My husband and I took Miss E to a festival on a whim. We shared a giant lemonade and exceedingly overpriced gyros, trying in vain to interest her in the Greek dancers so we could watch one of my husband’s coworkers perform. He played one of the games where everyone’s a winner, and despite the fact that he actually won a larger prize (stuffed monstrosities, all), opted for a large rubber ball Miss E had her eye on.
No festival is complete, of course, without a safety-suspect carnival ride. There was only one at Miss E’s speed: a carousel with shiny cars and motorcycles blasting the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann.” We paid three dollars for two tickets and buckled her into a teal and pink roadster.
At first she seemed dubious, hands on and off the wheel, looking up at the spinning awning and down again, unsure, as the other children secured rides of their own. When the carousel bucked to life, her little body flattened against the back of the seat, a mixture of shock and alarm plain on her face. Once, twice, three times around she just stared, not looking at us as we called her name. But by the fourth go-round she was radiant, beaming, her joy a light that rivaled the multicolored bulbs blinking on the car’s hood, the humid glare of the late afternoon sun.
When the music stopped and the cars ceased spinning, I circled around, unbuckling her and carrying her out the exit. She turned immediately in my arms, reaching over my shoulder to point, calling, “Car! Car!” Her tears started shortly after. Big, hiccupy, hysterical sobs. Being the worst mama ever, I tried not to laugh as I consoled her. Her daddy, being the best daddy ever, looked me right in the eye and said, “I can get her another ticket.”
The look on his face was almost as profound for me as the one I’d witnessed on hers as she’d motored around. My thrifty, sensible husband swiftly turned and made for the ticket booth, hurrying in hopes of securing an additional two tickets before the ride started up again. She cried the whole time and I patted her back while we waited, marveling at them both, at the uncanny situation I’d suddenly found myself in: parenthood.
This little moment, my husband’s expression, the memory of our daughter’s joy even as her cries sharpened, me holding her against a hip inflated with the weight of another baby, it took this one for me to see. You’d think I would’ve realized by now the things that you do for your child. And maybe I had, but sleepless nights nursing and spraying off soiled cloth diapers had nothing on this. I felt like a real parent. I could, for the first time, picture us as a family from the outside. I’d forgotten the carnivals of my childhood when my parents would give me a few dollars to fish a rubber duck from a baby pool or to slide down a perilous slide on a burlap sack. This is what parents do, when they can, when the cost is slight, when what seems silly at 30 is dead seriousness when you’re under three. Because of that look.
She rode the car again. The ride attendant even showed her how to honk the horn.
It was the best six dollars we’ve spent all year.