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Judy Spooner: A 9-year-old's smile: priceless

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Uncle Gary and Aunt Judy are in Chapel Hill, N.C., with niece Karen, her husband, Steve and Emily, 11, and Ryan, who was 9 years old April 17.

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We're usually here around Ryan's birthday. He didn't mind the delay, however, because he knew he'd have another birthday when we arrived.

I asked Ryan if he would like to go someplace special for his birthday. Karen found a place just right for kids. It has an arcade, go-carts and lots of stuff, said Ryan who had heard all about it.

With Karen and Steve having made plans to attend a spring event where local chefs cooked and served food made with items grown on local farms, Gary and I headed out with Emily, Ryan and Alex, his friend who was spending the afternoon with him. I told Ryan I had officially declared it to be: "Ryan Balcom Day."

I've heard that people spend more money with credit cards in their hands than they do when they have to hand over real cash. With the adults having the cash and the kids with the cards, I can testify that it's true.

Also, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is, something Gary and I already knew from experience at state fairs. It doesn't make sense to spend $2 to play a game where the winning prize is worth less than $1. The kids will learn this by experience, I believe, the same way we learned it.

From the outside, Frankie's looks like a large movie theater. Sounds from electronic arcade games and a lot of kids made it twice as loud as a casino atmosphere.

Gary and I took a little longer than the kids did when figuring out how to put $20 on each of the kids' "fun money" credit cards. Kids are so comfortable with electronics that they expect everything to have touch screens.

Emily and Alex slipped those credit cards through the arcade slots as if the money were endless. Ryan was not as eager but he tends to hang onto his money. It was fun to watch them win games and gather up the winning tickets as if they had won the lottery.

Given a choice between go-carts, miniature golf and Spider's Web, they chose the latter with no votes for golf.

Spider's Web, according to Alex, has layers of "elastic rubber things." Kids find holes in each layer, crawl through and climb to the next layer until they get to the top, about 30 feet off the floor. They were rewarded with swinging on a yellow swing. The three of them raced to the bottom with Alex coming in first, but he had previous experience.

After two-and-a-half hours of fun, including snacks and a game of laser tag for the three of them, they exchanged the tickets they won in the arcade games for prizes.

The cost of two Venus fly trap plants (we'll see how those work out), a foot-long "bendy" pen, according to Emily, a set of "crazy erasers," three finger rings, stuffed animal, a 4-inch Gummy Bear and 35 pieces of candy was about $150.

The cost of a smiling 9-year-old boy saying "Thanks for the day:" Priceless.

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Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600
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