I owe my mother an apology. Every year, just as school was wrapping-up and the warm weather was starting to stick, the carnival would roll into town – which would invariably morph me into a whining, begging, pleading nuisance of a child.
“Please can we go? It will be SO much fun. I REALLY want to. Pleeeeeeease.” I would chant over and over again into her tortured ear.
I could not understand why she would want to miss out on a once-in-a-year opportunity to twist, ride, glide, toss, dunk, win fantastic take-home prizes and eat super delicious food, all of which was practically delivered to our front door. What kind of mother doesn’t want to take her children to partake in such immeasurable joy?
What kind of mother? The very kind that I have become.
My 4 year old son has just fallen prey to the irresistible draw that is the traveling carnival. As luck would have it, our urban neighborhood plays host to a small carnival at the school 2 blocks up the street from our house. My son was a young toddler when we moved here and we thought, Oh, how sweet; we can just walk him up there on a nice Saturday afternoon and enjoy the festivities.
That is just what we did the first summer. And then, about $40 and 14 minutes later, we walked ourselves right on home again. To boot, we had to nearly drag our sweet child out, as he kicked and screamed about not wanting to leave.
Generally, I have found that the simplest activities often bring the most joy in the parent-child relationship. My son and I have spent countless hours in our tiny backyard, building block towers and car roads. We often journey down the street to the grassy parkette, where we play hide-n-seek amongst the 3 trees that grace the corner, kick a soccer ball around, or collect leaves and grass to make soup in his sand pale. When enshrouded in simplicity, I can really spend time with him. We have our best chats at a quiet park or in a small sandbox.
The carnival, on the other hand, leaves nothing to the imagination. As my mother learned long ago, for an adult, the carnival simply amounts to teeth and brain jostling rides of questionable safety and cleanliness, intermixed with terrible food that churns your insides in an oil and sugar overload - all of which leaves your wallet empty and your children in an unsatisfied frenzy. Not exactly the ideal of a good time.The year following my son’s virgin excursion to the carnival, he remembers what the lights, music and screams mean on opening night. In a rightful turn of karma, he asks to go incessantly. I want to explain to him that the cost-benefit ratio of a carnival just does not add up; each ride is exorbitantly expensive and disappointingly short. But of course, that will not work. I try cajoling him into alternative activities. How about the park? Or the beach? There is even talk of how superior the fun will be during our upcoming trip to Disneyland, as though the little person I’m reasoning with is rational enough to defer gratification.
I once overheard my mother confess that she would take the long way home to avoid the street past where the carnival would set-up in our town. She would try to keep the entire thing out of my brothers’ and my consciousness. I was furious when I heard this, as a child, but now I credit her strategy as wholly rational and simply ingenious. Some years it worked out for her, and some years she wasn’t so lucky. There was always the risk a friend would tell us or that she simply didn’t realize before it was too late and we had already spotted the gleaming metal and blinking lights.
I don’t have the luxury of avoiding my child’s carnival detection. He can see the Ferris wheel from our driveway; he can hear the alluring music and laughter from his bedroom. How do you resist that?Oh, I tried. There were some serious attempts at persuasion, preoccupation and postponement. I nearly made it through carnival weekend, haunted by the thought of going or by the guilt of not, when my husband caved on Sunday afternoon. It was just a few short hours before they would close down, pack up, and leave our neighborhood to restored peace, when my sucker of a husband whispered, “Maybe we could take him for just a couple rides?”
With the nod of my head, and a trot down the street, we were amiss in the carnival chaos. My little boy’s face lit up as he surveyed every ride, game, and treat possibility. It’s tough for hide-n-seek at the park to compete with this. And, standing amidst the loud music, flashing lights and hoards of people, I had to concede that it is pretty exciting, if nothing else.
Barely able to contain that excitement, my son tugged at my hand, wanting to go every which way and quickly. For a moment, I was caught in disbelief that I’m the mom – grown-up and deciding to go to the carnival or not. And why ever would I choose not? Wasn’t it just the other day when I felt trapped in childhood, when I was just a little girl standing at the end of the driveway, looking longingly down the road that would take me to the carnival? …The road that I yearned to go to fun and exciting places on.I like to think that I have used my grown-up freedoms to go exciting places and do worthwhile and fun things. I like to think that I am a good enough mom to sacrifice my own comfort for the joy of my children, as my mother so often did for my brothers and me.
One of the essences of parenthood is the challenge in balancing exciting new experiences with simplicity and moderation. And so I know that some summer evenings, I will end up at the carnival, throwing healthful eating and mindful spending to the wind so that my children can experience a classic thrill of childhood.
But I hope we’re out of town next year.