Family, Parenting

How I Found Happy Family Memories in a Token

French solider mask, cinco de mayo parade
A Real Cinco de Mayo Parade, photo by Kym Janisch, creative commons


I was going to write about the commercialization of Cinco de Mayo and how much I disliked the marketing of a cultural holiday that symbolizes the hope and pride of a people. About how much I hate to see “Drinko De Mayo,” and “Nacho Ordinary Cinco,” slogans. The distaste for ads featuring tacos and sombreros.

The post for this week was preempted by memories that had me travel many years back. So I changed my mind. But, if you’d like to read about what Cinco de Mayo really means and the French invasion of Mexico, I have an old post here. There are several posts about Cinco de Mayo. I like the one given by the History Channel.

The idea of a Cinco de Mayo post came to an end when I cleaned out my desk drawer hunting for an emery board. Underneath ink pens, rubber bands, post-its and an old address book, I found some foreign money. Coins representing four countries and two Chuck E. Cheese tokens. So make that five countries. Thus began my time travel.

Chuck E. Cheese token, circa 1993. “Smile America Say”


The faded image on the fake bronze coin showed a big nosed rat in bowtie and bowler hat, circa 1993. Why the weird phrase  “Smile America Say,” is engraved on it is a mystery to me. The other token had a different saying, but I lost that one between last night and this morning.

The rat took me back to the colorful sights and chaotic sounds of our local Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, “Where a Kid Can Be A Kid.”

All three of my children celebrated birthdays at the place among shrieking delighted kids and parents who moaned at the noise level and overpriced bland cheese pizzas.

Chuck E. Cheese parties for the kids in our extended family was a rite of passage, for the children, moms, and dads. We entered the fun zone as proud parents holding onto the small hands of excited birthday boys or girls and left as frazzled shell-shocked adults, sometimes forgetting one of the kids until halfway down the freeway, (she knows who she is).

Kids ran to dive into the orange, yellow and green balls, disappear into fluorescent plastic tunnels, while parents covered their eyes and ears from the blinking lights, electronic noises, and shrieks. Some of which probably came from the parents who’d been in the place for half an hour.

Try keeping track of your kid in the crowd of pint-sized children all waving arms, jumping, twirling, or cowering in a corner. (Wait, the cowering would be at the parent table).

All that excitement doubled when the red curtain rose and the mechanical singing chicken, mustachioed chef, and the blue guy who appeared. The smarmy dancing and squawking of the robotic characters, behind the arm-waving teenage CEC workers, delighted the under six-year-old set whose parents tried to look semi-excited but came off as confused, scared or both.

confused parents
Confused or Scared? creative commons photo

When the bottom heavy rat strode into the melee of children I thought he looked like a thug rat in a knockoff Mickey Mouse film. But the kids, especially my toddler daughter hugged the seven-foot gangster rat like he was her cuddly stuffed lamb. Her eyes and body danced to the songs of the chickens, while one son veered away from Mr. Chuck E. Cheese and the noise, concentrating on a birthday cake and waving balloons. The older son ran circles around the rat and scampered back to the game zone, clutching trailing strips of orange tickets.

Ah yes, the memories. Happy and frightening at the same time. All those germ infested rainbow balls, tickets and tokens, bland pizzas and a giant rat returned to me via a grubby Chuck E. Cheese token.

Maybe I should have stuck with a Cinco de Mayo post.

6 thoughts on “How I Found Happy Family Memories in a Token”

  1. And I used to feel grumbly when we had to take the godkids to PIzza Hut because they’d gotten coupons in school as prizes for reading some number of books. If I’d known about Chuck E. Cheese, I’d have been grateful. At least we didn’t share the place (visibly) with rodents.

    Liked by 1 person

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