Lessons from Chuck

Lainey learns with carnival games.

My daughter Lainey is 5 years old, and I love her.

Looking to break the routine recently, the family visited the Chuck E. Cheese in Everett.

Lainey burst through the doors, got her hand stamped and explored the revelry. Everything from classic carnival games like skee-ball, to sophisticated touch-screen devices were on hand.

Above the arcade, an immense playland of crawl-through plastic tubes hung from the ceiling. And the expansive dining area was complete with party balloons, bland pizza, and an animatronic Chuck, who sang and appeared just a bit creepy.

After eating, Lainey and I bought some tokens and entered the playroom. First, Lainey rode the grocery-store carousel, but wasn’t too impressed. So she kicked off her shoes and crawled into the maze of tubes, leaving me alone with the tokens.

I went straight for skee-ball, then basketball, and earned some tickets.

“Look, Lainey, tickets!” I said when she escaped the maze.

“What are those for?” Lainey asked.

“Prizes!” I cheered. “Let’s play skee-ball!”

I showed Lainey how to up the ramp, like bowling, but the kid could hardly score a point.

“Let’s do something else,” she smiled.

Then Lainey discovered her favorite—the bulldozer game. The gateway drug to slot machines gathers hundreds of tokens, and very gradually pushes them down three levels to a pit below. Lainey played 10 tokens in a minute and earned a ton of tickets.

“I’m good at this game!” Lainey bragged.

But our token supply was fading fast, from 45 to seven.

“We’re running out,” I warned. “Are you sure you don’t want to something else?”

“Yep,” Lainey nodded.

“But there’s no more tokens after this,” I told her. “This is it.”

Now the wheels in Lainey’s head began to turn.

Who knew that Lainey would learn the value of at a Chuck E Cheese?

She planned the last of her token spending, and prioritized while redeeming her tickets. With 143 tickets to spend, Lainey browsed the merchandise, determined the best deal and made her purchase— a folding fan, some stickers and a plastic top.

And the Lainey did with the fan later that night? Extraordinary!

That’s when I got my money’s worth.


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