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Say Cheese!

I know some just think it’s a rat hole, but for years Chuck E. Cheese was my saving grace to save my sanity.

The boys may have been having a day where every word came out a wailing cry of whine, but the moment we stepped foot into the Cheese, all tears were dried, all woes forgotten, all snot just a smear on a sleeve.

They would take their golden coins and scamper away; walking up the skeeball machine to plop their balls in as high as they could reach, going from game to game swiping off any leftover tickets, getting stuck in the habit trail, forcing me to push another child up there on a search and rescue mission, before ultimately having to squash up there myself to save them both.

We’d be the first ones there, lay claim to a booth in the back and get deep-dish pizza to share even if it was only 10am. By the time the crowds piled in, just before noon, my kiddies and I had already retrieved our prizes and grabbed either a dollar ice cream from the machine or a bag of cotton candy to go. It was all sugary smiles, crappy toys, and children falling asleep in the car on the way home.

Cheesy heaven.

But that was a long time ago.

With all the kids now in full time school and the strict never on weekends rule – I may be crazy but I’m not that crazy – we hadn’t been there in close to a year. So when we had a random day off last week, I decided to surprise them with an impromptu visit. By the time we hit the parking lot there were cheers of ‘Best mom eva!” and I parked the car trying to see past my own giant head.

We walked in and stopped cold, our mouths hanging open in ‘Waaaaaa’. This was no Velvetta, this cheese had gone organic. The place had been renovated completely. It was shiny and new. The hamster tunnels were no more. There was open space and new games sparkling through the sun drenched windows.

My boys had a beat where they almost couldn’t move, then with frenzied joy tripped over themselves in excitement. I handed them each 50 tokens and didn’t see them again for two hours. Okay, not true. It took them less than an hour to burn through those tokens, but it was a damn good hour.

We had the run of the place, with only two other families to share the space with us. One was a mother and a four year old bouncing around from game to game. The other was a mother pushing a baby carriage and dragging a screaming three year old. She was so stressed and miserable, even more so than her boy in the midst of a meltdown.

I felt bad for her. I really did. I understood perfectly the stress of an overwhelmed mom. I mean it wasn’t that long ago that I was somewhat in her shoes, but she was barking at him, “You brat! Stop it this instant!” over and over, like yelling at him was going to make him stop crying, instead of making him cry more, which is exactly what he did.

I tried not to focus on them, and instead on my happy day with my boys; although every now and then I’d sneak a glance. It was hard not to, the kid was losing it and the mother was having a nervous breakdown among a thousand happy blinking lights and bleeping games. It was almost a cinematic masterpiece.

I wanted to tell her to calm down. To let him have his tantrum. That it would be okay. That she would be okay. And losing it and lashing out at a three year old wasn’t going to make him or her feel any better. But I didn’t know any of those things really, so all I did was smile encouragingly, and make a light handed comment about kids being counted on to crack just when you needed them to stay glued together. She didn’t respond. I saw the furrow of her brow, the tight hunch of her shoulders, stress dripping off of her and knew she was in a really ugly moment.

I caught a glimpse of them leaving; her pushing the carriage with one hand, dragging her wailing son with the other as my son pulled me away to a machine which was spitting out a million tickets; his face lit brighter than the game. “Mommy! I won!” I smiled indulgently; so much happy for so little invested.

We stayed for another half hour, going through 20 more tokens each. before we redeemed our tickets, got some sweets and skipped out the door. It had been a perfect morning. As we drove away, my boys busy breaking the trinkets they won, sticky sweets on their hands and faces, talking loudly over one another with residual excitement; I looked back at them lovingly through the rear view mirror.

At 6, 8 and 11, they are growing up so fast. Soon they’ll probably only hang out with me kicking and screaming, or at least muttering and eye-rolling. But I’ll take it. I’ll take every day I’ve got with them. The good, the bad, the ugly.  I’m going to appreciate it all.

Cheesy as it may sound.

Never follow men with candy, but always follow mice with tickets.

Never follow men with candy, but always follow mice with tickets.



How to Lose a New York State of Mind in 7 Days.

Day 1 –

I sit in a lounge chair, staring into the rolling blue waves. The sun is out full force, and my children are scattered around – one building some kind of sand ditch, the other two playing in the ocean with my husband. It is idyllic. It is Norman Rockwell. Ohmygodddddd, I hate it.

This is our family vacation. We opted out of Thanksgiving this year and decided to piggyback on my sister-in-law’s family vacation to an all-inclusive Jamaican resort. My in-laws are also here and so are my mom and step-dad. In theory, it’s all very nice. In reality? Well… there are extremely annoying bug bites snaking up my legs, the sun is scorching my skin, I’m having an anxiety attack that my children are in the ocean and I’m slightly bored out of my mind.

A couple, too small of bathing suit and too large of body, painfully red in the chest and arms, stagger past, giggling, spilling their drinks in the sand. It doesn’t matter. A new one will replace it shortly. And maybe if they stay drunk, they won’t feel that nasty burn. That is the beauty of the all-inclusive, drink after drink after drink.  Well, it’s the beauty, unless you’re just watching it, then it’s just kind of amusingly unattractive.

Wow, I’m a little uptight. I never realized it. I mean, I know, I’m, ahem, structured, but I’m on an island, damn it. I definitely should be having more fun. Do I actually miss the daily routine of supermarket shopping and going to the gym? Or my morning coffee. Or nightly ice cream. Sigh. Crap, I’m more pathetic than I realized.

Maybe I’m just old, or because I’m with my kids and family, the idea of spending sunrise to sunset lying on the beach has about as much appeal to me as the couple who just walked by. But no, that’s not it. It’s me. I look at my mom standing next to me. She has the forlorn expression of a puppy holding a leash too long in its mouth, waiting. Well, not just me.

Day 4 – Same spot on lovely beach, intermittently biting finger nails while reading.

Men hawking sun dresses, cigarettes and necklaces wander by selling, constantly selling. There are also the music men who stop every few feet and sing, whether you want them to or not. After a while, we’re paying them to go away. About half of them whisper, “Ja wanna mara Ja wanna, Mon?”  The never ending parade of friendly, stoned, poor people is a little depressing. They keep coming round and round. We take pictures with them, of course.

My oldest, who has spent much of the morning creating a ditch/moat pile of sand, walks up toward me, but there’s something funny about the way he’s moving. Hmm. It seems he’s walking like John Wayne in a cowboy movie. “Uh, honey? You have to go to the bathroom or something?”

He nods in the negative. Turns out he’s got beach burn, you know, from the wet, sandy suit rubbing against the inner thigh. It’s raw and painful and my other boys are suffering to a lesser degree. Nightly, we have instituted an Aquaphor application ritual. There is a lot legs flailing, and me trying not to get kicked in the face by giggling boys.

I turn and see my mom by the pool. She’s not in a lounge chair. My mom doesn’t lay. She can’t relax enough to read, and she doesn’t drink; nor would my mom go into the pool or suntan anymore. For her, skin cancer pales in comparison to the very real threat of wrinkles. So, what’s she doing by the pool? Water aerobics. Sort of. While throngs of semi-drunk ladies are in the pool, semi-following the fit Jamaican man demonstrating the moves from outside the water, my mom is right beside him doing her own little aerobics class. I’m almost jealous of her exercise, but too resigned and lulled by the sun to really care. Besides, my book is good. Wait? Am I… relaxing??

Howard has just returned from a snorkling excursion the kids. They are giddy with their sightings. Little Julius swears he saw a Zebra fish and a giant eel. Michael, my middle son, claims he saw a shark (He later modified to baby shark.), and Tyler swears he spotted a reef squid, whatever that is. I don’t know what they saw or didn’t, but their glowing excitement is all the reality I care about.

I think I’m going to get myself one of those drinks with a drunk sounding name. Maybe a Miami Vice or a Sexy Bikini or a Banana Sunset. Yeah, that sounds good, Mon.

Day 7 – We’re going home. Children are sad. They had the “best!” time. I am ready. I am tired of relaxing and sleeping with children lying like cats across my body. We were upgraded to the “Honeymoon Suite” when we came, which we thought was great, until we realized that basically it was just a King bed with a Jacuzzi Tub right next to it, which opened up to the bathroom. A little weird. I mean, I would think even honeymoon couples might like a little privacy. Whatever. I’m going home.

View from the bed. Romantic, huh?

I look around. I’m, sort of, going to miss the smell of wafting weed, the beautiful warm lolling waves, my golden children smiling, eating and drinking more than I ever should, and nothing but nothing to do with my day.  I can understand why people would like something like this. Oh, that’s what a vacation is? Got it. Next time, I’m going to start drinking earlier.