vegged for a while. The salad bar was tolerable and the rat did not appear.

    As I’m tucking him in at bedtime, my 7 yo remarked that he didn’t think I’d had that much fun, and then announced that we should go back to our “regular” location since I’d always enjoyed that.

    At least it’s way down on his rewards list and we don’t go there often!

  7. Jennifer S. Report

    I could not agree with you more!! If there is truly a hell on earth, it is in the form of Chuck E. Cheese. Its like Vegas, but for kids(and I actually like Las Vegas). I was recently at a birthday party there with my 5 year old son who could not have been more excited to go and if I never see that place again, it will be too soon! So glad I am not the only mom our there who feels that way!

  8. Dale Report

    I think your Chuck-E-Phobia is a little misplaced. It’s where a kid can be a kid, right? It’s not the four-seasons. My advice is to just chill-out and not get so clutched up. Park at one of the redemption games, pour-in $10-20 worth of tokens so you can get junior a 75 cent toy he will love. After all, flying pizza, puke and din are the staples of any school cafeteria… you’ve just forgotten!

  9. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Kathy, Wow, your daughter has expensive tastes! So my next question is, what *are* you going to do for her birthday? I can’t wait to hear what happens. πŸ™‚ And Brooke, you’re right β€” both about the lack of change and the sticky floors! Though I have to admit, my son loves it. I think he had a Chuck E. Cheese hang-over the next day, though.

  10. Brooke Williams Report

    Great story. You are a good sport and mom.

    I haven’t been too a kiddie party there since I was 10 and I suspect that things haven’t changed (or been cleaned) since
    that time.

  11. Kathy Pride Report

    How well I know that eerily calm “get me out of here” feeling. Glad you survived. My daughter, turning ten, wants a sleepover party in a limosine parked in our driveway…



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