chuck e. cheeses, dante’s inferno, 713 tickets

Ahh, motherhood. What’s your most acutely stressful moment? My maternal grandmother met my maternal grandfather on their wedding day when she was, I think, 18. They had six kids. She had had four of them, including my mom, by the time the Korean War broke out. All the men disappeared so that they wouldn’t get recruited by the communist army (i think. My uncle wrote a memoir that explains it better), which left the ladies to evacuate children, and I assume the elderly, on their own. So maybe my maternal ma was in her early 20s or so when she was responsible for leaving Seoul with four kids under the age of five by OX CART. My mom still remembers being four and terrified of the wheels of A WOODEN OX CART and my emo as a baby sitting on top of it, when they had walk by foot to a safer area/city/town — I’m assuming a few hours of walking was involved, a day or more of walking. My mom cracked me up when this was the story she reported on in her writing class for the topic “My First Trip.”

My paternal grandmother, whom I know less about, also had six kids. My paternal grandfather was an inventor and had created some kind of fertilizer (as well as paint for the Japanese military during World War II, SAY WHAT? It’s true some Koreans were not tortured by the Japanese but were actually close to them. My maternal grandfather went to college in Japan and was fluent. He had dreams of being a writer, but who would read novels written in Japanese by a Korean?) When folks defaulted on payments for his product, he was sent to jail (apparently, at the time, if you were bankrupt, you had to go to prison) so she had six kids on her own for a while. (Good god).

My mother has had her own challenges, immigrating to the U.S. to join my dad who went ahead, with a toddler (me), a rice cooker (from the layover in Japan where all the Koreans advised each other to shop since they had the latest and greatest technology), suit cases, and two lung x-rays to prove we do not have tuberculosis and were safe to move on in. (Can you friggin’ imagine? I barely manage to leave my apartment with the kids, sometime Brooklyn, but…arggggh).

My hardest parenting challenge? Chuck E. Cheeses.

Sorry, it’s true! I’m American, middle-class, stable. I’m never moving. My husband participates equally with parenting, so….Chuck E. Cheeses.

I went to my second kid birthday party of the day (mistake) at Chuck E. Cheese (an act of hubris and stupidity). Chuck E. Cheese is equivalent to the ninth ring of hell, Dante’s inferno. Lots of lights, noise, people, shoulder to shoulder, paying for video games, which spit out tickets. After you play, you wait in line to redeem your tickets into a ticket counting machine and they typically malfunction. Then you get on another line to redeem your total number of tickets for a tiny, crappy piece of plastic aka toys. There are never enough tickets, enough turns on the video games, someone usually cries — it’s Vegas for kids and THE KIDS LOVE IT. So because they adore this particular friend who’s birthday it was, because they love the Chuck of the Cheese, I went. I knew what I was getting into with crowds, losing the kids a few times. With parties, guests can get extra tickets, so I waited in line with three bags of tickets for thirty minutes. When it was my turn, I worked steadily and spent twenty minutes to insert 713 tickets, one by one because they were not connected. 713! It was almost like a Buddhist exercise. Like as I kneeled putting in tickets one by one, I asked myself, why am I doing this? Isn’t it cheaper to just buy the prizes? Do I think I’m going to be a better parent doing this? I thought about how Husband would never survive this place. He would have a nervous breakdown in the entryway and refuse to participate, but that he’s smarter than I am in that regard to know how futile these steps were and yet I am so programmed to follow through that I could not walk away, etc. etc. After a crowd gathered to watch my intense ticket feeding, my kids and I Went to the loo en masse, retrieved coats. Fairly close to the kids’ bedtime, we got on line again and got some dumb plastic items the kids promptly forgot about as we left this hellacious prison…it was so awful.

I’ve mentioned some pretty tough mothers. I am their descendent, and my lore of survival, my legacy will be CHUCK E. CHEESES.

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