About a year ago, I decided to take Sarah to the Our Lady of Grace School carnival. Sarah was going to start kindergarten there later that fall and I thought what better way to introduce her to they joys of her soon-to-be new school than to take her to a good old fashion carnival? In my mind, I pictured a leisurely evening playing a few rounds of ring toss, munching on popcorn, and maybe winning a stuffed animal.
What I got instead was about 700 rabid children hopped up on Pixie Sticks, marauding the school like packs of wild dogs. I held on tightly to Sarah’s hand all evening, wishing I had a Taser with me to protect ourselves from these feral children. The sole focus of the kids, besides ingesting as many high fructose corn syrup based products as possible, was to amass points from a variety of games in order to redeem them for a veritable treasure trove of Made in China prizes. They sprinted from game to game in an animalistic frenzy, in search of greater and greater winnings. And the parents- oh, the poor, poor parents. We were outnumbered 3 to 1, trapped in the confines of the school with no adult beverages in sight, and at the mercy of of our sugar-crazed offspring…if clowns had been roaming the premises, then my nightmare would have been truly complete. The best the parents could hope for was to survive the evening without suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sarah, of course, was in heaven: an alternate universe where the kids rule, sugar flows like milk and honey, and the parents can only stand by and weakly protest? SIGN ME UP! But me? All I could remember thinking was, “Dear God in heaven…I have THIRTEEN more of these to go.” The horror, the horror!
This past Friday night, we had the school Carnival again. And because we now had a student enrolled at the school, we were expected to offer up someone from our family like a sacrificial lamb to work one of the carnival shifts. Of course, I drew the short straw in our family. So not only would I have to attend the carnival with Sarah, but also WORK it. Oh…but it gets worse. Yes, I would be working the carnival, but I would have to work the last shift at the prize redemption table. As the direness of my situation dawned on me, I wondered who had I pissed off on the Carnival Committee to get this assignment.
To prepare for the evening, I took 3 pre-emptive Advils. Later in the night, I would speak with many parents who self-medicated with a cocktail prior to the event. I’m not talking about some wussy white wine spritzer– I’m talking about the stuff that’s one step removed from rubbing alcohol. If ever there was reason for a little parental liquid courage though, this was it. As for the rest of my strategy to survive the evening, the plan was for me to take Sarah for 90 minutes or so and then have Chris and Katie join us for 45 minutes. Then he would take the girls home and I’d work my shift before heading home.
Maybe it was because I knew what to expect or we had a better handle on the layout of the school, but overall, taking Sarah around this year was not the beat down that it was last year. I did have to tell a gang of overeager 2nd graders to back off in my best Asian dragon lady voice when they cut in line at the batting game. And Sarah required some “management” during her own prize redemption process but other than that, most of the evening went smoothly.
Then it came time to work my shift. I retrieved my name tag and approached the prize table. Actually, it wasn’t a table but rather, a collection of fold up tables arranged in a U-shaped barricade against a tidal wave of children desperate to redeem their points. The moms (and the lone dad) held their ground behind the tables, with a look of grim determination to endure the next 60 minutes of their shift. The tables themselves were laden with all sorts of crapilicious tchotchkes- small stuffed animals, baseball key chains, peace bracelets, rubber stamps, etc. All designed to be either broken or forgotten within 24 hours. The tables also held containers of Dubble Bubbles, Fun Dips, Charms Blow Pops, and other candies created to ensure that dentists across America never go hungry or homeless during our children’s lifetimes. And finally, behind all the tables, and behind all the parents, in sort of it’s own secure lockdown barricade within a barricade, were the big ticket items: giant inflatable chairs, inflatable swords, huge inflatable guitars and microphones, etc. They were the Stanley Cups of all the prizes, each requiring a 100 or more points to redeem.
I jumped into the fray and began helping kids to cash in their points. The older ones were able to do their own math and were relatively easy to help. It was the younger tikes who would thrust their cards in my face, demanding to know how many points they had. I’d count them up for them and pray that they would pick a big ticket item so that they’d use up all their points at once. Most of the time though, they’d chip away at their points one Tootsie Roll at a time and I’d tell them with clenched jaw and a smile, “Great! That was 2 points. You still have 79 to go! How about this stuffed alligator for 40 points?!” And then have to watch in silent agony as little Johnny or Jill picked another 2 points worth of Pop Rocks.
Or, I had parents who were clearly on the edge of a nervous breakdown, desperate to have their kids select something so they could just go home. Grown women and men begging and pleading with their young children to “JUST PICK SOMETHING BIG NOW!” and offering up toy after toy with a crazed look in their eye, hoping they would get one step closer to leaving the “fun.” Others were more subtle— as their little ones were perusing the colored hair spray or silly string, they’d whisper to me to slash all the points no matter how much the prize actually cost. I’m surprised they didn’t slip me a $20 in the process.
At one point in the evening, I found myself helping two girls who were combining all their points together (268). As they shopped for the prizes, I actually had to pull out my iPhone to use a calculator and show them my math, as though I was a merchant in an open air market in a foreign country trying to figure out the conversion rate. Haggling with 12 year olds? This definitely was not in the job description.
As the shift wore on and my migraine grew (note to self, next year- FOUR Advils AND a cocktail!), I discovered one of the perils of working the last shift. We were quickly running out of prizes and yet, more and more children were coming to us, eager to cash in their winnings. And because it was later in the evening, most of the kids were on a downward spiral from the evening’s sugar high. It made for some tense times. Children were screaming and crying because the toy they had eyed earlier in the evening was no longer in stock. I almost feared for my life when we ran out of the inflatable swords. And like any free market society when goods become scarce, the kids panicked…grabbing fistfuls of Fun Dips and braided bracelets like they were stocking up for the Second Coming. Other kids hovered around the tables like vultures descending on carcasses asking when we were going to give stuff away for free– I predict these kiddos will be the future looters of our country. And parents even got into the battle- clutching stuffed monkeys and lizards as though they were discount Christian Louboutins and telling their kids that they had to take it because it was the last one!
70 minutes of this and my shift (and the carnival) was over. I helped clean up a little bit but finally, I just slunk away into the night, dreaming of the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc I had chilling in the fridge. Exhausted, I fell into bed and my loving husband let me sleep in the next morning till 9:30. Still, I woke up aching, sore, and with bloodshot eyes. But by God, I survived and I lived to tell the tale. And believe me, it could have been worse….I could have been working the Petting Zoo. Those camels spit you know….