Greg and I spent a solid month planning Darla’s first birthday. We wanted to make sure that she knew just how much we loved her by making it a birthday to remember (which she would ultimately not remember). Or maybe we wanted to show the world that we loved her. Regardless, we tried to put some effort into it. I invited everyone we knew. I handmade hot air balloon decorations. Greg designed, and screen printed hot air balloon t-shirts. We spent an exorbitant amount of money on Mexican food catering and beer.
Despite my best effort, this first birthday party, which took place in our dirty driveway, was no competition for the fancy first birthday planned by another mom from the mom group I was in. Most of her baby friends opted to go to that party because it was sure to be much more exciting. We may have had a blanket spread out with musical instruments, but that was nothing compared to the party with the petting zoo, haystacks, and gingham tablecloths. While I may have conceived of individual decorations, that mom had come up with an entire concept for her party. (Although the fact that my invitations went out a month after the other mom sent out hers might have had more to do with it, I prefer to tell the story in a more bitter way than that). Darla’s party was still a fun event with our closest friends (mostly adults), which is fine because she didn’t even acknowledge the other kids I had invited.
I was thoroughly exhausted. I could barely stay awake long enough to get into bed that night. I think of that fatigue every time Jude and Darla’s birthdays near. As a result, I have yet to put in as much effort into a birthday party as I did that first one. With each passing year, the birthday parties have gotten less and less personal. My primary goal with the parties, now, is to put as little effort into them, while still making them fun.
Enter Chuck E. Cheese. I have recently become evangelical for this place. First off, when you walk in, an employee brands the whole family with the same number so a stranger can’t take off with them. (I did notice, however, that the wall leading outside is quite low and I don’t know if the Chuck E. Cheese employee is willing to tackle the kidnapper to the ground, so if someone were intent on stealing your kid, they’d find a way to get them. I try not to think about that too much, though). Second, their pizza is pretty good, and I prefer it to some of the fancier restaurants in Los Angeles.
As for their birthday parties, they’re a dream. They cover every detail like a well-oiled machine. They give you the tokens, and your kids can run wild while the parents stare dead-eyed into the chaos that they hope their kids are still in. After the kids have spent all their tokens, the employees parade out Chuck E. to terrify the kids. He sings some songs, puts your kid in a ticket hurricane, and everyone eats cake. After two hours, the party is over. It’s effortless.
We held out on this as an option for years. Rather, Greg resisted it. He said he just remembered it smelling like feet. While I too view Chuck E. Cheese as ground zero for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, I think the risk is worth it. I lobbied hard to throw their birthday parties there. I reasoned that we didn’t save any money planning the parties ourselves and that it’s all the kids would want anyway.
This year, Greg finally acquiesced. After throwing Darla’s birthday party there in the spring, we’ve become a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party type of family. And you know what? We’re never turning back. We will throw every celebration imaginable at Chuck E. Cheese. We’ll even be throwing their college graduation there.