All’s Love in Fair and War

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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My two favorite moments captured from last night:

Lainey helping Nella off a ride…

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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.

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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.

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Leave a Comment
  1. My favorite Hampton photos ever!

  2. Those photos!!!! I can’t even. It seriously must have been worth all the tears and frustration just to get those gorgeous images.

  3. lovely pictures, as always. I love your post and the smile of your children.

  4. I loved this. I am glad you have an underbelly too, but even more appreciative of your talent for capturing the beautiful moments. We need more of those in our lives. Please, NEVER stop writing.

  5. Beautiful! I love your favourite photos too.

  6. AMAZING photos!!
    You are such a fantastic photographer.
    Your subjects are darling.. but you have a wonderful eye.

  7. How fun.I love all the pictures you took Kelle.You always take such awesome pictures.Did Lainey lose a tooth this year at the fair?

  8. Love it all, the pictures, your words and reminding me to enjoy each phase of this crazy life!

  9. You just wrote the story of my life.

  10. Yup.

  11. So, so perfectly real life! I donated to the Ruby’s Rainbow in honor of my little brother (46). I want to do a post for March 21st. I would like to include the donation site. Is there anything I need to do?

  12. Loved this post so much, I guess because you could have been writing about my family. So glad to see we are all really the same :)Love the beautiful pictures of your beautiful children.

  13. Nella’s sweet face on the rides… priceless! I love your honesty and that you were able to have a great time despite the rough start!

  14. The ‘oh’ face returns! Love everything about this post.

  15. Beautiful. Real life is hard. Families are hard. Curly haired, angel boys are hard, sometimes. But worth it? Hell, yeah!! Going through that hard shit together is oh so good, especially when you make it through the hard ride, back to home. Gorgeous pictures, as usual.
    Keep slathering that optimism.

  16. Fairs are the BEST!! Growing up, I basically lived for fair week :) So glad you guys could go!

  17. this made me cry.
    i love you.

  18. Aaargh Kelly – how your posts always seem to make me ball my eyes out – I do not know! Love them so much! We’ve been having a few family ‘underbelly’ moments recently – so nice to know other families have them too!

  19. PS. The photo of Brett? – So, so, so good!

  20. I just love your family. Nella made me laugh at those expressions. Love the one of Brett.

  21. Nawww that photo of Lainey helping Nella is just devine. What a gorgeous family you have Kelle. Such beautiful photos, very inspiring <3

  22. Brilliant, Kelle. Thank you.

  23. These pictures are so beautiful and the reason I keep getting inspired to take more pictures.

  24. And my heart just melted with the kid ride pics.

  25. This is so true and so beautiful.

  26. I think there is this point in parenthood when you realize that nothing is perfect and every time you venture out there will be challenges but there is also a point when you realize that making memories makes it all worth it. My kids are all in their twenties now and we laugh about the meltdowns and cutdowns and times when I felt like a huge failure as a mom. The fact that they remember those moments with laughter tells me I must have done something right. Just keep making memories. I promise it’s worth it!

  27. Beautiful…. simply beautiful. Adorable photos ~ love the 2 that you love.


  28. I adore you & your precious family. Your words & pictures & honesty are beautiful. You help me live a better life. Thank you!!! Keep writing!!!!!

  29. We had one of those days the other day… I’m pretty sure I said those exact words to my husband… “we were ready an hour ago”… I’m so glad to know this doesn’t just happen to us, and that there’s always happiness to go back to once you’re ready.

  30. Oh my gosh, those photos – I’m tearing up..and it’s a post about the fair! :)

  31. Love all of your pictures and you can see the LOVE reflected to each other! We just had our fair / festival this past weekend, and we’ve been going for the past 3 yrs. It’s always fun! Family times = fun times. Nothing is perfect but definitely imperfectly perfect :)

  32. A truly fun read.

  33. The underbelly is where children grow up. They aren’t tall enough to see past why the adults are having a cow. :0)

  34. I absolutely love everything about this post!! Your real life moments, your words and how you string them together like its the best story at storytime and then theres your photos…how you capture your family!! So talented!! Can’t even pick a fav…too many choices. Thanks for sharing!!

  35. How do you get your girls to wear those clothes??? Bike shorts and tanks from Target is the very best I can do (normal = Frozen pajamas. At noon.)

  36. I love that he Brett loves the kids so much. Beautiful in every way.

  37. Brava Kelle !!!!!!!!!!!

  38. I read often, comment never. Found you on recommendation of a family with a special boy named Mark. And follow because your writing and outlook are spectacular. This post was above and beyond beautiful.

  39. What a great post. We have had many journey’s start out like yours but most end with a smile and a “this was a great day”.

  40. :) :) incredible.
    big mommy tears over here.
    gorgeous photos & amazing moments.
    thanks for sharing with us.
    you’re amazing <3.

  41. Beautiful photos as always! Lainey is such a GOOD big sister and ALL your sweeties look great and like they had a wonderful time–even mommy and daddy!

  42. Love the fair photos! What great memories for the kids :)

  43. these photos are just perfect.

  44. Jen Schandelmeier says:

    A couple of years ago you wrote a story about a trip to the apple orchard. It was an honest account of the trip – the good and the bad (I think there were fire ants involved??). You acknowledged that going places and doing things with kids is a PIA…but it’s worth it. The positives outweigh the negatives, and no outing is going to be without its challenges. That post had a huge impact on me. I used to feel like such a failure when little trips/outings didn’t go perfectly, and I ended up avoiding them. When I read that post, I stopped feeling like I was doing it all wrong, and started to roll with the punches and not be so hard on myself when things didn’t go perfectly. My little one and I have had so many adventures (big and small) because of that post. This post about the fair reminds me so much of the one from a couple of years ago that, really, kinda changed my (and my little one’s) life. Thank you. :)

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