By Kristy Lund
Web Exclusive - January 16, 2009

Circus tent
My sons both adore my husband. I know they love me, and to the degree possible for one- and three-year-olds, appreciate the time and energy I give to them. But for the time being, Daddy is their hero, and I'm a nice standby while he goes to work outside the home, fighting the dragons of the world and returns home victorious, though tired.

This daddy worship prompted me to plan a special bonding activity with my oldest son Lucas. Since the birth of his younger brother, he tended to hang out with Daddy while I was often caring for or nursing his younger brother.

I heard about a non-animal circus coming to town, and decided that it would be the perfect event for us. Isn't that the quintessential parent-child bonding activity? So we bought tickets a day in advance. If there is one thing I've learned, although through considerable resistance, it's that things rarely go as planned in the world of parenthood, especially if I expect this to be a life-changing experience. If I have high expectations, then I've really set myself up for an unexpected change of events.

On the day of the circus, I loaded up the backpack and was ready to go. It was only a few minutes away, but as I got off the freeway I realized I'd forgotten the tickets at home. Ugh! I turned the car around, with my son asking, "Aren't we going to the circus? It's that way. Look Mama!" I explained our need for tickets and that it was no big deal, we would just drive home and get them. I told myself this was a gentle lesson for both of us about, well, sometimes needing to drive back home, whatever that means in the bigger life picture. Staying flexible, that's it.

With no harm done, we returned, tickets in hand, and entered the circus tent. I had paid a few extra dollars to be closer to the front, a show of love that was totally lost on my son. As we took our seats, we were quickly barraged with offers of cotton candy (which I couldn't resist) and snow cones (which my son couldn't resist). Loaded up on a high dose of sugar and food coloring, we were ready to be entertained.

However, I forgot to mention a little detail: my son is very sensitive, sometimes extremely sensitive. When he was younger, if any child anywhere within earshot was crying or screaming, my son would break down in tears. He never liked loud sounds or being confined in small spaces.

As the lights dimmed, I held his hand, ready for him to be amazed. The music began, piped in over the loud speakers. He looked at me in horror, and said, "Mommy, I want to go home."

"Just wait," I tried desperately, "you'll like the circus. Look! A clown and bikes!" Tears started to roll down his round cheeks, and I felt horrible. My mind jumped to ten years in the future. My son asks, "Mom, remember that time you scared me to death when you took me to the circus?"

I offered for us to move to the far back of the tent, so there would be more open space. He agreed, and we endured the first act, with numerous trips outside, then back inside, then back outside again. Some people smiled knowingly as we went up and down the steps; others just looked at us.

When it was time for intermission, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Obviously, Lucas felt the same way as he announced he was done with the circus. "OK," I said, imagining us arriving home early and having to describe the disaster to my husband. But luckily there were jumpy houses and a train outside. But when we went over, the jumpy houses were overrun with screaming kids. My son looked at me and stated, "I'll wait."

Good plan, I would, too.

When it was time for the circus to start again, everyone filed back into the tent, but I knew we were not going. I felt a wave of unwelcome memories of adolescence?feeling left out, alone, different. I watched longingly as the other parents walked hand- in-hand with their children into the tent while we stood outside with the discarded candy wrappers. Everyone seemed to be having such a wonderful time. I had really wanted my son to love the circus. But perhaps more important, I had wanted to feel connected to my son, and for him to feel loved.

I took a deep breath, and looked down at my sweet, sensitive son, holding my hand and staring longingly at the now empty jumpy houses. I asked the attendant if my son could still jump. "Sure," he shrugged, and walked away, leaving my son with full reign of both houses. Lucas jumped, and jumped, and jumped to his heart's content. It was great to see him truly enjoy himself. There was no time limit. No one was waiting or even around. When he was finally done jumping, he sat next to me, smiling, while I helped him with his shoes and socks. He suddenly gave me a big hug and said, "Thanks for bringing me to the circus, Mom. I'm having a really good time!" I held him close, happy to be able to share the moment with him.

After that, he rode the train twice all by himself and rang the bell to his heart's content. Finally, it was time to leave. Our trip to the circus was what I wanted all along: quality time with my son.

A year later, when we drove by the same exit, my son asked, "Mom, remember the circus?" I was surprised he remembered. "There was a train that went ding, ding, and I got to ride it!" I smiled, happy that it was a fond memory. Then he added, "And you forgot the tickets."

Kristy Lund is a freelance writer, mother, wife, and Reiki practitioner. In her next life she hopes to be a cat and sleep a lot. She blogs for, and her essays have appeared in Whole Life Times and the Marin Independent Journal. Say hello at her personal website,