“This is a #@cking joke,” were, I believe, the exact words that came out as we were loading the van to go to the fair yesterday. Brett said them, I thought them. It was 92 degrees, there were 200 driveway toys scattered across our lawn, Dash had fallen hard and hit his head on the driveway, no one could find the ice pack, everyone was crying, and we had planned on leaving an hour earlier. Normally, I spread optimism on these occasions like butter on toast, but I was all out of butter. It was the underbelly of our family, definitely not the shiny side we like people to see. We were edgy, and it seemed a game of “Pick a person whose fault this is and silently let them know it” had broken out, and the entire family was playing.
Brett pushed a heap of my crap aside as he climbed in the van, and in the mature spirit of giving him the benefit of the doubt, I read it as “Your car’s a mess again; this is all your fault.”
“We should have left an hour ago. We were all ready, you know,” I replied, knowing he’d hear it as “Why are you always late? This is all your fault.” Checkmate.
We forgot to pre-order wrist bands–somebody’s fault, no doubt–so when we got to the fair, we stood in a long line to get them, dust sticking to our sweat and kids whining to get out of the stroller. We complained about the heat, about the fact that this year at the fair with Dash is a lot harder than last year at the fair with Dash, about how much everything costs, about the bathrooms being gross.
At some point, we got tired of complaining.
Going to the fair with three kids is supposed to be hard.
And raising a family together isn’t supposed to be easy.
But for years, this little fair has been something special to us, a place where–amid grease-thick dust and carnies hollering “Everyone gets a prize!”, between cotton candy stands and carousels and under the canopy of prize trinkets and ferris wheel glow–we find the pulse of our family. In the loudest, most distracting place, that pulse still shines brightest and sings above the competing sounds.
“Look at their faces,” I pointed out. We laughed at Dash’s amusement with the ride and both noticed Lainey’s nurturing scooch-in towards Nella.
We found the same taco shack we went to last year, ordered the same thing, sat at the same picnic table, took the same picture. Nella still loves the Fun Slide, Lainey still hates it. We drank cold beer, got the kids ice cream, finished half of our giant lemonade and threw the rest away because nobody wanted to hold it–all just like last year.
We played the same game–the one where everybody wins–and the kids proudly marched with their little prizes until someone decided their prize wasn’t as cool as the one next to them.
It was all a bit of a family fair deja vu.
Except some things are different. We’re in it deeper, the stakes are higher. Slowly, we’re all changing, swimming further away from the edges of the pool toward deeper water where life is richer but harder and changes can feel more recognizable. Before I could even feel guilty about the way our fair date started, I instead basked in funnel cake intoxication and gratitude for this moment–this recognition of our family and who we are, underbelly and all.
My two favorite moments captured from last night:
Lainey helping Nella off a ride…
And this look of Brett’s I’ve seen a hundred times–still kills me. When he’s watching the kids. I fell in love with him on this look alone.
We left the fair well past bedtime–dirty, tired, overfed and well-spent. Dash fell asleep five minutes into our ride home, his messy hair glued to the shiner on his forehead from his fall earlier in the day and his dirty feet crossed over the mess on the floor beneath them.
And just like last year, and the year before, I looked over at Brett, smiled and whispered, “That was fun”–which, in other languages, translates as “I’m sorry for earlier” and “It’s worth it” and “I like us.”
It’s not supposed to be easy. But I love when I feel the pulse of my family beating loud and strong above the noise and color and flashing lights of the world.
And if you can find it at the fair, you can find it anywhere.