Monday, August 31, 2009

Pride Goeth (Twice) before the Fall

Experiences at the New York State Fair

Friday was my family’s big outing at the New York State Fair. We had our ride-all-day discount coupons in hand, light jackets for the kids (though the high ended up quite a bit warmer than the useless weather reports had suggested), tickets, camera and good walking shoes. We arrived just after 9:00 AM when the gates opened and were more than ready when the rides started up at 10.

There were two events at the Fair that made me really proud of my kids. The first was easy – they had entered their artwork in the Art & Home Center graphic arts competition and all four of their pieces had won honors. They got three Honorable Mentions and a 2nd Place. My wife also won for her scrapbook pages and a small hand-made book. It was really nice to see the accolades and my son (the 2nd-place winner) was very gracious in victory.

A short time later, they were back on the rides and the crowds had picked up quite a bit, resulting in actual lines for the first time all day. The line at the Super Slide was especially chaotic. Now, my kids aren’t the most assertive children on the planet, particularly around strangers. I’d even go as far as to call them timid most of the time. It makes them fairly polite and means they rarely if ever start trouble, but it also means they don’t tend to finish it if it starts, or stand up for themselves in the face of oppression. But how do you teach a child to be assertive, especially if it’s really not in their nature? I don’t know, but I think “Lessons from the Super Slide” went a long way.

For whatever reason, this line was heavily populated with bullies and the clueless – kids who either didn’t care that there was a queue or didn’t grasp the concept of waiting their turn. My kids don’t always say thank you when they should, but they understand the concept of taking turns and they were pretty surprised to see self-centered little kids all but streaming around them as they waited patiently. My daughter turned to where my wife and I were standing and moaned, “These kids keep cutting us!” You might think that some other parents, who were also standing nearby, might have heard this and taken action, but you’d be gloriously over-optimistic. When it was clear that nobody much cared to adjust their kids’ behavior, I upped the ante a bit.

“Throw a few elbows if you have to,” I called back. I didn’t much care who heard me, either.

Now before you conclude that I’m a horrible parent for giving my daughter free license to jab other kids in the throat, you’d need to know my daughter. She’s not going to deliberately elbow another kid unless he or she were to physically threaten her (or her brothers) in some way. She and I joke around a lot and she knows when I’m kidding. But she also heard the tone of my voice and knew that it was okay to stand up for herself.

My daughter took charge and interposed herself between the ride’s entrance gate and the other kids who were intent on slipping past her. I was very proud of her, but the best was yet to come. My daughter was one of the bigger kids around, so she had the advantage of size and weight – she could gently and passively use her body to exert some control. My youngest had no such advantage.

I didn’t witness any of this, but the kids told me about it afterward. It seems that one of the boys in line behind them had tried to argue his way past and my youngest child, who was easily a foot shorter than the other boy (I remember seeing him in line behind my son), told him to wait his turn. The boy didn’t relent, but insisted “I was here!”

This is great – wait for it. My son replied, “Yeah, you were there and I’m here. Now stop!” And he did! After they came off the ride, my kids began to complain bitterly about how they’d been treated by the other children. But when I heard their tale, and understood that they’d stood their ground and peacefully resolved the situation, my heart swelled with pride. My fears for their future as limp dishrags being tossed about by their peers in the mad scramble for position and the rich rewards life has to offer were calmed. Evidence suggests that they might just be all right. And, best of all, the three stood together as a team, which is something I’ve always tried to encourage in them. I hugged and congratulated them for their assertiveness and they seemed to take the lesson to heart. But, as they say, pride goeth before the fall. I never realized it was meant so literally.

After over eight hours of nonstop State Fair excitement, it was time to drag our weary carcasses out to the car. We’d gotten a great parking spot since we had arrived so early, but the walk through the fairgrounds, across the street and up the bridge was still a mile or so and we were beat. After the long day of walking and standing, it felt like my shoes were filled with lead. It was starting to rain and we just wanted to be in the car – nobody moreso than me. I had just rounded the corner from the walkway into the grass and gravel parking lot when I lost my footing. I’m not positive how – I either stepped in a small depression or possibly on a stick, but it was enough to turn my ankle and send me sprawling.

I’ve tripped a few times in the past, and while I’m pretty rusty, my old Aikido training nearly always kicked in allowed me to tuck, perhaps even roll, and generally fall with minimal damage and perhaps even a miniscule degree of grace and poise. Not this time, no sir. There didn’t even seem to BE a fall, as far as any sensations I experienced were concerned. There was no slow-motion reaction time when I could try to plot a safe trajectory. Nope, this time I went down like a sack of grain, spilling across the gravel and landing hard. I think I said something clever like, “Oof.”

Once I was down, the weariness in my bones really hit home. I didn’t especially feel like getting up right away, but sort of lay there, face in the grass and gravel, a bit stunned and taking careful stock of whether anything seemed to be broken. My wife, who had fallen behind with my younger son, rushed to my side, asking repeatedly “Are you OK?” Apparently she didn’t believe me, because she asked me twice more even after I told her I was fine. She didn’t see me fall, just looked ahead to see her husband spread-eagled in the dirt and had assumed I’d passed out or had a heart attack or something. Yes, my svelte physique inspires exactly that level of confidence in my loved-ones.

So here I sit, sprained ankle wrapped in an Ace bandage and iced down, bandages criss-crossing my palms, trying to ignore the sting as they rest on the keyboard. I’m still a proud papa, but coming down to earth so firmly has left me suitably humbled. So here endeth the lesson – kids, stand up for yourselves. Or, at the very least, just stand up. It beats the heck out of the taste of gravel.

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