The minute I saw the lights near the library, I knew it was that time of year – the church carnival. Augh. Nothing about the yearly carnival at the church parking lot tempted me. But to my almost six-year-old daughter, this was a palace of rainbows and unicorns; the very incarnation of FUN. My husband promised to take her on Saturday if the weather cooperated. She watched the clock and the clouds all morning and when it was sunny at 2pm, she was dressed, waiting at the door.
My husband, the Midwestern-born, all-American boy, takes to it all so jovially. “Oh, I went to tons of these as a kid. It’s so familiar to me. My dad loved these so he dragged us to all of them.”
“I never went to any,” I explained. “They don’t bring me a sense of nostalgia. This is the second one I’ve ever been to; the first one was the fair we went to with my sister. Oh, wait. That was a fair, not a carnival. So this is my first carnival and it’s exactly what I expected: a ghetto version of a fair. Also, it’s unreasonably expensive. We could have gone to Great Adventure for the price of the carnival rides.”
To me, all I saw were dangers. Old rides and indifferent employees seemed to be death traps attached to ticking time bombs. I’m convinced the glaring music and seizure-inducing lights are designed to distract you from the overpriced rides. The smells made me nauseous. In books, I read about carnivals by the sea where the sweetness from the funnel cakes mixed with the salt air to create a delicious surrounding aroma. Here in New Jersey, what I experienced was a combination of sugar and burnt butter mixed with peppers and onions and dominated by gasoline and exhaust smells from the portable generators required to run the equipment.
The ride immediately upon entry immediately reinforced my theories. It required the rider to lay on their tummy and it spun you rapidly around and around, faster and faster, higher and higher. I noticed this ride was partially supported by a MacGuiver-like Jenga tower of wooden 2 x 4’s. Talk about jerry-rigging a situation. I wondered about the insurance for a place like this. I sent my daughter, my son, and my husband on the ride together. I videoed the whole thing in case I needed it for a lawsuit but thankfully, all was fine.
My daughter noticed nothing of what I saw. Every ride was the greatest experience, a dance with exhilaration. She doesn’t’ waste time on fear when there is spinning to be done; life to be living.
She ran into a boy from her class. He proudly carried a neon spotted ball he won in a carnival game. It took $12 to win the plastic ball worth no more than a dollar. My daughter complimented him on it and then asked him to move it to his other hand so she can hold his hand. They didn’t let go for two hours as they ran from ride to ride, buckling each other on rides and laughing so hard I couldn’t tell if they were happy or wanted to throw up. Initially, he was nervous about the some of the deathtrap rides, but my precocious, brave girl reassured him and ran on any ride that would have her. Her energy is infectious, and I witnessed this 6-year-old boy swallow all his fear to ride each ride with her.
They will remember this day for the rest of their lives.
We gave my daughter a dose of nostalgia to tuck away into the box of keepsakes in her memory. One day in the distant future, she too may encounter a local carnival and not see the dangerous scenarios or the smell of gas or the unhealthy foods or the games where you spend $12 to win a $1 toy. She will remember a sun-filled, magical day where she held hands with a boy and spun around the world, laughing without a care, full of euphoria, satiated in a way you’d easily pay the price of a carnival to see on your child’s face.