The Key to a Fun Day with the Kids is to Set Expectations Really Low

The first time we ever went to Chuck E Cheese, I told the kids it would be fun.  Yay!  Let's GO!

That was an error on my part.

First of all, in the olden days, Chuck E. Cheese was equal parts disgusting germ-filled kid habitrail and games.  My kids love those nasty, crusty plastic climby tubes.  And the games were more like Whack-A-Mole and Skee Ball than they were like video games.  Who can't enjoy whacking a cute rodent?

This is not the case anymore.  I discovered this the hard way.

Now it's just a big arcade.  My kids were little and, Pip especially, had a difficult time with the video games.  They both required lots of help.  LOTS. And Pip kept leaving his little cup of coins around and sometimes they would disappear.

And, worst of all, even when he did play the games, he didn't play them well enough to earn tickets.  And Chuck E Cheese, like any other game room that is raking in the big bucks, has a huge display of wonderful toys that each cost 1.75 gazillion tickets.  And Pip had, like, 20.

Cue the tears....and the wailing.

The second time we went to Chuck E Cheese, as a respite from the car during an extremely long road trip, I tried to lower expectations before entering.

"You probably won't win anything.  We are just going to enjoy playing the games, OK?"

With food and game tokens, that quick hour break cost me about $50 bucks and Pip had to be dragged from the toy display - all red-faced and screech-mouthed.

In fairness, he had just turned four and that toy display was simply too lovely.  And, I know now, I should have set expectations much much lower.

The other day, I got a coupon for Nickel City in Wilmette where games only cost a nickel (that's what the ad says...but they actually mostly cost 3 or 4 nickels each).  It sounded less expensive and the kids wanted to go and it was an overcast day so...

We piled into the car and headed out.

Throughout the drive, I enlisted the kids in picking nickels out of bowls of change I've been collecting in a jug.  They each ended up with $3.20 worth of nickels.  I repeated to them, relentlessly, that when the nickels ran out, we would go home.  Nickels are finite and non-replenishable.

Also, I explained ad infinitum that they would each be lucky to end up with enough tickets to buy themselves a pencil eraser or a tootsie roll and that they should be thrilled with whatever they were able to get.  They were told to not even look at the larger toys because they were, as they are in Target, things to ask Santa for - not things to be purchased.

I explained that if there were any tears for any reason other than accidental bodily harm, this would be our very last trip to Nickel City.

I stopped myself just before stating that it would most likely be the most miserable day of their lives and if they managed to eek any fun out of the day at all, they should consider themselves both heroic and lucky.

You guys... I. Am. Brilliant.

I purchased a small bag of nickels at the door so that each child had another $1.50 of nickels, I promised that I wouldn't play any games so my $2 admission fee was waived.  (OK, I got so caught up upon seeing Ms. Pac Man that I totally broke my promise without realizing it.  But I am not good at that game, ya'll, so my crime was short-lived).

$13.40 total.

My kids were adorable the whole stinkin' time.  They carefully rationed their nickels.  They didn't obsess over the acquisition of tickets.  And, at the end, they were both thrilled with their purchases. Pip, with 40 tickets, got TWO tootsie rolls and TWO peppermints and was really happy.   Bunny, with 50 tickets, bought a large eraser that she wanted to add to her required school supplies and one tootsie roll.  JOY!Pip at the arcade 14

I laughed when I overheard a mom complain that she had already spent $50 and counting.  My stomach turned a little as I watched children hoarding tickets - carrying them around in big plastic bags.  I smiled smugly as I stepped around the hollering children at the prize counter.  Been there.  Not playing that anymore.

We skipped back to our car and munched on cold leftover pizza I had packed in a cooler.  DELISH!

Parenthood is hit and miss, ya'll.  I don't always play it right.  But this time around I figured out the method to navigating a perfectly delightful and inexpensive trip to an arcade with a 6 and 9 year old and it was a little like finding the Holy Grail so I thought I'd share.

Listen, you guys.  Today is probably going to be pretty awful.  Bad things are going on in the world and life in general is kind-of punishing.  Summer is ending and everyone is headed for big change.  If you can scrape up some joy today - wherever you can - you are AMAZING and should be heartily congratulated and rewarded.  Here's wishing you a not-as-lousy-as-it-could-be day.

 

See what I did there?

You're welcome.

 

 

 

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