When I was a pre-teen, I remember my parents took me and our extended family (brother-in-law, sister-in-law) to the circus in the Greensboro Coliseum. This was a while ago mind you, but I remember it vividly. When we entered the coliseum and took our seats, I saw the three giant rings. The ceiling must have been 50 stories high, and the coliseum had to be at least two football fields wide. When the lights went down and the parade of acts came out of the tunnel, I watched as men and women walked on stilts that appeared twenty feet higher than I was. It was an amazing spectacle, filled with colorful lights, glittering costumes, and an array of animals, clowns, and performers. The pageantry of it all was a sight to behold.
When my two boys were small, I wanted them to experience the same emotion I felt at my first circus. So, when it came to the Triad, the Greensboro Coliseum no less, I was eager to see my boys’ reactions when we witnessed the “Greatest Show on Earth.”
On the day of the show, we arrived early. They had animals in the different rings and the children could come down and see them up close. But, as I walked in the coliseum, now as a much older man, it didn’t feel right. The ceilings weren’t 50 stories high, and I could see all three rings much closer now than I remembered as a young child. The men and women on stilts were more like on top of basketball goals now, still high, but not nearly as I remembered them to be.
I watched my boys as they ate their cotton candy and drank their refreshments in colorful, red, yellow, and blue circus-clown souvenir cups. They marveled at the host as he bellowed out the introductions and narrated the action. Their eyes grew big as the elephants, with their colorful drape, crossed directly in front of them, and when the lions and tigers roared. They seemed sufficiently impressed; but for me, it was a little disappointing. The majesty of it all, the enormity of it all, wasn’t there with the excitement I had experienced as a child.
I realized something special then. I understood from that day forward, as a parent, I would learn to see things as a father now. Oh sure, since that time we’ve experienced some fun “first adventures” together that were exciting for me. But the difference is, I looked at these moments now in relation to how my children would enjoy them, more so, than how much I might enjoy them. I’m not saying this is 100% the best way, mind you, just the way I saw it. At our first waterpark visit, for example, I saw how they were afraid to go on the taller tube waterslide, so I “bravely” (I say with utmost humility) climbed the mountain, or more accurately, walked up the sidewalk to the top. I saw how they watched with anticipation to see an old man fly down a waterslide. They envisioned legs and arms flailing, and lots of yelling, I’m sure—“Whoooo- aaaaaaaaaaaa!” I didn’t disappoint; after attempting three times, all three times I landed at the bottom, and quickly sliding across the length of the pool with my legs high up in the air, ultimately flipped backward, upside-down underwater. I didn’t do this on purpose, mind you, I just didn’t know what I was doing. My boys loved it as they laughed and pointed their fingers at me from the viewing area. Finally, after my last attempt, I walked past the teenage female lifeguard and she looked at me and said, “You just can’t seem to stay on the float, can you?” She smiled, joking, of course. At least the kids enjoyed it, and the lifeguard got a laugh; who cares if it was at my expense?
It’s an interesting time when you make the transition in your mind from the youthful memories of your past to the new memories you create from the other side. The pleasant surprise for me, though, was that it wasn’t a sad feeling like that I had experienced initially upon walking in the doors of the coliseum again for the circus. It was a good feeling. A form of blessing. The bright sensations and emotions that are put inside of a parent’s heart as they witness the joy on their children’s faces, even if it’s, and perhaps, especially, if it’s, at my expense.
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