His very name made me cringe: Chuck E. Cheese.
He's the rodent I've (mostly) avoided for more than 14 years of motherhood. The food. The noise. The fear that of one of our kids would disappear into the abyss of video games. Chuck E. Cheese was foe - NOT friend.
"No!" That was the canned answer my husband and I gave our older three children every time they begged to pop into Mr. Cheese's house for some family fun. Sure, we gave in a couple of times -- but on those rare occasions my disdain of germs was palpable to all. As the kids darted from skeet ball to the giant game of Operation and onto the jungle gym...I stumbled after them with bottles of hand sanitizer – yelling, "Wait! Wait! Stop!" Fun-killer. That was me.
But those days are gone. Fast forward to 2019 and I am, perhaps, one of Chuck's greatest allies. That fuzzy rat and his other friends who strangely dance on stage…those guys are my buds. In fact, I'm going to be a proud birthday party hostess there in a couple of weeks! So, what gives? How could this little mouse now hold such a sweet spot in my heart?
His name is Hugh. And he's four. And he's ours. He's our fourth and he's a lot younger than his siblings -- let's just say he was born when Dan and I were, um, “older." And, thanks to some seriously effective advertising (the kind that pops up when Hugh is watching who-knows-what on YouTube with his older brother and sisters) -- Hugh worships Chuck E. Cheese. Lucky for him, his dad and I have evolved and he is now the beneficiary of some serious parental regret. As a young(er) mother, I was so focused on germs and fear -- that I missed the fun. I literally robbed my older kids of my presence during their joyful ticket-winning Chuck E. Cheese moments. And not just at Chuck E. Cheese -- but absolutely during other fun times, too.
In many ways, Hugh gives us the gift of a “do-over.” We are older and wiser and less worried with this preschooler. We say “yes” more and we try to be present. Sure, it doesn’t always work, but just the other day, I picked Hugh up from morning pre-k and he asked to go to see his friend Chuck for lunch. "Sure, let's go," I said. His little, happy, dimpled smile melted my heart and made me weak in the knees. That’s what it’s all about.
And who do I have to thank for THAT? Yup, a certain little rodent who is, for sure, my new unexpected friend.
P.S. My new 40-something eyes think Chuck E. Cheese actually seems pretty darn clean these days.
Patti Smith Barrett is a co-founder of The Pickup Line newsletter, a daily newsletter for moms delivered while they have a few free moments on line at school and sports pickup. Check it out at www.thepickupline.net.