I love the Arizona State Fair. It’s the only time I watch sheep, pigs and cattle being judged and where I hold the rabbits, some with fur thick as velvet. I even “ooh and aah” at the gigantic pumpkins and can imagine what grandma’s prize-winning strawberry-rhubarb pie tastes like. My grandchildren do not mirror my enthusiasm for these pursuits, however.
I took four kids: two boys, 13 and 10, and two girls, 10 and 8; their enthusiasm centered on the Midway with its games of chance and death-defying carnival rides. There was something called “G Force” which promised rocket-propelled thrills; another featured a giant ball suspended a 100 feet in the air, inside people were twirling. I got sick just looking at it.
I gave them each $30 for rides and games and told them that was it — when it ran out we’d meet up and eat. The two boys couldn’t wait to get off on their own. No way they wanted to hang with the old man and their little sisters. It was immediately clear that I would never be able to watch them all. The boys wanted to exercise their independence, make their own choices, and I sympathized with them. But in today’s climate of fear, one is always reminded of risks. It’s the Arizona State Fair for God’s sake, surrounded by security on a sunny Saturday afternoon. They believed they could fend for themselves, and I thought so too. We established a meeting place, and I knew they’d show up when they got hungry.
The girls were happy to stay with me and convinced me to join them on the “Tilt-o- Whirl.” I blithely carried on a frozen cappuccino, but when they dropped the bar in our laps, I had a vague recollection that maybe the coffee was not a good idea. When it was mercifully over, I staggered off to their hysterical glee. After that, I watched as they exhausted themselves on giant slides and spinning things. Even when I couldn’t see them, I could always identify them by their screams. The barker’s sucked them in with their patter about the easy chance to win big, plush toy animals. They won prizes and were ecstatic.
The boys showed up a couple of hours later. I was surprised that their tickets had lasted so long. That’s when they told me they’d spent another hundred dollars they brought on their own. They were surrounded by inflatable sledgehammers, stuffed animals, posters, a basketball — it was unbelievable. “How could you spend that much money?” I asked incredulously. They said it was easy. The TV advertisements told them to “go and satisfy your craving.” They said it was their money, and they did it, they satisfied their cravings. Then, without pause they asked, “Can we get an ice cream?”
Why not? I knew I would already be in deep doo-doo when I brought these kids home. First, I would have to explain why I left them on their own for two hours; then I would have to face letting them blow their piggy-banks in a couple of frenzied hours of bliss. I caught a little grief, but the kids and me, we’ll never forget it.