The Big Apple Circus is travelling to Georgia, then New Jersey, then Boston, and finally Queens. My wife thinks I’m crazy to even think about traveling to the far locations just to see the circus yet again and again at such great cost. It’s crazy, I know, but I feel that by taking Maybelle to see more of this show now is really a long-term investment into her future. I hope that as Maybelle grows, she too will go out of her way to seek out the types of communities that I am exposing her to. Right now, the Big Apple Circus is it. Anyone want to join us?
Our two and a half year old, Maybelle, had been to the zoo and is quite familiar, but she had never been to a circus. We’ve read about them together in children’s books, but nothing more. I decided that with the Big Apple Circus being in town, it was time to take my baby to the big top. Knowing that this would be a lot to handle for a two year old, I prepared her as best I could by telling her about clowns, ringmasters, trapeze artists, animals, and the like.
As soon as we handed in our tickets and entered the big top, Maybelle frowned. The show hadn’t even started, but she covered her ears with her hands and kept them there the whole time. She was frozen and seemed to be troubled by the big tent, bright lights, fascinating colors, old-fashioned signs, hundreds of people, weird shapes, and unfamiliar objects all over the place. All the talking we did about the circus and what to expect went to naught. She was clueless and fearful, but she sat still on my lap, trusting that her daddy was in control of the situation. Then, the lights went down, the music started, and the ringmaster came out and announced “Greetings, People of New York City!” It was loud, following with applause that was still more deafening – even with ears covered, I’m sure.
Maybelle stayed still in my lap facing forward and frozen. Whenever I peeked to see her face, she was frowning, yet she was fixated on what was happening, balancing her fear with trust, and negotiating what little she knew about the circus. She tried hard, and I even felt a giggle here and there, and an attempt to uncover her ears when she saw the horses, but after 40 minutes, she was done. It was enough.
Being a bit zealous, I decided to take Maybelle to the circus yet again about a week later. I reasoned that her increasing familiarity with the subject would be helpful. She still covered her ears, taking them off briefly when the horses came out, but then she covered them up again for the remainder of our visit. Still, we stayed longer, and there were some giggles. We bought a circus puzzle and a circus music CD from the gift shop on our way out.
The third visit went similar to the second. The fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh visits were also pretty similar, but we stayed longer each time, and she giggled more with each visit. I think we went eight times total, the last being the final show of the season before closing.
So what is it with this dad who keeps taking his two and a half year old to the circus over and over and over again? I had to think about this for a while. Some of it is about learning. After repeated visits, Maybelle knows that the circus is the same every time with little or no variation. It’s scripted, and she knows the whole show by heart. She knows all the music and sings the tunes to herself and states which acts they belong to. She knows that she likes the horses the best – and always takes her hands off her ears when they come out to perform. She’s learning things from going to the circus that I know my own adult mind can’t fathom, the process of learning itself in early childhood development.
But that’s not quite it. With each visit, we became more familiar. The staff who worked there started to recognize us. They were always so nice, warmly welcoming us at each visit. They were enthusiastic, caring, happy, and passionate about what they were doing. They treated us the way I’d like to be treated, the way I’d like for Maybelle to treat others. We started to feel like we were a part of their community, and we learned that this non-profit organization is filled with the kind of values that I’d like for Maybelle to have in her own life. Everyone we met who worked there, every performer we saw, all seemed to be part of a mission greater than their own glorification, however justified. They treated each other with admiration, camaraderie, and support whatever their role. I realized that this type of community, this type of thoughtfulness, this creed of lifestyle, is what I want most to instill in my daughter’s path of growing. It’s something I’m willing to go out of my way for over and over and over again, so that Maybelle can be exposed to the very types of environments that provide the values that I would like her to have.
Stuart Krasna is a full-time stay-at-home parent and lives in New York City with his wife Heather and their daughter Maybelle. In addition to being a daddy, Stuart also likes to play the banjo and go running in Central Park. Before becoming a parent, Stuart worked in a beige cubicle in an office building.