Occasionally we go out for a family dinner.
I love this idea. The four of us reconnecting. Eating some decent food without the fuss of preparing it and cleaning up. Celebrating the passing of another week in our little journey together.
Now that Sophie almost four, dining out can be a largely pleasant experience.
We’re at the stage where we can sit at a table in a restaurant for 20 minutes without too much screaming and hollering. It’s been a while since we’ve had to abort, get the bill early, and make a dash for the car with a toddler packed over my husband’s shoulder. Don’t get me wrong. There is still some under-the-table sibling leg kicking. And some actual sitting under the table. And fighting over crayons. There is the occasional no-dessert-until-you-finish-your-vegetables showdown.
Like I said…largely a pleasant experience.
Last weekend we thought we’d try a new restaurant. We wanted something family friendly, something the kids would enjoy. Thus for reasons that are no longer clear, we made the trek across town to Chuck E. Cheese.
Chuck E. Cheese.
Do you know this place? Are you with me in the horror of it all?
I had never been to one before. I mean, I’ve heard of the Cheese. In my own childhood, last century, Chuck E. Cheese was a thing. In fact, I think my brother used to work at one washing dishes for a brief period in late 1980s (or maybe that was Bullwinkles?). But I didn’t really do my research.
So when we stepped through the doors last Saturday night, I was shocked by what I saw.
We’d stepped through the proverbial Wardrobe into some sort of blinking, electronic, order-your-food-at-the-counter, post-modern Narnia. We were basically in a food court/children’s video arcade.
My thoughts of eating a nice steak, sautéed veggies and sweet potato fries, while being able to sit back in a booth and watch my girls happily colour, immediately vanished. We were corraled through a line up at the door. Our hands were stamped. We were hustled the staging area of the fast food counter.
I was in shock. Like actual shock. Wh…where are the tables? And the waiters? Can I get a menu? I’m so confused. Is there an emergency exit? What is happening here? Can’t I get a steak? Where are we again? My God, why am I sweating?
But in about 65 seconds we’d ordered a crappy pizza/soft drink combo (Family of Four Special #1!) and had been given buckets full of tokens for playing games. We were sent wandering into the abyss to find a place to sit amongst the dull roar of 700 small children.
In the end, there was very little sitting. The girls immediately were overwhelmed with glee. They took their little buckets of tokens and joined the throngs of kids charging around the place hitting beavers on the head with a mallets and such.
Dazed and confused, I followed along. I sank into the experience…the madness of it all. The tokens, the tickets, the prizes, the cardboard pizza. Somewhere in my head, phrases I had hoped to use that evening lingered (Good Evening, could we please get a table for four? Yes, I would love to hear about this evening’s specials). I muttered them quietly to myself for a while. But I had to let them go. I had to let them go. I had to let them go.
It wasn’t the dining experience I was hoping for when backed out of our driveway an hour before. But it was an experience.
And my kids? They loved it. Like I mean they LOOOVVVED it. The only way we could get them to leave was by promising to return.
Damn it all. What have we done?