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Actually, It Can Be A Total Delight To Take Your Kid Places

We went to the Big Apple Circus and I got a reminder that this parenting gig can be a lot of fun.

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If you’d asked me why I was excited about having kids before actually having any, there’s a good chance I would have told you something about going on adventures with them. If you’d asked me what I liked about having a kid when I was in the baby-and-toddler trenches, I probably would have told you the absolute last thing I wanted to do was take her anywhere we couldn’t leave in a hurry, preferably via car. Waiting in lines? Sitting patiently? No thank you! Not to mention, of course, the pandemic.

But now she’s 6 — almost 7 — and we’re finally venturing out into the world together. And you know what? Every cliche thing they say about seeing the world through their eyes and making memories together is absolutely true. Take, for example, our recent trip to the Big Apple Circus, a beloved local institution that, it turns out, is a lovely blend of kid-friendly and offbeat. Somewhere between the juggler, the gold-painted trio of bodybuilders, the metaphorically orgasmic trapeze act, and the moment at the end where my kid got onstage and danced with a clown, I realized that I’m really — finally — in a golden stretch of parenting, where she actually wants to go places that I’m interested in going. And she wants to go with me.

The last time I went to the circus, it was the massive Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus at an auditorium in Macon, Georgia, involving every wild animal imaginable and probably enough hairspray to destroy half the ozone layer. (Also, an unbelievable amount of spandex and sequins.) I was probably 6 at the time, and it’s gotta be one of my more vivid childhood memories. I hadn’t been back since.

But as long as I’ve lived in New York City, I’ve been hearing about the Big Apple Circus. Founded in 1981, the circus faced financial troubles in the late 2010s and changed hands a couple of times, before stabilizing over the last couple of years. And this year I finally got a chance to check out a show that, when you mention it, New Yorkers’ eyes tend to widen with delight and admit they loved going to as kids.

Also, based on a couple of recent comments, I was concerned that my child was on the verge of developing a slight fear of clowns. I figured either we’d nip that in the bud, or leave the venue in tears. Fortunately, we had a blast.

The venue is Lincoln Center, the gorgeous mid-century home to the New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera. But the circus is still under the classic large tent. (Fortunately, the animal smells are gone, along with the animals.) My kid and I had a funny conversation on the way in about what color the tent would be, at which point I realized that the sum total of her circus knowledge came from an episode of Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures involving “the Big Purple Top.” It was just the first of several funny topics prompted by the evening, which ranged from the fact that circuses once famously traveled by train — hence the animal crackers box — and also what a plank was.

The show that awaited us was much closer to Cirque du Soleil than the cheerfully tasteless 80s extravaganza of my childhood memories. And frankly, it’s a vast improvement. I think if anything I was more blown away by the abilities of the human body than my kid was, children being essentially made of rubber. At one point, I realized I was in fact staring slack-jawed at a couple doing an aerial performance on silks, when I caught her staring at my own fascination. (That’s why we got into what a plank is, and how hard they are.)

What I particularly loved about the circus is that it’s just… a little weird. It’s just... kinda European. (The troupe was, in fact, from the German Circus Roncalli.) Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely family friendly — in the dark, the whole tent was filled with light-up plastic spinny things, so you could see just how many kids were in the house — and I assume that the presumed audience is families. But there’s multiple acts involving extremely physically fit people flinging themselves all over each other.

At one point, I watched a trio of people painted completely gold (and wearing not much else!) lifting one another and posing and thought to myself: “This is deliberately supposed to evoke a threesome, right?” The couples’ aerial act climaxed — deliberate word choice — with flower petals being flung all over the place. The symbolism was not subtle, though it sailed 30,000 feet over my kid’s head. But when I asked her later, she said it was her favorite part.

Sitting there in the audience, watching all these riffs on forms of performance art that go back hundreds of years and have landed here, in a place where my kid gets to enjoy them, I had one of those perfect parenting moments. One where your interests — quirky, antiquey things with a fascinating historical backstory and an entire social universe, because I’m a nerd — and your kid’s interests — being the center of attention, wacky outfits, balloons, and funny clown antics — meet in the middle. I mean, there’s a whole French-court-at-Versailles performance number. It’s so much fun to watch your kid encounter cultural breadcrumbs for the first time, to catch the ends of strings. Which ones will they pull? Who knows? The fun of it is watching to find out.

What I do know is that for days since, she’s been stacking her toy unicorns, one top of the other. Clearly, it was a hit.

Kelly Faircloth is the executive editor at Scary Mommy, where she commissions freelance pieces. If you’ve got a story you’d like to share, pitch her here! She’d love to hear from you.

Previously, Kelly worked at Jezebel.com, where she was a senior editor and also wrote about royal gossip and romance novels, along with body image and history. She grew up in Georgia between a river and a railroad, and she has a lot of questions about the world-building in Paw Patrol.

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