The fact that this is my natural summertime state is bad enough, but lately things have taken a turn for the worse. Despite fervent opposition on my part, my husband signed us up for an energy-savings program where the power company uses a little box to turn off our air conditioning at random times during peak usage periods. Theoretically, one is not supposed to even notice the difference this might make. Um, try telling that to someone whose bra could qualify as a slow-cooker.
Lately, this nasty little box has been malfunctioning and shutting off our air conditioning for hours at a time, causing me to become even more of a cranky, swampy mess.
One such incident happened yesterday morning when I awoke to an eighty-degree bedroom and rising temperatures throughout the rest of the house. I tried not to be cranky, but it was hard to start the day in a cheerful mood when I woke up to find I'd already sweated through my underwear.
As the morning progressed and the air conditioning still did not turn on, I grew increasingly miserable and desperate. So when my son asked in a whiny voice if we could go to Chuck-E-Cheese for lunch, I piled us all into the minivan without hesitation. Blasting the air conditioning in my face and soaking in the blessed coolness like water from a desert oasis, I wondered if it was feasible to spend the rest of the afternoon idling in the driveway, just sitting in the coolness of the minivan's interior.
I believe I was imagining myself standing under an ice-cold waterfall when my son yelled "Let's GO!!" and shattered my reverie.
Off we went.
Amidst the relief of the air conditioning lurked a nugget of dread in my belly--trips to Chuck-E-Cheese are generally a nightmare. Maybe I'll appreciate this "kiddie casino" when my children are older and don't need as much supervision, but as of right now, taking both children to Chuck-E-Cheese by myself is only slightly more enjoyable than gouging my eyeballs out with a spork. On the rare occasions we go there I spend the whole time in a state of mild panic, worried that one of my children will run off and disappear amongst the masses of humanity.
I was therefore relieved when we arrived to find that Chuck-E-Cheese was fairly uncrowded. We installed our stuff at a table and the kids immediately began running about, wild-eyed amidst the multitude of flashing lights.
Evan quickly gravitated to the shooting games (what is it with boys and guns?), while Clara became overwhelmed by the flashing lights and proceeded to hang on me like a terrified koala bear. I had hoped to get a cute picture of her on the mini-carousel, but she was so terrified by anything moving that she clung to me and shrieked "Nooooo!!!" whenever I got close to the thing.
Her only moment of real joy came when someone dressed up as Chuck-E(?) came out of the back room and led the kids around the place like the pied piper. Her face lit up in a huge grin when she saw the giant mouse, and we happily marched along behind him.
My joy quickly turned to horror, however, when I saw how the children in general were treating the poor employee--the child in the front of the line was taller than the rest, and he repeatedly jumped up and punched Chuck-E in his chubby rodent cheek. When Chuck-E turned around to see who was attacking him, another child grabbed his bucky rat teeth and yanked his head around violently, causing Chuck-E to flail about and look like he was having some strange sort of seizure.
I glanced about to see where the parents of these hooligans were, but no adults came forward to rein in their violent offspring. Other kids followed suit, and soon Chuck-E was being punched, kicked, and slapped from all angles. It was like some bizarre kiddie flash mob. My son observed all of this with profound confusion, and I puzzled over how to explain to him why Chuck-E was being assaulted by his fans.
The abuse continued, and I steeled myself for what was to come--I was pretty sure I was about to hear Chuck-E suddenly bellow, "Get the hell off me, you little sh%&heads!!!"
To my amazement, Chuck-E stayed mute through all of this, and he even danced with the children when we got to a special corner of the room. A female employee helped him lead us in the "Cupid Shuffle," (it's sort of like the Electric Slide, except you kick your feet instead of doing a little dip), and the kids stopped their abuse and clumsily stumbled about to the music.
I danced with the mob, and Clara giggled and squealed as she bounced around on my hip. Evan just stood there, gaping at the group with his brow furrowed and his mouth hanging open. Despite my coaxing, he wouldn't come dance. I suspect that by that point he had lost all respect for the shuffling rodent and was just waiting for us to finish up so we could go back to playing games. He wouldn't even participate when Chuck-E's helper instructed the kids to sit in a circle to get free tickets.
I wondered how the whole episode would affect his four-year-old psyche.
Fortunately Chuck-E soon retreated to the employee area, and I began the impossible task of convincing a four-year-old to leave a wonderland full of fun and delight so that he could go home and nap.
It took some arguing and bargaining, but Evan finally counted his tickets and selected his prize--a cheap plastic Slinky that broke on the drive home.
We arrived home, exhausted, to find that the air conditioning was still off. After consoling my son, who was crying over his kinky Slinky, and bribing my daughter with a couple of Hershey kisses, I was finally able to miraculously convince both children to nap. I stretched out my aching back and changed my bra and shirt, which had both become soaked with sweat in the few minutes I had spent wrestling my kids into their beds, and then I placed a rather hysterical call to the power company, demanding that they come and take the cursed box off our house.
And... just this morning, they did. Our air conditioning is back on and fully operational, and my husband is happy to have a wife who's no longer foaming at the mouth. I've promised to buy Evan a replacement Slinky from the Dollar Tree, and life has otherwise resumed as normal.
But still, as I sit here enjoying my cool and comfortable home, I can't help but realize that somewhere there is a sad employee sweating in a hot Chuck-E-Cheese costume, getting punched in the face and kicked by a mob of rabid children.
Maybe being a stay-at-home mom isn't so bad. I may be sweating and getting kicked, but at least I don't have to do it in a rodent costume!!