Saturday, February 23, 2008

Life is a Circus!

My partner, Vincent, and I thought it would be a grand idea to take our 3 1/2 year old to the circus for his first life experience to see clown shenanigans, high wire acts and such. As it was, there were three circus troupes in town at the same time we wanted to go: Big Apple Circus, the Universoul Circus, and the granddaddy of all circuses, Ringling Brothers.

I wasn't quite ready to navigate a 3 year old through the throngs of people sure to attend Ringling Brothers at Philips Arena. And I didn't know much about the Universoul Circus at Turner Stadium. However, I had previously attended the Big Apple Circus and we agreed that because it offered a smaller, more intimate setting at Stone Mountain, we would make this circus Connor's first circus experience.

For days before the event, we built excitement and talked about what we might see under the big top. Connor's eyes would light up every time we talked about clowns, or horses, or acrobats performing aerial feats unlike anything he had ever seen. He was genuinely excited and eagerly anticipated our upcoming family outing.

At last, circus night arrived. Because it was a Friday, the plan was for Vincent to come home from work a little earlier than normal so we wouldn't have to rush making our way to Stone Mountain. I let Connor take a longer-than-normal nap knowing that he would be up late that evening. If there is one thing I have learned as a parent, it's that some kids need more sleep than others. If Connor is tired, he is cranky. And if he is cranky, you can expect a meltdown of monumental proportions wherever you might be: the grocery store, the mall, at a playgroup...anywhere there is a large audience to observe his performance.

I suppose I've become somewhat immune to his meltdowns. Maybe not immune, but I've learned to pretend I don't care how he is acting. For example, the first time I witnessed his foot-stomping, throw-yourself-down-on-the-ground-screaming-for-attention act, I picked him up and hurriedly ran out of the store, leaving a half-full basket of melting ice cream and other assorted items for someone else to deal with. Of course, I knew my parental skills were on trial at that moment and that I was going to be voted as the grocery store's worst parent/customer of the month for his display of uncontrolled fits. As time has passed, however, I have learned that his tantrums are not out of the ordinary for a 3 year old and have seen some of his peers have tantrums that put his to shame. I have also learned that the best thing for me to do is to pretend that I am in a Valium-induced haze and ignore his fits while I make a quick exit from his stage. This, fortunately, seems to do the trick.

The other day, I helped serve lunch at our church following a mid-day Lenten worship service. Connor happens to attend school at the church, so when his day was over, his teacher brought him to me where we were serving. There were also a number of church members and guests who were enjoying lunch. Peacefully, that is, until I told Connor it was time for us to go home. He stomped his feet several times and with all the drama he could muster, threw himself on the floor and proceeded to scream "I don't want to go home." Had there been a bottle of tequila nearby, I would have started downing shots with abandon. However, using all the restraint I could muster, I stood up and headed for the exit. At one point, I glanced over my shoulder to see if Connor was behind me but all I saw were 60 pairs of eyes watching us as we left.

After we got home and he went down for his nap, I polished off the remaining tequila in the liquor cabinet.

We had a wonderful time at the circus. Connor was on his best behavior and he watched the show with spellbound intensity. When it was over, we asked him what he enjoyed the most. "Hmm, I think I liked it all. But my very favorite part was the horses." As we left the big top and made our way to the exit, he noticed that the concession stand was open and had not sold out all of their cotton candy. Blue cotton candy, that is.

"Daddy Larry," he asked, "Can I have some cotton candy."

Uh oh, I thought, I know how this is going to go. "No, you've had plenty to eat tonight and it's much too late to eat anything else."

"But I'm hungry," he whined.

"Well," I said, "there won't be any cotton candy tonight."

And with that he stomped his feet.

And then he wailed, "I want some cotton candy." And the tears streamed down his face.
"Please, please, please..."

We quickly made our way to the car which, fortunately was parked nearby. But his pleas only got louder.

As we made our way out of the parking lot a few minutes later, I realized Connor had gotten quiet.

I looked at my son through the rear view mirror. Connor had fallen fast asleep.

--Larry Donroe-Wells

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