Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Greatest show on Earth?

One thing that is very important to me as a parent is exposing my children to live entertainment. Concerts, art exhibits, plays...even Sesame Street live and The Wiggles in concert, count. This is, in my opinion, the wax-on, wax-off theory of raising a child who is at home at a cultural venue. If they go through the motions enough as a young person, sitting in The Strand Theatre with a date in their teens will feel as natural as sitting in Tinseltown. That's the plan, at least.

This is why, when the circus came to town this weekend, we were SO there. Before some of you bemoan the state of the circus animals and their exploitation and abuse, let me just say that while I love animals as much as the next guy, I rarely boycott anything at all, the exception being any restaurant that ever gave me food poisoning. So, let's just leave the politics out of this discussion, mmmmkay?

The kids' school was giving away passes which entitled the bearer to a free child's ticket with the purchase of an adult ticket. What could be better than free, right? So, mom and I decided we would treat the kids to a day at the circus.

Now, I am by no means a veteran Mommy....I've only been at this for five years, but I have learned a few things along the way. Rule #127 in my own personal mommy handbook is "Never announce an exciting event to your children in advance." Rationale? Anticipation in young children is highly over-rated. It generally exhibits as annoying and constant harassment of the parent from the moment it is mentioned until the moment the exciting event begins. This works exceptionally well for birthday parties, parades, planned visits to Chuck-E-Cheese, and vacations. It is less successful for major holidays. Stupid marketing geniuses at Wal-Mart screw that one up for you. I can't hide Halloween nor the impending arrival of Santa or the Bunny. Kids are not that dumb.

Following rule #127, we pull up to the Century Tel Center and Harrisen's eyes go wide.

H: "MOM. Are we gonna see The Wiggles?"
K: "No, honey.......we are gonna see....."

*wait for it*

K: "The CIRCUS!"

And the crowd-of-two goes wild in the back seat. Rule #127 never fails.

Hand in hand, we walk up to the box office. I give them a talk.

K: "Now, kids, Mommy and Grammy are going to buy you tickets to the circus, ok? It costs money to SEE the circus. The circus is the TREAT. There are going to be lots of toys and things to buy, but we aren't going to buy them. We will buy a snack, and we will see the circus. Ok?"

E & H: "Okay, Mommy!"

So we buy our tickets. Even with the passes, the tickets were $40.

We walk in and are met by a friendly, neighborhood Shriner hawking souvenir program books. We avert right. The kids are none the wiser. Books are not that intriguing, anyway. We manage to avoid inflatable dolphins and Sponge-Bob-on-a-stick as well. My kids know me well enough to not even ask for Sponge-Bob anything. They may be young, but they ain't stupid. They know when to hedge their bets.

We get great seats. Midway up, directly in line with ring number two of the three rings. Pretty soon, the snack hawkers descend. I don't much mind snack hawkers. Snacks are yummy, and they don't collect dust in my house. I'm good with snacks at events, even un-healthy, overpriced ones.

Grammy flags down the cotton candy man. I smile. There is not much in life I enjoy more than cotton candy, myself. There are two versions of cotton candy to be had at the circus: the pink version and the blue version. The cotton candy versions just so happen to coincide with the two versions of offspring I have sitting next to me. Go figure. Of course, Harrisen wants the blue version and Evangeline (as well as every other girl-child in the arena) believes if it's pink, it should be hers. Grammy orders the blue, and in an uncharacteristic bit of self-control and quiet acquiescence, Evangeline complies without fuss. We enjoy our $4.00 cotton candy.

Shortly after we finish our cotton candy, the popcorn dude comes up the aisle. I'm one of those people who like to chase sweet with salty. The kids don't have to ask twice for popcorn. Popcorn comes in only one variety, thankfully, and is enticing in the old fashioned red and white striped box. Another $4.00 later, the kids are happily munching stale popcorn and the lights dim.

With the dimming of the lights, the holy-grail of circus-going children becomes evident in all it's glory. The blinking LED light wand.

This seizure-inducing toy is exactly what I hoped to avoid with the aforementioned "we are buying tickets not toys" speech. Raise your hand if you believe the lecture stuck with my children in the presence of hundreds of their peers waving blinking wands over their heads? It's playground taunting at it's highest level.

I lean over to Harrisen.

K: "Honey, remember, we are here to see the show. We are not going to buy a light up toy."
H: "Please?"
K: "No, honey. We had snacks. We bought tickets. Let's enjoy the show."

The circus begins, and I must say, it is probably the nicest circus I have ever seen. The costumes are fancy, the acrobats are nimble and enthusiastic, the elephant balancing on a rotating pedestal made Mom and I both nod at each other appreciatively. There is a very funny dog show and only one clown I had to endure. (I hate clowns.) Despite the fact the ring-master was actually a ring-mistress and looked and sounded exactly like Fran Drescher, we were totally enjoying the show. The kids were mesmerized. They were glued to the acts and clapped like crazy people. I was really glad we were there.

Then Fran makes her way to the center ring.

F: Ladeeeeees and Gentlemen. Chiiiiiildreeeen of all ages. I would like to call your attention to the aisles where our nuuuuuumber ONE, popular SOUVENIR ooooooof the CIRCUS is ON SALE NOW! Fantaaaastic glowing light wands will be your faaaaaavorite toy LOOOOONG after the circus is over! With their easily replaceable batteries, they will bring you joy for WEEEEEKS to come!"
blah. blah. nasally blah.

Mom leans over.

M: Is she seriously doing a commercial for the light wands?
K: Seems that way to me.
F: RAISE YOUR HAND and our vendors will bring you your OWN FLASHING LIGHT WAND!
K: Bitch.

The kids' hands shoot up.

Mom looks over at me. Our kids are adorable and expectant. The kids whose parents and grandparents love them unconditionally are happily waving their lighted wands overhead. Mom says:

M: Do you want to get them now or later?
K: Might as well get it over with.

I leave the transaction to Mom. She moves to the aisle and I try not to interfere. I probably could have stayed strong, but grandparents have even more peer pressure at special events, I think. Mommy is supposed to be a hard ass. Grammy is expected to over-rule Mommy. Grammy was between a rock and a hard place.

Harrisen comes back to his seat with a 3 foot long light saber with 4 color-changing LED's and a faceted disco ball apparatus on the handle that shoots blinding rays of light in a 360 degree radius. Evangeline was flapping a plastic crystal butterfly on a wand that flashes its spring loaded wings in a dizzying display of strobe lighting. Our entire row was instantly illuminated. It looked like a rave. I heard the dad behind us groan.

K: "Kids, we still have to watch the show. We are gonna have to turn the lights off, ok?"
H: "Ok, Mommy."
E: "WHHHHHaaaaaaaa!"
K: "I will give that butterfly BACK to the butterfly man if you don't turn it off."

Harrisen is no longer watching the show. He is looking at his now-dark, light-up saber and smiling. I ask Mom:

K: "How much were those flashing things...?"
M: "$15. Each."
K: "Shit! I thought they were TEN."
M: "The plain ones were ten. They didn't want the plain ones."
K: "Of course not."

I lean over to my son.

K: "Honey, look at the acrobats! On The Wheel of Destiny! In ring number one!"

He manages to tear his eyes from his plastic wand long enough to enjoy the rest of act one. We are still impressed by the circus. It's really quite entertaining.

Fran comes back out to announce intermission.

F: "Ladieeeeees and Gentlemennnnnn! We have come to the halftime show!"

She pauses to take a breath. Men in black shirts, ties and shiny black polyester slacks rush into action. Before she could utter another syllable, they transform rings one, two and three into the stuff of preschool dreams. Do you remember the end of "Annie"? When Daddy Warbucks cleans up all the orphans and throws them a big-ass carnival at the mansion? Well, this was the Bossier City version of that sort of overblown, over-the-top fantasyland, but big-top Shriner-style. Pony rides. Elephant rides. Face painting with glitter. Take your photo with a snake. And FOUR, count 'em, FOUR bouncy houses. I'm not sure whose eyes were bigger, ours or the kids. However, it did not stop there. Having sucked hundreds of dollars out of parents with the blinky wand tactic, the same circus soldier salesmen were now carrying the most cartoon-perfect latex balloons on sticks you have ever seen. Huge and round, in perfect primary colors. Crack for a three year old.

E: I want to ride an eeeeewuuuufint!
K: Honey, we are NOT riding an elephant. Or a pony.
H: Mom, are those bouncy houses for us kids?
K: No, honey, they are for the kids whose mommys really love them.

Ok, so I didn't say that last part. But I sure thought it.

E: I want a bawooon!
M: Dwennie, you have a flashing butterfly wand!
E: Gwammy, can we give him my butterfwy back and get a bawoon?
M: I wish.

Ok, so Mom didn't really say that, but she sure thought it.

It was at this point, I had just finished texting a friend of mine to inquire why they did not sell beer at the circus. Mom leans over and says, "I wish they sold beer at the circus."

As the kids longingly watched the special children of the world ride elephants and ponies and get painted up like the tigers, we adults put our thinking caps on.

M: This is going to take a while.
K: Yep. They totally have us where they want us.
M: We paid for our tickets. They have our money...
K: But they don't yet have the money of all of the people still waiting in line to ride an elephant.
M: They aren't going to start act II until every single child in line has ridden an elephant. Or a pony. Look at that woman walking in circles in pony poop. Bless her heart.
K: This is cruel. Our children have a ringside seat to watch all the other kids ride an elephant.
M: Do you think they would leave now?

Little did Mom know, I had a trick up my sleeve. You see, Mom did not teach me rule #127. There are plenty of rules in my book that did come from her, but #127 is all mine. I break out the secret weapon.

K: "Hey kids. You guys want to go to a birthday party?"
E: "With ice cream?"
H: "And cake?"
E: "And goodie bags?"
K: "You bet."

We were out of there in 3 minutes. As we walked down the steps to the parking lot, Harrisen said:

H: "Thank you for taking me to the circus. I loved it."
E: "I wanna ride an elephant."
K: "We'll ride one at the Fair."

As I hugged Mom and thanked her for going to the circus with us, we added up our expenses. Even with the free tickets, we dropped almost $80.00 at the circus and we did not ride so much as the elevator.

We told each other that it was for a good cause. Shriner's Hospital is a wonderful charity and they did remove an extra toe from my niece's foot when she was a baby. That had to set them back more than eighty bucks, so we felt pretty good about our investment.

I still love the circus. I love showing my kids a good time, especially when it involves live performers. However, I despise being taken for a fool, and milked for my money through manipulation of my children. That is not what the circus should be about. It's not what childhood should be about! With materialism and commercialization overrunning every child-centric venue, it makes me wonder: when did the experience itself become not enough? When did it become such that we all need to wear the t-shirt or wave the glowing wand to prove that we had a good time? How do I fight the ring-masters of the world who are serving my kids the kool-aid with both hands? I know it's a battle that won't be won by giving in each time, but when the kids are young and don't truly understand, it's harder to follow through than you might think. Maybe I'll figure it out in time for The Revel.