Back when lace-tipped leggings, jelly sandals and side ponies were all the rage and Jem was the antihero to Barbie, my sister and I spent the beginning of every August begging to go to the county fair. But my mother’s lips would purse in a single tight line, and she’d become that kind of quiet where you knew your requests were wasted. I’m sure I accused my mom of being a fun-killer back then. Why couldn’t she see that the fair was a chaotic, colorful and magical affair?
Now my own girls are old enough to be aware of when the fair has come to town. They start asking to go, and I start stumbling. I’m torn, because now that I’m the adult in charge, I see the fair differently. I know exactly how they feel, but I also know things they don’t. Mom isn’t the wet blanket to summer joy, the fair is!
Here are 10 reasons that the fair (not Mom) is the actual fun sponge in this scenario:
1. The Rides
Those tin boxes deserve all the side-eye. Yeah, I know that accidents are really rare, but there’s another big reason to avoid those twirling buckets of doom. I once witnessed one passenger puke while the ride was upside down, and as it swung back, the falling vomit hit another passenger in the face. Weaponized vomit, however rare, is a solid reason to steer clear.
2. The (Lack of) Organization
The parade is 20 minutes late, the funnel cake booth runs out of syrup at noon and the magic show is a no-go, but no one told us. A host of mothers and children fan themselves under the shade of the magic show canopy as their patience erodes to each repetition of “No, I don’t know when it will start, maybe soon.” If we are lucky, security strolls through and gives us the 4-1-1, chuckling at our inability to telepathically intuit random schedule changes.
3. The Temperature
It’s always somewhere between a hair’s breadth to hell and “please just kill me dead.” The first person to invent outdoor air conditioning will be a bazillionaire.
4. The Fair Food
Whenever we drive near the fair, the smells overtake us, applying a siren song to our sense of nostalgia. And like a siren, this is a trick. Beer and brats are as expensive as a decent family restaurant but half as good. Further, it is sticky—the beer, the cotton candy, the condiments. After opening day, the entire fair, every single surface, is like the back side of duct tape.
5. The Fucking Goldfish
I’ll admit to being a bit prideful for getting eight years into parenting without a single fair fish to show for it. My pride was my downfall. Why couldn’t the ring toss host allow my children to learn about losing graciously instead of donating fish to their sad-face cause? Now I’m out $50 in “proper equipment” that the pet store girl shamed us into purchasing for pets we didn’t really expect.
6. The Salespeople
Tucked into the only unpopulated area are the vendors, trying to hawk their wares to uninterested passersby. “Would you like to hear about a $100,000 timeshare in Nowhere, USA?” “How about a hot tub that 10,000 people sat in over two weeks? Half off for the display model!”
7. The Fair-Goers
From what forbidden forest did these jerks emerge? There are the entitled single adults pushing through children to see a display from the front row. Then the grandparents laughing while their grandchild smears ice cream all over the last clean table. There are line cutters and lazy litterers who can’t be bothered to reach the extra two inches to toss the frosty into the garbage. Parenting is hard enough without all these etiquette-breaking assholes showing your children that rules only apply to them.
8. The Children’s Hall of Inadequacy
Forget about 4-H. The rows of elementary-aged photography, baked goods and quilts offer a not-so-subtle reprimand of what you should have been doing with your children in all your spare time. To enter this hall is to entertain all the hushed doubts about your parenting.
9. The Icky Factor
There’s the race track seating covered in spilled beer, peanut spittle and bird shit. The bathroom options are hot and stinky portables or building bathrooms, which are not much better. How do so many women miss the feminine product receptacle? (If not wanting to see another’s used pad is wrong, I don’t want to be right.) Litter at the fair is like herpes at a key party; there is no way for the grounds crew to keep up with the nasty.
10. The Cost of, Well, Everything
Going to the fair is as expensive as a spending spree at Target, except there’s no AC and the only thing you come home with are two semi-dead fish and three blow-up toys that will break before you make it across the parking lot.
I see now why my mom wasn’t a huge fan of the fair. But here’s the plot twist: She took us anyway. So, in her honor, I’m going to do my older kids a solid and take them, despite my reservations about being vomited on in mid-air. I will definitely be packing extra baby wipes, though, so if you need some, you can find me sipping on a $20 cup of lukewarm Coors in the empty hot tubs.