Who’s the Fairest of them all?

Last weekend, on that sunny Saturday after a long bout of rain, my boys and I took the annual trek to the Topsfield Fair. This was our first experience with the weekend crowds and potential sensory overload. I am not typically a “fair girl” and often cringe as I walk through the gates and into the world of chintzy toys, greasy food and flashy rides. All meant to install disbalance, I am sure. For me, fairgrounds are saturated with chaotic movement and unhealthy patterns. But this year, to my surprised delight, felt different.

As I think about our day, the moments that fell before and after the hours of adventure at the fair actually defined our experience most. It all seems so logical from where I sit tonight. May these tips pop into my head before our next outing …

WALK: This year, we walked from the home of some local friends rather than from the parking lot. On such a brisk afternoon and evening, this bit of exercise and fresh air left our small group feeling great. The kids ran together on the way, and dragged feet together on the way home. The adults did a bit of the same, enjoying mix-and-match conversations as our paces and the width of the sidewalks changed.

EAT: Prior to going to the Fair, we enjoyed a hardy lunch at home, and then snacks and drinks at our friends’ home. The healthy and not-so-unhealthy choices insured that we were full and satisfied heading out the door. Not one of us felt the low-sugar frenzy or temptation to eat foods that would leave us feeling nauseous or regretful, or both.

SOCIALIZE: Travelling as a small pack was a bonus this year, especially since it was my first husband-less trip to the Fair. At one point, I enjoyed an hour alone in Kiddie Land with my 5 year old because the four other women, mostly mothers of older children, offered to keep my 18 month old with them. I never imagined that option and yet there it was. I loved the time dedicated to my elder son while they loved the time remembering the joys of hanging out with a toddler. We were able to divide and conquer, keeping everyone happy and where they wanted to be. I also noticed that the great company caught and kept our attention far more than the food kiosks and slurpees ever could. We were far less likely to stand in a long ice cream or pretzel line as a group of 8 adults and 7 kids.

REMIND: One friend arrived at the pre-Fair get together armed with unfrosted cupcakes of various sizes. Like a rock star, she enjoyed the adoration of the under 12 crowd screaming her name and announcing her entrance. The tray of desserts and bag full of sprinkles surely boosted her loveliness and highlighted her popularity. We laughed as she asked each child which frosting he/she would like to taste. Before coating and decorating the cupcakes, she doled out a tip of a teaspoon full of the chosen flavor. The children stood in line, giddy with anticipation. I didn’t understand the gift of her tactic until my 5 year old first noticed the cotton candy stand. I found myself responding to his request for the sickly sticky “treat” by reminding him of the cupcakes that awaited all of the children back at the house. I offered the sensory cue to bring back that tiniest of tastes of vanilla frosting and it worked. He never asked for another thing while walking through the maze of meant-to-tempt food options.

TASTE: At one point, we emerged from the bathroom to face a woman handing out samples of Werther’s butterscotch. I led my son right past with a gracious, “No thank you”. A moment later, however, I returned and reached for two of her hard candies. I explained to my smiling 5 year old that these treats were for big boys, and were not chewy but rather meant to be sucked and savored for a long time. Later, I did the same thing with the samples of kettle corn. He got a kid-size handful and then as I wasn’t interested in the snack, I gave him mine. He was thrilled with my sugary generosity and had just enough to satisfy his multi-faceted desire for Fair goodies. No overindulgence and not a dime spent.

MOVE: As I watched my son weigh his choices about how to use his tickets, I saw the pure energy and fun of moving bodies. He jumped and jumped and jumped in the bouncy houses, smiling and experimenting with new moves the entire time. He lifted the mallet, time and time again, trying to ring the bell and ultimately win the coveted blow-up guitar. His body just participated fully in each of his decisions as he tended towards the rides and games where he got to “do” something. Even as I later watched my little one dancing to the cacophonous music coming from all rides at once, I smiled and remembered the joy of finding one’s groove. I, who am usually a self-conscious dancer, found myself scooping him in my arms and enjoying the rhythms with him. Focusing on their movement created an oasis where we enjoyed a private moment amidst the chaos of the moving throngs.

LEAVE: It is crucial to recognize when the line where fun is no longer fun is approaching. The adults, ready to leave at that moment, were able to enthusiastically rally the kids and head back to the house for another spread of home cooked, healthy foods. And of course the treat of their cupcakes.

As I drove home late that night, with two very happy, exhausted boys in the back seat, I saw clearly how our choices guide our moments and paint our lives. In years past, after quieter weekday adventures to the Fair, I often rode home, the passenger, feeling more agitated, low-energy and full of foods upon which I wasted a lot of money in the name of poor planning. Now I know how to create the fairest fair of all.