I hate the fair.
I want so badly to love it because I have been so in love with the idea of it since I read Charlotte’s Web at the age of seven. The story’s entire conflict climaxes and resolves at the county fairgrounds, and the phrases printed on those pages are solely responsible for igniting my deep love of words, my lifelong obsession with descriptive language and imagery and connotation and onomatopoeia and juxtaposition and, be still my heart, alliteration. To this day, the words of E.B. White send me into a tizzy of anticipation and make me long for ferris wheels and funnel cakes and fried everything. (Alliteration. See what I did there?)
“After the heat of the day, the evening came as a welcome relief to all. The Ferris wheel was lighted now. It went round and round in the sky and seemed twice as high as by day. There were lights on the midway, and you could hear the crackle of the gambling machines and the music of the merry-go-round and the voice of the man in the beano booth calling numbers.”
I’m not sure what a beano booth is, but I imagine the man calling numbers stands behind a counter laden with hand-carved slingshots for the winning boys and hand-strung beaded bracelets for the winning girls. Of course we know they’re not actually hand-crafted and more than likely cost just a few nickels to manufacture in some sweat shop in Singapore, but because we are at the fair and drinking of life down to the dregs, we will humor the man in the beano booth and spend all our tickets in exchange for a dozen beaded bracelets. We’ll stack them high on our wrists, watching the moonlight glint off of their multi-colored orbs as we race to the food trucks to buy one more giant, drippy cinnamon roll before the vendors shut down for the night.
Every year, every single year, this is how I imagine the fair in my head.
And every year, I get as far as the front gate before I remember.
I hate the fair.
There is no keener disappointment than realizing the image you’ve nursed in your brain stands in such stark contrast to the stinging slap of reality. In my brain, the fair is the epitome of fascination, of quirkiness, of adventure, the central hub where all those people who are carefree and deliciously strange and effortlessly cool gather to celebrate the beauty and enormity and sheer unpredictability of life. But when I get to the fair, I remember that it’s hot and it’s crowded and it’s loud, and hot, crowded, and loud are three of my most hated adjectives. No matter how fervently I long to be one of the adventurous and the carefree, I will always be the rule-follower, the planner, the risk-hater, the spontaneity shunner, the killjoy who develops nearly debilitating stress in crowded places and whose sensibilities go haywire when affronted with too many decibels.
The fair is never what I expect it to be.
And this year, as we inched our way slowly down the midway, Crosbie’s stroller wheels leaving ruts in the dirt as we weaved a path in and around the pulsing crowd, I was reminded once again that most things in life are not what we expect them to be. When a certain season or accomplishment or life change is within our realm of desire but outside our grasp of experience, we act it out in our brains, filling in the missing details with our own perceptions and assumptions. We play the part of our own self, practicing just how we will look and act and respond and thrive in that new season, how we will drink of life to the dregs and stack multi-colored bracelets on our wrists and laugh in abandon as we sprint to the cinnamon roll truck.
But then that certain season or accomplishment or life change occurs and we find that our expectations were lofty and completely off-base, the stuff of ignorant but well-intentioned daydreams. We find ourselves stumbling down a midway, sweat running down our backs, bumped and jostled by the surging bodies around us, traveling in circles just trying to find the dadgum cinnamon roll cart, only to arrive and find that cinnamon rolls cost 8 dollars and we only have 5.
It is so easy to see the rotating lights of the ferris wheel, to hear the crackle of the gambling machines, and to imagine the feel of the beaded bracelets on our wrists, all while forgetting the dirt and the sweat and the expense and the stress and the wailing cries of the tired and overstimulated children.
But the dirt and the sweat are part of the package.
This year our trip to the fair was special, because this year, for the first time, we actually saved and planned and set aside an absurd portion of our tax return to buy tickets to Frozen On Ice. My sensible side bristled at the amount of money we dropped to make this happen, but that very tiny portion of me that is still capable of reveling in irresponsible, childlike wonder screamed BUY THE TICKETS!!!!!!
So we bought the tickets and put on our Frozen t-shirts and faked brave faces as we dove headfirst into the descending hoard of miniature Elsa impersonators.
And though the two hours we spent on the midway prior to the show left me hot, sweaty, high-strung, antsy, and completely overwhelmed, the looks on your faces when the first pair of skates hit the ice made it all 1,000 times worth it.
After planning this night eight months in advance, I almost didn’t make it. Exactly one hour before we were supposed to meet your dad at the fair gates, I stooped to retrieve a stuffed animal and felt my entire lower back pop like a rubber band. And instantly, I was in so much pain I could barely walk. The first thought that entered my head was, There’s no way I can go to Frozen like this, and although I bawled at the threat of missing your excitement and wonder on this most magnificent of occasions, I also admit that trading in the midway madness for an evening on the couch, just me and Netfix, sounded a little bit like heaven.
But I beseeched my prayer warriors, told them how important it was that I be with you that night, and in faith I drove to the fair with a tens unit bulging out from beneath my tank top. I shuffled slowly and I sat and rose even slower, but I was there, and in that moment, nothing else mattered.
A friend texted me during the show to see how I was feeling, and when I told her I was with you, she responded, “You made it! That’s all [your girls] will remember. You are a mom who knows what makes her children happy and does it no matter what.”
And as I strained to read those words while the flashing strobe of a $30 LED-powered snowflake wand incinerated my retinas, I realized: There are going to be lots of midways in our lives. Lots of things we think we want and think we need, lots of seasons that will loom ahead and seem just out of our grasp, seasons that we wish would hurry up or hurry and pass, but will end up being totally different than what we expected once they finally land in our laps. We always build the midway up in our minds, then look at each other and say, “Remind me why we asked for this again?”
And when those moments come, we can choose to stay home with our jammy pants and our Netflix accounts and our stuffed crust pizza (seriously, that still sounds a little bit like heaven), and avoid the midway with all its stress and hustle and bustle and sweat rolling down our backs, or we can say, “You know what? I CHOOSE to do this thing even though it’s foreign and it’s strange and it’s not anything I would ever want to do of my own accord, because I know that the end result is more important than my temporary discomfort.”
And when we set aside our own well-being for the sake of another, the result is always beautiful.
I hate the fair. But if it brings a sparkle to your eyes, I will stack those beaded bracelets on my wrists, sprint with you to the cinnamon roll cart, and brave the midway every year for the rest of my life.
Because, while I am naturally quite a selfish person, I am also a mom who knows what makes her children happy (and secure, and nurtured, and cherished, and safe), and I will do it no matter what.
Even if I have to give up my jammy pants and Netflix.
I love you every day,