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I used to always wonder why parents allowed themselves to be financially gouged by companies catering to kids. This year, I found out. For Liam’s birthday, my wife and I decided to take him to a restaurant whose logo features a dancing rat. The commercials are always a hit for him and he’s finally at an age where he can actually enjoy what the entertainment complex has to offer. At the party there would also be a lot of other kids in Liam’s peer group for him to practice his newly developed social skills.

Although the party went off fine for Liam, I couldn’t help but notice the total stick-up job these places run on adults. I should’ve known something was up when I saw the “no firearms allowed” sign at the entrance. Even if you have the patience of a meditating Jesus on an ounce of weed, you might want to pop off a few shots by the end of the party.

When scheduling a party for your kid, parents are charmed by promises of a waterfall of tokens, tickets and other adorable perks to make it the event of the decade. Don’t get me wrong; they do come through – maybe too well. If you’ve never been to one of these places and seen a child at full steam at they go from cute to funny to frightening in the two hours allotted for your party. I realize everything is extreme to a child. The “chill” part of a growing child’s brain hasn’t yet developed. So when little Keisha goes from pretending she’s driving a racecar to trembling from token withdrawal, that’s the reason. Still, the process is bit unsettling to watch, especially when there’s 50 or so other kids doing the same thing.

If watching the birthday baby imitate Scooter from Jungle Fever isn’t enough, the parents are just as bad. No one wants their kid leaving ticketless so moms, dads, aunts, grandmothers all get in on the high stakes action. Grown folks post up at game machines and work like coal miners to get as many tickets as possible. I overheard a Jamaican woman yelling all kinds of “bumba” this and that while trying to hit animatronic critters peeping out of holes with a mallet. I’m pretty sure she never saw her Sunday afternoon going down like that.

By the end of the party, the children are stuffed with pizza and soda and have a weird, dazed look in their eyes. The adults are drained and left to cash in an endless amount of tickets for toys that they’ve already paid for eighty times over.

Fortunately, there are machines that count everything. Unfortunately, you have to have the hands of an Egyptian hieroglyphic to get the ticket into the frickin’ thing. Imagine winning a few hundred tickets and putting them into a machine where the slot is at knee-level. The process is so painful that you just want to flip the machine the bird and leave. If that happens, you’re stuck with a pile of tickets and the need to return. It’s diabolical – but as a marketing ploy, it’s genius.

Yes, I may bellyache about the craziness and cost of his birthday party but if I were to say that seeing the estatic look on my son’s face as he ran past wasn’t worth it, I’d be lying. Since most parents feel the same way, you can believe that there are always going to be companies around to prey on them.

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Larry Hester is a Brooklyn-born writer who’s written for Vibe, BET.com, The Source, Complex and more. He now resides in Newark, New Jersey with his wife and son. He welcomes any parenting advice or encouragement. Check him out on Facebook and Twitter @almostcooldad.

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