Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Three Simple Lessons From An Evening At Peter Piper

Tonight, my husband and I took our kids on their class field trip to Peter Piper Pizza in Rancho San Diego. We used to frequent this location often with my husband's family since my father-in-law is a big fan of their lunch buffet and he used to treat us to it whenever we could coordinate our schedules.

Last year, though, my husband suffered gallstone pancreatitis and had to get his gall bladder removed. This whole ordeal not only inspired my husband to improve his eating habits in general, but it caused him to give up dairy almost entirely. Not fitting into his new diet, we've pretty much sworn off pizza and so our former Peter Piper dates have gone by the wayside.

The field trip tonight was the first time that we've taken our son back to Peter Piper since he's been old enough to actually enjoy the arcade games. Through the critical lens of an adult, the place is not overly impressive. The games seem overpriced and many of them don't seem like they are working all that well.

But, from the viewpoint of my son and his peers, the place is amazing. I have to toss aside my cynicism when seeing the joy in their faces, and open myself up to the lessons these preschoolers have to offer.

Lesson #1: Keep it simple
Our son "making" his own pizza

When our son's teacher mentioned that the kids would get to make their own pizzas, I imagined--in the least--them rolling out their own dough, ladling out sauce, and sprinkling on cheese. As it turns out, the sweet Peter Piper staff member assigned to be our guide brought out pre-rolled dough with sauce already spread. The only "making" necessary was to disperse the cheese that was pre-piled in the middle of the sauce to the edges. (There was also a cupful of pepperoni that kids could add to their pizzas, but our son didn't want any.)

To my delight, our son was not disappointed in the least by the simplicity of the cooking activity. He seemed to take pride in spreading out the cheese before the raw pizzas were whisked away back into the kitchen to be baked. And, ten minutes later, when the hot pizzas were returned to our table, my son glowed as he announced, "I made that!"

As someone who is often guilty of overdoing things, the pizza was a good lesson that all that is necessary is often the most simple.

Lesson #2: Enjoy the game

Even not being that into tickets, our son still came home with these goodies.
Even as a kid, I was kind of a spoilsport. When my parents would take our family to an arcade or carnival, they would give my brother and me each some money. My brother would always spend his money on games, but I always saved mine. I think that fiscal responsibility is important, but seeing my son enjoying games tonight makes me feel bad that I couldn't allow myself to let loose even when I was young.

I am particularly impressed with the way that my son selects the games that he plays. Perhaps his tastes will change as he grows older, but for now, he seems to care more about enjoying the actual gameplay than in winning. Even when he knows that certain games yield more tickets in return, he would rather experience a variety of different games than simply play the same one just to win more tickets.

Lesson #3: Let go of your inhibitions

This last lesson of the night doesn't come from my son, but from one of his classmates. It's a lesson that my son could stand to learn from, too, because he is often shy like me. As evidence of my son's reserve, when the Peter Piper worker was giving the kids a tour of the arcade area, she allowed the children to play some games for free. When she got to the Skeeball section, she asked for volunteers to play, and some kids quickly ran up as fast as she could put tokens into the machines.

With one empty machine left, the worker encouraged my son to play, but as much as I know he likes Skeeball, he just hid behind me and looked at the ground. I can hardly blame him, though, because I have never been the kind of person to raise my hand when a volunteer from the crowd is solicited.

This is where the classmate enters the scene. Not only was this kid happily one of the Skeeball volunteers, he was also the first to step up when the Peter Piper guide brought us to the grand finale of the arcade "tour," which consisted of a brand new game machine that she was quite proud to show off: Deal or No Deal.

To start with, I couldn't believe that this four-year-old kid seemed to understand the concept behind the game, because having only seen the original television show once long ago myself, I am barely familiar with it. The whole experience was surreal. Watching this boy play was like seeing some seasoned adult contestant on a real-life game show. He was so confident, scanning the briefcases with a look indicating he understood that he had to pick the right ones, yet never looking intimidated in the least that a whole crowd had gathered to watch him.

After each round, he kept pressing his luck without hesitation, confidently choosing "No Deal." I know that if I had switched places with him, at thirty years his senior, I would have been nervous having all of these people watch me, and I definitely would have been guilty of being indecisively slow when picking suitcases.

In the end, the kid won the grand prize of 1000 tickets. Just as on a television game show, he didn't disappoint the crowd as he started jumping around with his arms raised in victory. While the game is obviously a matter of luck, I swear that it was his complete lack of inhibition that opened up the gates to fortune.

I don't feel too bad that my son and I are more restrained, because I see the practical benefits of being cautious. All the same, I am inspired that a child so young can have the confidence to stand out in the crowd without the slightest hint of embarrassment and just go for the win.

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