Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Carnivals, Scary Rides, and A Mother Bear


Before moving to our small town, I was a city girl, born and raised in the hills and suburbs of Pittsburgh.  Rodeos weren't a part of my life. But now, I appreciate and look forward to our annual Cattlemen's Days Rodeo and the wondrous sights of beautiful horses, 4-H animals, and a man in a well-fitted pair of Wranglers.

Alongside the rodeo grounds, a carnival sets up adding to the festivities. It's the typical travelling fair, Ferris wheels, rickety Tilt-A-Whirls, funnel cakes, rigged carnival games and high school girls dressed in summer shorts, flirting with boys.

One year, when my son was five, we took him to his first carnival. We bought the requisite cotton candy and let him ride the harmless kiddie roller coasters and fly down the big wavy slide on a burlap sack. My son soon spied a school chum walking hand-in-hand with his mother. The boys asked to go on rides together so we joined the pair and strolled the dusty, popcorn-strewn grounds searching out new thrills.

Eventually, we found our way to a looming ride called the Rainbow. People climbed steps up to a staging area to board a big platform fitted with rows of seats. With bright lights and music, the platform rose in a clockwise motion before reaching the apex and dropping quickly, riders squealing and screaming with delight. A few brave souls even raised their hands above their heads to maximize the thrill whenever it made its downward loop. 

“Let’s do that one!” my son's friend exclaimed.

My son looked up at me expectantly, “Can I, Mom?”

Every instinct in me knew this was a bad idea. “I don’t think so, Sweetie. Is there another ride you’d like to try?”

The two boys looked at each other. “Please, Mom?”

“Once you're on, you can't get off,” I countered. The ride looked scary for little guys.

“I won’t be scared, I promise. Pleeease?”

The other mom smiled at me indulgently, “I’ll go with them. They’ll be all right.”

Ugh, now the peer pressure, not for my son, but for me. Against my better judgment, I relented. The ride stopped and my son, along with his friend and mom, climbed up to the platform and buckled up in their seats. My heart was in my stomach. I berated myself for being so foolish.

The carnival worker stood above me on the platform and pushed the lever. Up the ride lifted. So far, so good—my son was all smiles. The ride hit the top, seemed to suspend a partial second, then dropped. His face expression quickly changed. By the second circle around, he was in tears, gripping the mom's arm.

Without thinking, only feeling with a mother’s heart, I reached up and grabbed the young carnival worker’s ankles. He turned with a start, and looked down. “Stop this ride,” I said, or more precisely, growled.

He hesitated. I reiterated my desire with conviction. “My son is on this ride and terrified. Stop it. Now.”

My husband, his mouth slightly gaping, stared at me--his wife-gone-mad.

In the face of a crazed mother with a death grip on his legs, the wise worker let the ride complete its last loop before bringing it to a full stop. “Thank you,” I said, releasing him. My son climbed off, his face still red. We moved to wait for him at the bottom of the steps. He climbed down, his legs shaky, his face struggling to find composure.

“That was fun, Mommy,” he offered in a tremulous voice, bravely trying to find a smile.

It was a lesson for all of us. For a poor young carnie, just trying to make a few bucks for the summer, he learned to never cross a frantic mom and perhaps to stand a few feet out of hand's reach. I learned to trust my instincts, always, and never let someone else influence my parenting. I hoped my son learned to listen to his parents, but he probably really just learned the vital lesson every kid should know: how to save face. And my husband's lesson…well probably, that he married a woman with an inner lunatic lying just barely below her surface. 

20 comments:

  1. The mama bear can certainly come out where our babies are concerned. I know the ride you are referring to...it's fun...but perhaps not to a five year old.

    I love the rodeo or the fair. Either one brings me happiness...warmer weather, cowboy boots, cotton candy...Yes, those things bring me a smile.

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    1. I so agree-- love the atmosphere too. We have a "tough enough to wear pink" night, the proceeds going towards breast cancer research. That's my favorite night. All the cowboys wear pink (along with those Wranglers), as do the people in the stands. Survivors stand up and we get to honor their toughness, along with the cowboys who will wrestle steers and ride bucking bulls.

      I have fond memories of local county fairs when I was a teenager and all the smells and flirting that went with it!

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  2. Yep. There's a Mama Bear inside me, too, even though my "cub" is 40 and has a son of his own! That instinct never goes away. A delightful post, Julie.

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    1. Hi Mary Ann-- thanks for stopping by. I bet it doesn't fade. I still feel it and that same little boy is now 22. I'm going to be a maniac as a grandma when the time comes.

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    2. Loved the story Julie!! My friends and I went to carnivals whenever and wherever we could. Your story brought back a memory of when I went to a carnival that came to a town near my own back in the late 60's. My boyfriend then was trying to win me a very handsome teddy bear by throwing darts at balloons. Unfortunately, he didn't fare so well. So I gave it a shot and won myself a really nice handsome teddy bear!!! LOL!!! AND, no, we didn't stay boyfriend and girlfriend for much longer after that!!! LOL!!!!

      Thanks for the memories!!!!
      Deb

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    3. Deb, you are so funny. I say that's the true example of women's lib-- winning your own teddy bear! I bet Jerry could do it though. :)

      Oh the memories of fairs of our teenage years.

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  3. Loved this story Julie. It is so dang hard to know when you are over-parenting or being wise! I always doubt myself, even now when my sons are men. Walking the line, loving and learning all the time.
    Susie

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    1. Grabbing the ankles of a poor guy just trying to do his job? Too far? pfffff. ;)

      Yeah,I've had a couple times when I know I over-extended my parenting boundaries. Fortunately my kids are resilient and have long since learned to roll their eyes at me.

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  4. Great story, amazing the things moms do when the little ones are in trouble! Good for you!
    This piece brought back sweet memories.
    I remember sitting at the bedroom window watching a rainbow of lights brighten as the sky darkened. The Ferris wheel going round and round, and the squeals of the riders, the smell of popcorn and cotton candy even though the fair was a mile away. My brother and I would sit quietly listening to the sounds and planning for the night we would get to visit. Magical!
    Thank you for that!

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    1. I love that memory-- thanks for sharing in such a vivid way. If I close my eyes, I can hear, see, and smell the sensations of a local fair. The anticipation was almost greater than the actual event.

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  5. You listened to your intuition and did what your heart said you needed to do. Your son is lucky to have a mom who looks out for him the way you did.

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    1. Well I should have listened beforehand, perhaps and spared the poor worker the grip of my hands.

      My husband read this story and started laughing. He remembered the day all too well. He claims, however, I omitted the details of my head spinning and my eyes flashing fire. Silly husband.

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  6. Love this, Julie. Those mommy instincts are SO strong... and it's so important we trust them! I think we have an extra connection to our children that doesn't exist with anyone else---like a sixth sense or something. Thanks for sharing this story, Julie!

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    1. Thanks Morgan-- that's right-- we'd grab ankles for our kids! ;)

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  7. I took my kids to our local amusement park when my daughter was 5 years old. We got on one ride that spins you around. I was clutching onto my daughter because I was positive she was going to go flying out of the car. Meanwhile, she was laughing and entertaining the two teenage boys in front of her because she thought the ride was hilarious. At least one of us had fun. All I wanted to do was puke.

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    1. Oh that sounds like me. I can't handle the spinning rides!

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  8. AWESOME post! And you're so right, it's better to trust our Momma Bear instincts than to be forced to unleash them on the world at large. *grin*
    At least you didn't make the even greater err in judgement and go with him on the ride! (Been there, done that. Poor kids on the ride learned SEVERAL new words that their Moms probably ended up washing their mouths out with soap over...OOPS!)

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    1. Yes, especially if unleashed on poor underpaid carnival workers.

      My fondest memory is of my daughter, also early elementary age, riding an umbrella ride that went in slow circles on a hydraulically raised bar. She kept screaming out, "This is freaking me out!", much to the amusement of everyone standing below.

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  9. Momma Bear Syndrome :) With the first one, I let others override my instincts. WIth Filly - I have very long claws made for swiping some idiot trying to pressure me to do something I know isn't right.

    Great (!!!!) blog :)

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    1. Yes yes. We learn and the long claws are an apt description.

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