There’s a little joke in my family where we make virtual check marks after we visit or experience an attraction … you know, like putting it in the “done” column. Disneyland, check. Architectural Tour, check. Chuck E. Cheese, check. This week we added the Ringling Brother Circus check mark to our cumulative destination tally. My youngest son just turned 3 and rather than try to host another “over-produced” kid’s birthday party (occupational hazard), I opted to bring the family to the Opening Night of the circus at the United Center. Having been to Sesame Street Live a couple years ago, I knew what we were getting into. In fact, the last thing I said to my husband and father as we left the house was “I hope you guys have enough cash on you, because this is going to cost us!” Anyway, to sum up: first, we dodged the animal protesters outside Gate 3 stopping to take a quick pic of my oldest with the picketers … built in civics lessons, thanks Ringling!. Then we dined on United Center concessions which seemed curiously inflated, perhaps to make up for lower than normal beer revenue. Not sure how we did it given that we were surrounded by merch kiosks every 10 paces and thousands of illuminated toys, but we successfully avoided the merchandising all the way through intermission, unless of course, you count the $20 bag of cotton candy that “included” a branded cloth circus hat. Just when I thought we’d made it out alive without giving in to the power of the brand, we got hit on the way out. The key is to keep walking, but you see, my kids had been “shopping” throughout the night, checking out everyone else’s selections, surveying the options. And we made the mistake of stopping for just a split second in front of the last merch kiosk closest to our exit. That was all she needed, masterfully trained, like a gunslinger in the OK corral, in the blink of an eye, the attendant assessed my sons’ gazes and whipped out not one, but two, spinning Power Ranger guns. We dutifully handed over another $34 bucks and walked out … I guess the elephants gotta eat.
As for the show … It’s hard not to become a circus snob after seeing 6 Cirque du Soleil productions, but setting that aside, I must acknowledge that the Classic Circus experience is defined by Ringling Brothers. Being at the circus was like being a part of history, it was nostalgic, it was something special that I remember sharing with my parents when I was a tyke. It was my job to move beyond the horrendous lip-syncing of corny jokes and share my kids’ marvel at the parade of elephants, Spanish web and even the clowns’ giant Food Fight (deprogramming is still in session!). This circus did not fail to deliver the awe and memories I was in search of. I know that because as we walked back to the car, my son broke focus on the spinning Power Ranger for a moment and exclaimed: “That was ‘ahhh-simmm’, I want to go to the circus again!!!” To which I responded, “You will get to go again … as soon as you have your own kids!”. Circus … Check! All Terrain Sarah