Two Year Olds: The Greatest Show on Earth

The best laid plans of mice and mothers often go awry.  I came to appreciate this age-old truth last summer, when I took my then two-year old daughter and newborn son to the circus.

The tale I spin is soaked in hubris, I know.  But what you need to understand is that ever since my daughter was born, I’d been chomping at the bit to DO things, GO places, SEE stuff together.  I had a few failed attempts during her early toddlerhood: I introduced her to Kiddie Park when she was 12 months old.  She freaked out on the carousel and tried to climb out of her boat midway through the ride.   I took her to her first movie (Winnie the Pooh) when she was about 18 months old.  I saved her ticket stub, took pictures of her in the oversized red theater seat, and imagined how I would lay out the commemorative page in her baby book.   She had her fill of the experience roughly halfway though the previews, so we left early.

And yet, I couldn’t stop pushing the envelope, dragging her into age- and stage-inappropriate situations in my quest to Experience Life Together.

Late last summer, the seasonal circus billboards started to appear. ” This,” I said, “this is my chance.  Kids LOVE the circus.  I haven’t been in forever and really want to see an elephant.”  I was undeterred by my prior missteps.  “After all,” the thinking went, “isn’t Claudia older now?  And hasn’t she shown remarkable maturity in her new role of big sister?  And didn’t my sister just have a wonderful time at Disney on Ice with her own two-year old daughter?”   Clearly, the time was ripe for Claudia and me to experience the big top together.  Add in the offer of a morning show that did not conflict with her nap plus a discount coupon that arrived in the mail, and nothing was going to stop us.  I immediately purchased our tickets online and set about getting her pumped for the big event.

The day of the circus dawned hot and humid.  Knowing I’d be taking lots of pictures (and that there was at least a theoretical chance that the ringmaster would ask for child volunteers, in which case a lucky participant’s likeness would be broadcast on some sort of Jumbotron and probably incorporated into full-color promotional materials), I made sure to dress Claudia cute.  I settled on a pale pink polo-style dress with matching bloomers.  (This fact becomes relevant later.) I popped her collar, stuck in a matching hair bow, and set us on course for the big adventure.

Storm clouds were brewing…the figurative kind.  Although I don’t usually bother with a stroller, I was on my most responsible mother behavior in honor of the occasion.  I had Claudia in her stroller and Thomas in a Moby wrap  as we approached the “ticket office.”  I use the term loosely, as it was little more than an un-airconditioned trailer with a dial-up modem.  The gentleman ahead of us in the Will Call line had some sort of complicated order that took no less than 15 minutes to process as we waited our turn in the hot sun.

When I finally got my (now hot and fraying) kids to the coliseum entrance, I was told that strollers were not allowed inside.  I was undeterred, confident in my ability to shepherd my child to and from her seat.

Our tickets were general admission, and we found a spot that lined up with the center of the arena.  We had only about five minutes until showtime, so things were looking good.  But I had not anticipated the refreshment and toy vendors who took over our field of vision, aggressively hawking their wares.   The “gimmies” started immediately.  On this special occasion, I was happy to treat Claudia to a souvenir and waved over the guy with the light-ups.  Feminine to her core, Claudia selected an electronic butterfly wand that played a kicky, high-pitched Japanese house music melody.  It cost $16.  For that price, I told her, she should plan on carrying it as her wedding

I thought she’d be satisfied with her new toy, but it only whetted her appetite.  The next person to catch her eye was a sno-cone vendor.  I flagged him down.  He offered two colors: red and blue.  I patiently Gave My Child a Choice, in conformance with Best Parenting Practices.  She chose blue.  Remember the cute outfit I dressed her in?  My finely honed maternal prescience warned me that it would be covered in blue food dye if I didn’t take evasive action.  I quickly stripped off Claudia’s dress, leaving her to enjoy her treat in her bloomers and (don’t forget) matching hair bow.

The house lights fell, and the three rings sprang into action.  Although our seats were great, problems started almost immediately.  Claudia had not yet learned the spectator convention of directing her attention to where the spotlight shone.  And the first act involved small dogs running up and down a ramp and hopping through a hoop, so there really was not a lot to see.  She quickly grew bored…and decided that what she really wanted was a red sno-cone.  I calmly explained that she’d been given a choice and had chosen blue.  There would be no red sno-cone.  We went back and forth.  She started to cry.  Hard.  I held my ground.  She took matters into her own hands, jumped out of her seat, and went to chase down a vendor who could give her the yearned-for red sno-cone.

Before I could go after her, I had to gather the baby and Claudia’s dress, pull my keys and wallet from under my chair, and navigate my way into the aisle.  I had a clear sight-line on Claudia the entire time and didn’t feel the need to move with undue haste.

Let’s review the scene.  A child, naked from the waist up, is running through the darkened coliseum, crying hysterically.  She is not attached to a parent.  Her hair bow is askew. We hit at least seven of ten Molestation-In-Progress indicators.  It is at this point that a County Sheriff entered the scene, apprehending Claudia as she rounded a curve.  I caught up roughly three seconds later, just as the Sheriff started speaking into her shoulder-mounted walkie-talkie.  I was sure it would be one of those “ha-ha-haven’t-we-all-been-there-and-boy-kids-are-funny-but-we’re-all-good-parents” moments.

“Sorry about that; she’s mine,” I chirped.

“DOES THE CHILD HAVE A GARMENT?” demanded the Sheriff.

“Oh, yes, she has a dress,” fumbled her suddenly sheepish mother.

“WHERE IS THE CHILD’S GARMENT?” the Sheriff pressed.

“Oh, it’s here. I have it. This is it. I can put her in it,” I verbally hemorrhaged.

In consultation with our new law-enforcement friend, I determined that our trip to the circus was over, and that we should be leaving now.  Claudia, of course, was still hysterical, being no closer to a red sno-cone.  I had no stroller and had my hands full with the baby and the detritus of our trip.  It took me 30 minutes, under the Sherrif’s watchful eye, to coax Claudia to the exit.

The best part?  In a swan song tantrum right as we got to the door, Claudia managed to kick over the now melted blue sno-cone, spilling it all over her dress.

We haven’t been back to the circus. [hr]

Have you had a parent-child outing go horribly wrong?  Tell us about it in the comments below!


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Katy is a San Antonio native who spent seven years on the East Coast. She is back home now, married to her sweetheart, rearing her children Claudia (5) and Thomas (3), and practicing tax law.


  1. Katy: I feel your pain. This summer I had the bright idea to take three of my grandchildren to KIddie Park. Their ages were, 3, 3 and 2. Our visit lasted all of 27 minutes! At least the police and sheriff were not involved, although they could have been.

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