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His turn on the carousel: Memories from the Fair

by Sarah Torribio

This past weekend, I took my son Alex, 3 1/2, to the Los Angeles County Fair. Accompanied by my parents, who took me to the fair each year when I was a kid, I had an acute sense of the cyclical nature of life.

On the one hand, I could easily have eschewed the annual festivities. Thanks to a recent confluence of events that found me registering, smog checking and repairing my car within a 2-day period, I wasn’t in the market for $4 soft serve ice cream cones and $5 cotton candy. But I’m thankful for my parents, with their deeper pockets and preschooler-inspired generosity. As author Alex Haley once write, “Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.”

This wasn’t about practicality.

This was about exposing my son to whirling, swirling, neon-lit Ferris wheels and to pungent-smelling, hand-nuzzling farm animals—to a vast panorama of people leaving the recession behind for a few hours to engage in public merriment. It was time for Alex to make some memories.

It was 7:30 p.m. when we arrived, and the fun was in full flower as we strolled the Fairplex with Alex ensconced in a rented stroller shaped like a red race car. ($10. Ka-ching!) Everywhere you looked, something interesting, even bordering on the surreal, was underway.

I spotted an elementary school boy in a fair-bought lucha libre mask, posing for a photo with a blue macaw; a junior high-aged girl riding a mechanical bull to the ear-splitting accompaniment of The Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow”; and an array of midway games hung with oversized plush renditions of unlicensed cartoon characters. Who are those people brave enough to ride the SkyRide¸ legs dangling from a glorified ski lift looming over acres of concrete?

Alex’s eyes settled on an obstacle course whose challenges ascended ever higher, culminating in a ride down a tube-encased slide. He exceeded the 36” height requirement but was short enough that an adult had to accompany him.

Not known for my foresight, I was wearing a long dress. Nonetheless, I gamely followed him up a rope ladder, between mazes of vinyl bags and elastic ropes, down an inflatable slide and up 2 bridges that bounced and swayed as children swarmed up their inclines. I noted another mother holding her toddler’s hand, a sheen of sweat on her forehead, and unkindly congratulated myself on my greater fitness. I pushed aside the creeping onset of claustrophobia and slid down the tube to freedom. Two minutes later, my dad could be seen staggering along a swaying bridge as Alex had another go at the obstacle course.

I have to confess, I have a fondness for giant slides, and enjoyed the 2 times my son and I climbed onto an itchy burlap bag, luging to the sound of ‘80s rockers The B-52s playing in the distance.  When you add my weight to my son’s, we caught quite a bit of air. That led me to wonder if I had been a bit too self-congratulatory on the previous ride.

From there, the evening became more reflective and, for me, a bit nostalgic. We went to see the farm animals, peering at pigs and chickens and rabbits and winding through the petting zoo to feed goats and sheep by hand. Alex noted which goats were going to have babies while I—seeing him surrounded by a number of more aggressive goats, some as tall as he is—was struck by how new the world is for young children, and how much courage it demands.

Soon after, Alex rode on a pony who, his handler shared, was named Comanche. He ambled along a network of rails, decorated with bales of hay, with me waving each time he came around.

My grandparents used to live on a ranch,  keeping chickens whose eggs I gathered, along with a motley collection of horses, cows, pigs and sheep. I feel glad that, while Alex will never get to know the people I called “Grandma and Grandpa at the Barn,” he’s now seen firsthand the shrewd look in a rooster’s eye as well as a litter of nursing pigs.

Afterwards, we caught some of the favorite attractions of the grownups present, strolling through the London-themed floral exhibit and “dream-building” with my mother by admiring a coveted 9-seater jacuzzi with a waterfall, colored lights and a dazzling collection of jets.

We were almost done with our time at the fair, and had already treated ourselves to 25-cent Footsy-Wootsy sessions, when we spotted it: the carousel, with a calliope playing as mirrors reflected the lights and painted horses. Would Alex notice?

My son spent the first 3 years of his life afraid of swings, averse to most mechanized toys and unwilling to ride the very small carousel at the La Habra Children’s Museum. There’s been a thawing, though, in recent months. He’s been swinging on swings, tried a merry-go-round at a park a couple months ago and, last week, insisted on riding a mechanical train outside of a grocery store.

Yes, Alex wanted to ride the carousel. His grandma rode with him. I stayed behind to wave. The thing was fast, and I got worried he’d get worried. I didn’t have to worry. He loved it.

Like the petting zoo, the pony ride, the super slide—like the fair itself—it was something I’d done dozens of times myself. Far from being jaded, though, I now have a reason to revisit each old experience with pleasure. It’s Alex’s time on the carousel.

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