Monday, February 21, 2011

Adventures in Real Parenting: The Greatest Show on Earth

Circus Poster Peerless Prodigies

Reasons number 257 - 261 why I should never leave the house.

1. Circus loosely defined
On the way to the circus, Sophie and I got stuck in horrendous traffic. On a Sunday. We left the house two and a half hours before the start time and wrongfully assumed we'd get to participate in the preshow stuff where Sophie, the deprived child who can't remember ever having been to a zoo or Graceland (I swear she was with us!) and never went to a circus because her parents were always broke, getting divorced, sick of raising kids or too busy chasing the American Dream instead of actually living it, could pet a damned elephant.

Sophie putting her palm against an elephant's leathery skin would have made up for a lot of my parental failings and laziness masquerading as principals.

Atlanta's traffic is a mess even on a good day. Exit #249C is the exit for the Georgia Dome, Centennial Park, The Georgia Aquarium, Phillips Arena and seven hundred and twenty-eight other southeastern attractions. Exit #249C has one lane. Turns out that yesterday Exit #249C was super busy with families going to the circus, people trying to get to a cheerleading competition and seven hundred and twenty-six other events in that geographic area equivalent to about four city blocks.

It took us one hour to travel a mile and a half as we inched along in the right lane which was also the RIGHT lane for where we were going. I watched car after car zoom up on the left and then flick its signal on to cut into the lane where we sat and sat and sat. The people here don't know when to be assholes to assholes, apparently. They could use some Chicago in their driving. I'm sorry, but no, you can do prayer hands and puppy dog eyes at me as your husband wipes flop sweat from his brow and jiggles the turn signal but fuck no, you are not cutting in front of me. I've been sitting in this lane, the RIGHT lane, for fifty minutes while you just got here. You can wait, lady.

Had more of the people in front of me had that same attitude, maybe my girl could have pet an elephant. Damn it.

2. I curse an entire city and act like the Yankee I am
I was so pissed off about the bad road engineering and the lack of cajones of the other drivers in the RIGHT lane to deny the line cutting jerks who thought their time was more valuable than ours that I started wishing ill on the whole city of Atlanta.  "Bring back Sherman and let him burn the damn place down again so they can start over and get the engineering right." I grumbled. "And while we're at it, let's put some public transportation in place so some of us could get the hell off the road entirely."

And Sophie thought the circus was going to be fun?

3. I ruin a little kid's surprise
We finally got close to Phillips Arena. I wanted to park in the first lot I saw ($6 cash) and walk. My anxiety-riddled kid wanted me to get closer. We got to the Centennial parking garage ($12 cash, but the sign didn't say cash only) and I only had $10 on me. The website said I could use my debit card. Fuck, fuck and fuck. I asked the attendant for directions out since I only had $10 and he told me, but then said, "Just give me the ten and go on up to the right and park."

Okay, so I hated Atlanta a little less.

We got inside the CNN food court and took our place in line, but my anxiety-riddled kid (gee, I wonder why?) wasn't sure we were in the right line because the signage was non-existent. I asked the woman in front of us if she was in line for the circus and she opened her gorgeous, but icy blue eyes wide, but said nothing. What?

So I asked again because I'm that socially adept. "Are you in line for the circus?"

She shot a look at her tall husband who looked down at me as if he wanted to stomp me like a bug. Sophie nudged me with her elbow and tipped her head toward the boy standing between the couple. Oh, hell. I mouthed I'm sorry to the parents, but the damage was done. The woman gave me an extra hard frown and the man shrugged and turned away.

I felt like an ass for ruining the kid's surprise. Maybe they were one of those families who cut in the traffic line in which case good.

4. All I could think of was Rosie
Sophie and I finally got through the line five minutes before show time. Petting an elephant became just another unfulfilled wish because I didn't have the good sense to leave the house six hours in advance of the fucking show. We snaked through the sea of humanity until we reached the escalators to go up The Matterhorn toward our seats in the clouds.

As we climbed, we could see animal rights protesters with big posters showing elephants being abused during training. Sophie looked at me over her shoulder and we both shook our heads. Suddenly, it wasn't the upward climb making me feel sick.

5. John Lennon was right about Karma being like Carnation Breakfast
We reached the top and donned our oxygen masks. Had I really congratulated myself on the last minute purchase of discount tickets so my poor kid who'd never been to a circus could finally see one? We found Section 302 and ... have I ever mentioned my acrophobia?

Well, I didn't flatten myself against the wall, but looking down the steep slope for Row F made it hard for me to breathe. I would have to do this for my kid no matter what.

Sophie looked down at the steps. "Mom, I don't think I can do it."

Oh, hell. The poor kid inherited my phobia.

"It feels like I can't swallow right."  Yep, I knew exactly what she meant.

The very nice usher let us sit at the top in the accessible seating area. We had to look through the railing, but at least we could breathe. Most of the time.

"Sophie, I'm really sorry this didn't go so well," I whispered in the dark.

"It's okay."

"Can you see?"





"Thanks for bringing me."

"You're welcome, honey. I'm sorry I am the way I am." There was more I wanted to say, but she knew what I meant.

Later, as we traveled through downtown Atlanta hoping to find I75 North, we passed through a sketchy area where people were hanging out everywhere. A pile of clothes and shoes sat abandoned on the sidewalk like the person wearing them had evaporated as he waited to cross the street. We sat at a red light and watched two men in a parking lot a few yards away exchange money and something else.

"So," I said a bit too cheerfully, "what did you think?"

Without taking her eyes off the deal happening right in front of us she said, "I'd say it's been a full day. I like spending time with you. I'll never forget today."

The light turned green and I felt a sense of relief. "Me, too, baby. And me either."


  1. Congratulations on hangin' tough and getting there, against all odds. Sophie is a lucky girl!

    And yeah, I hate those cutting bastards too - I have fantasies involving baseball bats when sackless mollusks let them cut in!

  2. Wow! What troopers you both were. I have a fear of heights too & get a dizzy feeling. Our local performing arts center has swirly patterned carpet on the stairs, which makes it more intense.
    This kind of reminds me of taking my oldest son to a special dinosaur display @ the dinky local science museum. They were very large replicas with mechanical moving parts.
    We talked about how these are "fake" model dinos & he was ok with that. Till we got in & that big ass T Rex leaned down & opened it;s toothy mouth! That kid RAN out of there like a bat out of hell. Our pre visit discussion about them being fake evaporated when what must have looked gynormous to him... a monster reptile about to devour him for a snack!

    There would be no discussing it further he was already adrenaline infused & the fight or flight thing kicked into full swing.

    Oh well, we did some other activities in a different room & never went back in the dino exhibit space again.

    You just got to see extra clowns (on the road) & nice of the parking guy to cut you a break.

  3. That Sophie. I want to smoosh the cheeks off her.

    And those parents in line need to get a grip. They're IN LINE already. How much longer can you stretch out a surprise?

  4. Circus is not such a problem here in Germany. The fall of the iron curtain led to large amounts of state circuses in Eastern Europe suddenly not having any money any more and thousands of artistes who weren't trained to do anything else.

    So we have lots of frankly second rate circuses, each formed around a small nucleus of good artistes but with a high proportion of bad acts, touring around, trying to graft it the hard, old-fashioned way - doing small towns, plastering with posters beforehand, etc. Most of them can't afford elefants and are reduced to ponies. They're finding it increasingly difficult to compete with game consoles.

    My last circus was sixteen years ago. My then three-year old daughter was very excited about it. She was also a kid with major allergy problems - asthma. It turned out that horse-hair, particularly when mixed with sawdust and whirled in a thick cloud out of the ring and through the whole big top, was a major problem.

    45 minutes after the start I carried a three-year-old with a swollen, red, blotched face, streaming eyes and gasping for breath out into the fresh air. That was the end of our family's circus experiments.

    She still doesn't find clowns funny ...

  5. Do you realize what you just did? You made all of us lazy good for nothings who didn't go anywhere or do anything with our ungrateful children feel good about ourselves! If that's not a mitzvah, I don't know what is.

    P.S. I love your daughter.

  6. Baby cried the day the circus came to town...

    What a nightmare. Sophie is the biz.

  7. Baby cried the day the circus came to town...

    What a nightmare. Sophie is the biz.

  8. Baby cried the day the circus came to town...

    What a nightmare. Sophie is the biz.

  9. We are experiencing technical difficulties - please stand by.

  10. You do indeed tell a wonderful story - I can almost smell the sawdust, or should I say, exhaust?

    I'm glad Sophie finally got to see a circus even if the experience wasn't quite what you'd imagined it to be.

  11. I've had those type of moments before. Michael and I traveled all across the Southeast when he was swimming, and we it really did bring us close together.

    Now, I'm going to be one of "those" types of people that I hate to be - Why didn't you take MARTA? I haven't driven to the Georgia Dome (or Phillips Arena or the World Trade Center) in years.

    You may now curse me.

  12. I think we'll probably save up and take the kids to the Cirque du Soleil down in Charlotte sometime in the vague future. It's right by the Nascar track, so there's plenty of parking, and the lines are manageable, even if it will cost as much as a college course to go. If the kids are musicians, they can be mad at me later about not getting their fifth instrument lessons in college.

  13. Which is to say, thanks for the warning. I would have cussed a lot more in the same circs.

  14. first, downith, you're comment was good enough to read three times for sure. i'll have that song in my head all day.

    second, no apologies "for being the mom you are" only standing ovations. our daughters are lucky. all moms are crazy, only the good ones admit it to their daughters when the crazy levels get too high.

    i think it sounded like a splendid day. sounds like sophie thought the same.

  15. I know, I know. Leave it to me to be a bleeding heart about elephants. I feel *sorry* for the animals. After the last circus I went to - in Portugal 1998 - gazing at those skinny, sickly lions in their cages, pre-performance, I covered the girls' eyes so as not to traumatize them.

    As usual, you made me laugh out loud and what a sweet, sweet ending to an otherwise crazy day.

    Sending hugs,

  16. And people wonder why I look forward to seeing Atlanta in the rear view mirror.

    Sorry the outing did not go well, but kids never remember the stuff you think they would anyway -- or, if they do, they revise it with age. (And then they lie about it all when they write their memoirs.)

    If there's ever a next time that requires your presence downtown, remember MARTA. It's cheap, it's clean, and daily parking at a lot of the stations is free.

  17. Great storytelling - by that I mean I was cringing during the traffic jam (they turn me into a monster) and the cutter-inners (some things are the same everywhere) and the inability to breathe way up there.

    And I smiled with gratitude at the end. You've got a wonderful kid, though I'm sure I don't need to tell you that.

  18. You must be doing something right if Sophie likes spending time with you.

    The traffic sounds God awful.

  19. Oh, man--I am a total lane Nazi when those morons start acting all innocent like they didn't know when they saw the sign back 2 miles ago that they had to freaking merge. I have been known to drive in both lanes so they can't get past me--Oh sure, the people who can't go by get made and flip me off, but I'm pretty sure 90% of the right lane is cheering me on.

    Sorry for all the obstacles! I'm glad Sophie enjoyed her day with you anyway!

  20. Thank you for all the great comments, you guys! I'm glad I'm not the only person who gets bent out of shape at the line jumpers in traffic.

    As for the circus, it's been terribly sanitized. No more sawdust. And a ton of souvenirs. And ATMs!

    It was a good time and Sophie is a great kid. Thank you all for thinking so, too.

  21. I've said the same to my son, "Sorry for being the way I can be" and it's the best to see when he gets it. "That's okay mom."
    Maybe he knows the genetics for crazy are not in his favor...

  22. And the ferris wheel turns and turns like it ain't ever gonna stop,
    And the circus boss leans over, whispers into the little boy's ear "Hey son, you want to try the big top?"
    All aboard, Nebraska's our next stop.

    What's a day at the circus without a drug deal for a sideshow, eh?

  23. The circus is way over-rated. The fleeting moments we have with our children while they still appreciate it? Yeah. Priceless.

  24. Sophie gave the perfect answer. Great kid. Hey, you'll remember this day for years. As for not seeing the circus.... I never liked the circus. I hated clowns and felt like people were hoping the high wire walkers would fall (so they can say, and I saw him fall). Found the whole thing kind of creepy. My mother's read was "well, you weren't a normal child." Oh well. Yeah, and I hated the Ice Capades too.

  25. Driving in Altanta usually requires post-therapy.

    Oh, and it would be remiss of me not to say Happy Presidents Pets Day - the day after Presidents Day, as I like to call it. In the US, we love our presidents..... pets. See my blog if you’re in the mood for a good ol' irreverent howl.

  26. I had a commute with one of those lines and I went back and forth between being a jumper and lining up. I never let jumpers in when I lined up, but I always respected those who didn't let me in when I was jumping!

    It is true that kids rarely remember the places we take them, but we always remember when they are happy to be with us.

  27. Oh, I hate the line cutters, I do. And yeah, my time is!!!

    Went to a concert in Market Square Area, before it was demolished, to see Kansas. I don't really even like Kansas in particular but the tickets were free so I decided to use them. And yes, we were at the top and it sucked. I felt like I was falling the entire time I was watching (if you could call it that even) the concert. Sucked.

    Your daughter is a trooper.

  28. This sounds like the Atlanta I know and used to reside in. It was never designed to grow, so they had to cut corners everywhere.

    Although the Olympics really made Atlanta take off, you can still see evidence of the roads that were designed, post-haste, to accommodate the increased traffic.

    I recall going to the circus as a child. My mother always took us, too. This was in part because her father took her to the circus when she was growing up. He enjoyed it as much as she did.

  29. Is it wrong to laugh? Is it? Because that was darn fun to read. I can so relate. My god -- the real family circus at work!

  30. I finally got around to catching up here, and now remember your post on Facebook about being caught in traffic.

    Exit 249C is my exit. Every. Single. Day. It is the bane of my existence and there are precious few ways around it. City planning is unheard of in downtown Atlanta, and I can only imagine what a cluster-#*$k it was during the Olympics.

    So sorry the experience was not what you had hoped for. Should you ever need to travel the same route again (if you dare), e-mail me and I'll give you what few tips I know about to help you avoid the worst of it.


And then you say....

(Comments submitted four or more days after a post is published won't appear immediately. They go into comment moderation to cut down on spam.)