By Anjali Enjeti-Sydow
Web Exclusive – October 6, 2008

CarouselWe hear the calliope rhythm first, tempting us through the trees and bushes ahead. A stately horse sits on top of the tent-like structure, our North Star, leading us to the Holy Grail of children’s amusement. The klip-klop sound of the girls’ flip flops grow louder, quicker, and more urgent. When we turn a corner, there it is. Their excitement charges forth like static electricity. It is an indoor carousel, in the middle of a lush green park. In the backdrop is a river, slightly swollen from a recent rain. Leela, my four-year-old, leaps ahead, her small bottom shimmying in her swimsuit. Mira, my six-and-a-half-year-old, scolds her for getting a head start, and sternly warns her about tripping on the uneven pavement. I follow behind lugging a large beach bag on my shoulder, which contains our swim paraphernalia for frolicking afterward in a fountain.

We enter the glass enclosure and skirt past wooden rocking chairs that look like they belong on the front porch of an old farmhouse. The chairs, though empty, still slightly sway as if ghosts have come in from the hot sun for a breather. Moments later, I watch a woman inspect one of the chairs, remove the purse from her shoulder, then comfortably collapse backward. Immediately, she rocks. Back and forth.

We step up to the retro-designed ticket booth to request two rides a piece. A man with thick white hair and large brown-rimmed glasses hands us six tickets. The girls impatiently grab them out of my hands before I have a chance to distribute them fairly. We are the first in line at the turnstile and eye the carousel as it slows.

Up and down. Round and round.

Mira and Leela are restless, and point again and again to stake out the animals that they will ride. The tickets crumple in their sweaty hands.

When the last of the riders have exited the premises, we are finally waved through. Mira hops up and quickly weaves through the artificial zoo until she lays claim to a pig with a harness. Leela reaches for a horse. I take a breath first, then lift her up. When I’ve almost got her on, she suddenly snaps back in protest. She has spotted a zebra, and is dumping the horse. I reach under her arms and slide her off the horse, suspend her briefly in the air, and plop her on the zebra. I mount the billy goat just to her right. Mira, four animals ahead of us on what she addresses as Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, waves back and mouths something I can’t quite understand. Not a moment too soon, music spews out from the player piano at our ride’s epicenter, and we are floating in synchronicity, slowly building momentum, in a race that no one quite wins.

Up and down. Round and round.

When we begin to slow, Leela grumbles. The life cycle of the carousel is never long enough for her. I brace her by her armpits, slide her off, and gently remind her that there is only one ride left. She nods in her, “I hear you but I’m ignoring the information you’ve just given me” way. Leela then bolts toward a black-and-white cat, lovingly holding a kitten from its mouth. She makes it to the cat at the same time another little girl does. The two vying girls are of equal size. Leela begins squirming, closer and closer to the inside of the animal, asserting her near-certain dominance. The other little girl sighs. Clearly, she is losing out. I try to pry Leela away, but she just won’t budge. I roll my eyes a bit while apologizing to the other little girl’s father. He nods, either indicating that he finds our family an annoyance or that he’s been in the same position before. Thankfully, in the next moment we are all saved from impending discipline or harsh talk, because their daughter becomes taken with a dinosaur. The carousel begins its slow motion melody.

Up and down. Round and round.

I turn back to wave and nod, the universal parental sign for, “Thank you for letting my bratty kid get her way.” Suddenly, I notice the family in its entirety. Aside from the little girl on the dinosaur and the father, there is the mother, an older sister who looks about Mira’s age, and a younger brother. The brother is an adorable baby boy. He appears to be a little over one-year-old. His golden, fine hair reflects in our brassy surround. His pouty, red lips and hesitant eyes stare at the strangely colorful collage of our environment.

Up and down. Round and round.

I feel it in the pit of my stomach first, like acid. I do the math myself: mother, father, six-year-old girl, four-year-old girl, one-year-old boy.

It’s my Would’ve Been Family.

In our own familial unit, we have the mother, the father, the two young girls. We are almost the same, except for the boy.

I had a Would’ve Been Baby, who would’ve been born in March 2007. And he would’ve been a little more than one-year-old now. But I lost the baby in September 2006. I was just shy of 14 weeks pregnant. The teeny tiny heart, which we’d seen beating triumphantly in previous ultrasounds, had stopped beating. He would’ve been the last member of our family.

I see these Would’ve Been Families around once in a while. They are families with a formula (girl-girl-boy), which would’ve mirrored our own. But as I tell myself over and over again, we didn’t have that baby. There is no little boy. Much like the mechanical leaping of the animals we ride on, our Would’ve Been Family is an illusion—a fantasy of my heart.

I am jolted back to the moment by a bell. I finger the harness. The carousel begins its motion.

Up and down. Round and round.

As I chew on these thoughts some more, I reach out to my four-year-old for some comfort. Leela swats me away as if I’m a pesky mosquito, annoyed at what she perceives as my suggestion that she can’t do this on her own. She has her own balance; this is her ride and her ride alone. She knows nothing of my thoughts, because I never told her about the miscarriage. She has no idea she might have had a baby brother. Neither does Mira, who now rides a funky-looking frog in a suit. I secure myself to the partially sticky pole protruding out of my camel.

Up and down. Round and round.

I hear the little boy behind me grunting. In my periphery, I see that he is signaling to his mother to reposition him on her hip. He scratches his head after a few seconds of jostling. I wait to see what he will do next, when he locks eyes with me. This little boy. Of this other family. Not mine.

Up and down. Round and round.

Our final rotation approaches. I interrupt Leela’s pout before it can escalate further with the promise of play in the fountains. “We must hurry,” I assure her, “before it rains.” Leela’s reach for my neck coupled with her sideways slouch brings her easily down to the ground. She weaves in and out of the animals until she finds an exit worth taking. Mira is way ahead of us, anticipating the next chapter of our afternoon. She is already peeling her coverall off to reveal a faded, flowered bathing suit. The Would’ve Been Family follows behind us initially, but then turns toward the parking lot. I’ve no doubt that on their drive home, they will talk about the rude little girl who stole the cat from their daughter. They will promise her that next time, she’ll get her ride on the cat.

Without us, the carousel, refreshed and refilled by another set of children, begins its dance again.

Up and down. Round and round.

The girls and I walk past the ticket booth and nod our heads in appreciation to the man with white hair. He takes a sip of his soda and nods back. We trot along the perimeter of the glass enclosure, to the side with the rocking chairs. I see the backs of the lone woman’s elbows still rocking ten minutes later. The girls and I slow to a stop. We walk around the chair to face her. I stand before the woman, who is still rocking. She is holding in her lap a newborn baby girl.

The baby is dressed in far too much pink. Her feet are kicking, as if urging the carousel to faster speeds. The leaping of the wood-carved animals has been her entertainment since she’s been awake. She does not want it to stop.

Up and down. Round and round.

I reach for her impatiently, hoist her in the air, and nuzzle her cheeks with my nose. I then hold her before me, examining her for any changes since we were last together. But it is the same beautiful round face, chubby cheeks, tanned skin, brown-eyed infant who I gave birth to just two months earlier. Two rides on a carousel were too long a separation for me and my darling daughter. She’s not a Would’ve Been Baby. Her name is Siri. She’s my dream come true.

“Which animal will you choose when you are old enough to ride?” I whisper in her shiny black hair as we exit. “The bucking bronco? The elephant? The rainbow fish?” I’m carrying her now over my shoulder as we leave, so that she can say her last goodbyes to the animals. Siri uses all of her strength to keep her bobbing head steady.

Up and down. Round and round.

The carousel, in the absence of me and my girls, continues its eternal tempo.

Anjali Enjeti-Sydow lives near Atlanta with her husband and three daughters. She writes a column on raising multicultural families for and has written for numerous print and online publications, including Skirt!, Catholic Parent, Hip Mama and Mamaphonic. She blogs at Life in the Hundred-Acre Wood.

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