I was on vacation with the girls in Cali, so I took them to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, scene of many, many happy childhood memories. Naturally, after much buildup, the damn place was basically closed for winter. Still, it reminded me of The Madness’ first trip to a fair, with her besty, Maehem.
Maehem is like a unicorn riding a rainbow, trampling a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader. This kid is not just on the universe’s pep squad, she IS the pep squad.
The Madness is more like a cross between an old Jewish woman and a feral cat.
Theirs is a functioning, arranged marriage kind of friendship – mutual appreciation and…well, the kind of tolerance of insane differences that, to the untrained eye, looks a lot like love.
When this friendship was still fresh, and we were friend-courting Maehem’s parents, they invited us to the Evergreen State Fair.
Maehem loves the fair because, in addition to being the little girl version of a golden retriever with a tennis ball, she’s a pretty normal kid and it’s the goddam fair. The state fair is specifically engineered to light up the faces of children and strip their parents’ wallets bare, all while instilling a healthy fear of carnies.
So the Madness starts out pretty on board with the whole fair thing. The idea of rides and something called a funnel cake sounds interesting. Most importantly, she’s going with her friend Maehem and that’s basically just a play-date and a play-date is a thing of beauty. So hooray for us, we’re off to the fair! We go after work, we find parking, we pay to park, we pay to get in, (I’ll pay later for not wearing more comfortable shoes), and we go to pay for our ride tickets. So far we’ve had zero fun and we’re already down forty bucks. Bring on the carnies.
Maehem’s parents are fair veterans. They go straight for the unlimited-rides wristband because Maehem is going to ride every ride she gets near until they shut the place down and give her a chicken or a baby goat just to get her to leave. What a swell idea. Let’s run it up the pole.
Me: “You wanna go on the rides, right Madz?”
The Madness: “Yeah!”
“Lots of rides?”
Awesome. Dad shells out the thirty bucks for the wristband.
“Okay, just give the lady your hand so she can put on the…”
“Madz. It’s just a bracelet. Look, Maehem has one! You can’t ride the rides without it. It’s already paid for! You NEED to wear it.”
“NO! I want to go HOME!”
And of course the ornery cow selling the damn bracelets won’t just let ME put it on my kid because obviously this is all part of some gypsy scheme to sneak in the six extra kids I’m hiding under my skirt. So Madz not only needs to wear a non-regulation piece of paper jewelry for a few hours, she also has to stick her hand through the little space in the plexiglass window and let a strange woman TOUCH her.
We haven’t gone on a single ride, but we’re already into this freaking place for almost $90, so this IS happening, whether the kid knows it or not. Her dad grabs her legs and I grab her arm and together we are able to get enough of her through the window that the carni can shackle the little devil.
Quick as we can we set her down and take a step back, holding our breath. She collapses in a heap on the filthy ground, snarling like a fox in a trap and starts gnawing on the damn bracelet. She will not give up until that thirty dollar piece of jewelry is shredded at her feet.
So I swoop in again and hold her in a sort of half-consoling hug, half-keeping her arm out of her mouth, half-nelson while she weeps and curses my entire family line for a while. All the while, I’m following the dancing Maehem towards the first available ride (because this kid is going to have fun if it kills me) and I hold my wailing, teeth-gnashing child in line for the airplane ride. And then I buckle her into the airplane, forcing her to show her banded wrist to yet ANOTHER stranger, and setting off a fresh round of toddler profanity.
“Stop squirming,” I whisper, “or you will FALL OUT and crack open your tiny skull.”
She stops. And then I stand back with all the other parents and watch my scowling, arm-crossed, scandalized toddler ride the tiny blue airplane on a 5mph journey with her best friend who is grinning and waving and shouting, “Isn’t this FUN?” at the top of her lungs.
It’s worth it to watch her struggle to maintain a scowl when, in spite of all the abuse, she accidentally starts to have fun. Then I get to see her smiling and laughing on the far side of the ride, right up until she catches sight of me again and has to get her glower back on. The parents around me aren’t even looking at their own kids anymore. Watching a lone toddler’s battle to remain pissed off while riding a tiny airplane round and round with a dozen kids in full fair ecstasy is just too freaking hilarious.
“Whose kid is that?” they all ask, obviously seething with jealous.
Oh wait, that was my husband asking.
She’s still yours, dear. We have the DNA test to prove it.