Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Greatest Show On Earth

The rolling month-long celebration that was Madison’s 6th birthday came to an end yesterday, with a big family trip into the city to see Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Circus. What a great show. I have vague recollections of going to the circus once as a kid, not at all a childhood highlight, but yesterday was just terrific. Almost two hours of non-stop action that kept the girls and their cousin Jack still and amazed – no small feat – and the adults (the group included my parents and sisters) entertained and impressed. By far the best family show we’ve seen, and well worth doing.

I’ve written on here before about Ava’s aversion to live performances – she has been terrorized and traumatized by the likes of Barney, Dora and the Wiggles – but after yesterday we can cross that sensitivity off the list. Not only did she love every minute of the circus, she reacted with violent disappointment when it became clear she wasn’t in the select group of audience members who had paid $154.50 for the “Circus Celebrity Star Pass,” which included a brief trip into the ring for a “one-of-a-kind Ringling Bros. experience.”

Early in the show, a clown wandered by our section handing out passes to these lucky few children – whose parents had stepped up in a way that made springing for a $20 snow cone and $22 flashing light seem borderline abusive by comparison. Gwen and Ava noticed this distribution and mistakenly believed it was random – maybe an attempt to identify and reward the most smiley and fresh-faced patrons in the crowd. I knew better, but opted to keep my mouth shut even when Ava bolted from her seat at the end of our row and actually accosted the clown as he passed back across the front of our section in pursuit of one of these magic passes. He gave her a big smile and a friendly high-five, but not the tag she wanted.

Later in the show, when the clowns came back to assemble this special group, Gwen and Ava started shooting me dirty looks from the other side of our row. By the time the real people were down riding around the floor in little carts, smiling and mechanically waving to the losers and cheapos they’d left behind in the stands, Ava had made her way over to appeal to me directly. “Daddy, I want to go down there,” she said, pointing at the scene of unrestrained and obviously priceless jubilation.

At that moment, I noticed some huge elephants coming out from behind the circus curtain and breathed a sigh of relief… surely a child who had to be carried out of a live Barney show just a couple of years ago with a look of terror on her face like she’d been Martin Sheen’s co-pilot all the way down the river and into Brando’s cave would reject the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with a real elephant. “Look, Ava,” I said, pointing. “There are elephants down there now. You don’t want to be in the circle with elephants, do you?”

YES,” she responded, giving me a look that said, “and now that I’ve passed your cruel and manipulative little test, I expect you to immediately produce this moment I’ve requested.” Unfortunately I could not, causing my adorable, precious (and typically gentle) 4-year-old to momentarily turn away from the floor action in order to reign down blows upon me, as I counted the seconds before the real people came off. Such is the wonder and magic of the circus!

In terms of Madison’s birthday, we decided against a formal party this year and instead wound up having about a half dozen. The first observance was her day at the American Girl store early in the month with Gwen and my Mom. We had a special little family breakfast the morning she actually turned 6, there was the attempted Saturday night sleepover party with her two closest friends that ended about 10:30 p.m. when both invited guests said they wanted to go home and we were forced to call their crestfallen parents to retrieve them, the birthday brunch the next morning when the friends and their parents came back over, and yesterday’s trip to the circus. I think Madison enjoyed being able to turn 6 so many times, and now that Ava is wise to the benefits of the extended birthday celebration, I expect we’re in for more of the same next January.


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