The Circus, or Bad Parenting 101

by Mary Beth

The whole family was excited. They were going to the circus! The Russian circus was in town, and Annie had never been to a proper circus before. She didn’t know what to expect, but her parents were excited, and so she was excited.

The night before the circus, Annie woke up around 4am. Lately she had been sleeping very well, so this was unusual for her. A couple of nights before, she had rolled out of bed in the night. She probably would have spent the night on the floor if her mommy had not heard the thump, because the fall did not wake her up. She continued to sleep even when her mommy tucked her back into bed, and she didn’t remember it in the morning. But the night before the circus, something upset her.

She was sitting up in bed, weeping quietly to herself, when her mommy came in.

“What’s going on? What’s wrong, sweetie?” Mommy asked her, sounding very concerned.

“There’s sparkles in my bed,” said Annie, and continued to weep softly.

Mommy looked around the room. “Sparkles?” she said at last.

Annie nodded. “They’re in my bed.”

Mommy hesitated, and then gently pressed Annie to lie down again. “It’s okay, sweetie. Don’t worry about the sparkles. Just lie down and go to sleep.”

Annie obediently lay back down and shut her eyes. Her mommy tucked her in and tiptoed out of the room.

“They’re still here,” Annie wept, half an hour later. Her mommy was back in her room again, sitting on her bed. “The sparkles. They’re in my bed.”

“Where? I don’t see them.”

Annie was sitting towards the foot of the bed. She could still see the sparkles, but not as much as before. “Here.” She gestured towards the head of her bed, and towards her nightstand, and the windows.

“Maybe it’s your clock? The brightness of your clock?”

Annie cried a little harder, shaking her head. Her mommy just didn’t understand.

“What do they look like?”

“They’re little tiny – tiny-” She held up her fingers to show her mommy, holding her thumb and forefinger a hair’s-breadth apart.

“And what color are they?” Mommy asked.

“Rainbow,” said Annie without hesitation. She knew her mommy would not be able to see the sparkles, but she wanted her to understand.

“Are there lots of them?”

“Mmm… six to ten,” she answered.

“Are they still here now?”

“Not really,” Annie admitted, after taking a good look around, and snuffling a little.

“Maybe you dreamed them,” said her mommy. “Now-”

“No I didn’t!” cried Annie.

“Shh, shh, it’s okay,” said her mommy, looking over at the crib across the room. “Just lie down, sweetie, and go to sleep.”

Annie protested a little but her mommy was very comforting, so she lay back down again and shut her eyes.

From the crib, there came a low wail.

Mommy ran over and after a second Annie could hear sucking sounds.

Mommy came back over and gave Annie a kiss, and turned her clock so it didn’t shine in her face anymore, and left. Annie didn’t see sparkles anymore.

“Mommy! Mommy!” Annie was shouting. It had been five or ten minutes since Mommy had left. Cora was waking up again, and Mommy needed to know. And now, since Annie had taken it upon herself to alert her mommy, Cora was making louder noises. Mommy needed to come quickly. Annie didn’t like listening to screaming. She did not approve of her mommy failing to appear instantly. She took a breath and shouted even louder, “Mommy! MOMMY!”

Mommy was by her side, shushing her. “It’s okay, I heard her, you don’t have to-”

Cora gave an angry scream and Mommy left Annie quickly. She leaned over the crib for a minute. The comfortable sucking noises started again. Mommy was still standing by the crib as Annie shut her eyes and drifted back to sleep.

In the morning Annie’s parents asked her lots more questions about the sparkles, but no one could figure out what they were. They weren’t from her clock, or the colored Christmas lights in her room – which weren’t on, anyway. They weren’t from her dream, she was sure of it.

Annie’s tummy hurt. She told her mommy, and her mommy asked if she was going to barf. Annie explained that she wasn’t sure. And when she didn’t vomit, her mommy seemed to forget about Annie’s tummy. Annie didn’t forget. Her daddy served eggs, one of Annie’s favorite breakfasts, and Annie didn’t eat any of the eggs. She sat in her chair and hugged her most cuddly baby doll, Baby Gemma.

“What’s wrong, Annie?” her mommy asked. “Don’t you want your eggs?”

“My baby has a sick fever,” Annie explained, looking very sad. “I can’t eat.”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Her mommy looked sad. “But you have to eat, to keep up your strength!”

Annie shook her head and looked at her eggs very sadly.

“I always eat, even when my babies are sick,” her mommy said.

Annie didn’t answer.

“How about if I hold your baby, so you can eat?” her mommy asked.

Annie thought about it. Could her mommy be trusted with Baby Gemma when the baby had a sick fever? After a moment she handed the doll to her mommy, who cradled her, appropriately. Annie looked at her eggs. She didn’t make a move to eat them. She wasn’t sure why. She just didn’t want them.

Her mommy reached over and fed her a bite. She ate it halfheartedly. Her mommy tried to feed her another bite but she turned her head away. Then she went back to glumly staring at her breakfast. When everyone else had finished, she went and lay down on the couch. Her mommy got her a big plastic basin and told her that if she wanted to barf, that was the place to do it.

“I don’t think you should go to church today,” said her mommy, sitting next to her.

“But I want to,” said Annie, weeping quietly. She thought of the tea after church – the pikelets, which were tiny pancakes with cream and jam on top; the scones that were caked in butter; the occasional plates of cookies.

“You can stay home and take a nap,” said her mommy. “You have to save your strength for the circus.”

Annie lay on the couch, and didn’t argue.

After her daddy had left for church, her mommy took her temperature. Mommy held a plastic stick under Annie’s tongue. It was very uncomfortable. Annie protested a little but just didn’t have the energy to put up a real fight. “Oh, no!” Mommy said after a moment.

Annie pulled it out of her mouth and stared at it. “What? What is it?”

“It says you have a fever. A hundred and two.”

Annie wept quietly. Her mommy gave her some medicine. She continued to weep while lying on the couch. Her mommy set up Sleeping Beauty for her to watch, and then left, to put Cora Rose down for a nap. Annie enjoyed Sleeping Beauty. During the bits that had the witch, she shut her eyes, but she liked the parts with the fairies, and especially the parts with the beautiful princess. Then her mommy came in and sat with her, and hugged her.

Mommy didn’t ask Annie if she wanted to go to the circus. Annie felt sick and didn’t really want to go anymore, deep in her heart, but she knew that Mommy and Daddy both wanted to go, and so she kept this to herself and never mentioned it. When her mommy talked about going to the circus, and how much fun it would be, Annie looked down and wept quietly.

Annie fell asleep on the car ride to the circus. She felt very tired and wanted to nap. She fell asleep about halfway there, and was able to sleep for about ten minutes before her mommy accidentally woke her up when she had to slam on the brakes. Annie didn’t say anything. She looked sadly out the window. Life seemed very hard to her.

Annie got a little excited when she saw the circus tent. “Look!” she cried to her parents. “There’s the bouncy castle!”

Inside the tent, a tall lady led them down some metal stairs and pointed out seats that were right in front of the stage. Mommy and Daddy looked excited.

Annie looked around the inside of the tent. There were lots of seats that weren’t so close to the stage. “I want to sit back there,” she said, gesturing behind her, her gesture encompassing pretty much every seat except the ones that she knew her parents had paid lots of money to get. They had told her about the seats in the front, about how they had never sat in the front row of a circus before. Annie had been dubious from the start, but she had kept it to herself until now. These seats were clearly too close to the stage, and the stage was scary.

“You can choose whichever seat you want!” said her mommy, pointing to the three seats in the front row. Annie did not argue. She went and sat, sadly, in one of the seats. Then her mommy sat down next to her. Annie crawled into her mommy’s lap and curled up. She watched her sister, who was very excited to be in the circus tent, and had escaped from her daddy. “Cora! Cora!” her parents called as Cora toddled off at high speed, circling the stage. Cora turned around to look at them, gave them all a big smile, and then continued onward. Annie smiled a little, but only a little.

The lights went down, and there was a projection of a snowy scene on the back of the tent, with St Basil’s Cathedral of Russia in the midst of it. Machines blew snow at the audience, and a life-size polar bear wandered out on stage. Annie made a high-pitched noise of fear that went on and on. She did not want to be eaten by a polar bear. She buried her face in her mother’s chest.

“It’s not real!” her mother whispered. “It’s just two people in a costume! It’s not real!”

Annie looked back at the polar bear. It looked very real. She went on making the high-pitched noise. Then she requested again to sit somewhere else, anywhere other than front and center, but her mommy again said no.

The polar bear wandered away. Some ladies and men in sparkly tight outfits came out, and started swinging on a big swing and then jumping off and doing flips in the air. It looked very unsafe to Annie. It didn’t seem like something that people should be doing.

After that, there were a series of acts – people twirling things, and swinging on things, and dancing, and clowning. Annie watched it all seriously. She did not laugh at the clowns, even when her mommy pointed out silly things that the clown was doing. “Look, Annie, the clown is trying to climb up there but he can’t! He fell over! He’s so silly!” Mommy would say. Annie would stare at the clown, watching him trip and fall over a chair, or accidentally dunk himself into water. At first she thought it was sad and horrible that everyone was laughing at the poor man, and then she realized that he was being a little silly, although it still didn’t seem funny. Nothing seemed funny to Annie at that moment.

“You’re like a little furnace!” said Mommy, hugging Annie closer. Annie snuggled in against her mommy and looked up. There was a motorcycle driving around way up high in the air, and across from it was a lady in a sparkly outfit who was hanging upside down. Annie watched her. She had a nice outfit.

“Would you ever want to do that?” Mommy asked.

Annie shook her head.

At intermission, Mommy bought Annie some candy floss, which was the New Zealand word for cotton candy. This cheered her up a little bit. Her mommy had her sit on a seat while she ate it, rather than in Mommy’s lap, and Mommy held Cora, who watched the circus a little but was more interested in walking around. She fed Cora some apple and cheerios while Annie ate her candy floss.

Annie was not happy about this new seating arrangement. She only ate half of her candy floss and then asked to snuggle on her mommy’s lap again. She watched, mildly interested, as a lady danced around and magically changed clothes every few minutes. The lady’s dresses were beautiful and Annie approved of beautiful dresses. Annie herself changed her clothes at least three to four times every day, so she approved of clothing changes. But she did not find it as impressive as her parents did.

The circus ended eventually. Annie knew that Mommy and Daddy really liked it, so when they asked her, she told them that she really liked it a lot, and she stuck to that story. She wasn’t sure if she really did, but it seemed like the right thing to say.

When she got home, she got to change into her nightgown and curl up on the couch under a blanket and watch “Cinderella”. This made her feel much better.

It’s been two weeks now since the circus. Mommy asked Annie what she remembered and whether it had been fun or not.

“I remember three things,” said Annie. “I remember the swing, it was swinging very high, and they were jumping off the swing very high when the swing was going very fast.” The second thing she remembered was the polar bear. And the third thing was a man. It was the man who came back to life.

Mommy and Daddy asked many clarifying questions about this man, because they didn’t remember him. Annie did her best to answer them, although her mommy’s lack of understanding became progressively more irritating to her. The man was not very tall but not too short. He was not very old and not very young. He started far far far away and then he was walking near the family. He didn’t do any tricks. He wasn’t a clown. Annie is sure he wasn’t a clown. He did get up onto the stage. Annie feels sure that her parents saw the man. No, she did not imagine any of this. When asked to clarify about the man coming back to life, Annie explained that this meant that he was in a far far away place, or he was dead. And then she got too irritated to answer more questions. And so a day that started with mystery, ended with even more mystery.

When asked, “Did you like the circus or did you not like the circus?” Annie answered, “In the middle, because I was sick.”

“Are you happy you went to the circus, or do you wish you had stayed home?”

And Annie replied, “I wished I could stay at the circus for twenty years.”

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