| Family Tempo |

Of Carnivals and Cotton Candy

Between Sunday night when the kids wouldn’t go to sleep, and Sunday even later at night when my son was still pleading, I must’ve said yes

My ten-year-old was begging me for permission to make a carnival. His logical persuasion and earnest appeal, was wearing my emphatic NO thin.

He had started talking about his plans last year, when my NO was loud and clear. There was no earthly way I was up to all it entailed: the planning stage, the fighting stage, the implementation stage, the fighting stage, and the cleaning-up-while-fighting-again stage.

He left lists around the house, and words like popcorn-popper and donut maker appearing on my grocery lists at random times. He convinced one younger brother to ask for rolls of tickets for a Chanukah present, and wheedled another one into completing a chart for kriah practice, and then had him request a chocolate fountain as a reward.

Oh, the measures he took to get me to agree. He promised he’d do all the work, he’d clean up, he’d handle the fighting (yes, he said that; talk is cheap, ladies), he’d pay back every penny he would borrow from the drawer to fund this entity (jelly beans and popcorn seeds, it seems, are not so cheap).

I didn’t foresee the weaknesses in my defense plan. My husband was encouraging, why not, it’s a healthy outlet, maybe he’ll learn some financial points for the future. My neighbors shrugged, nonchalantly agreeing to have their boys man some booths. My brain was tired, my baby was all-consuming, and somewhere in a daze between Sunday night when the kids wouldn’t go to sleep, and Sunday even later at night when my son was still pleading, I must’ve said yes.

I would live to regret it.



First, my son and his cronies used more than a ream of white, unlined paper, to plan the event. The who, what, when, where, and how that he never found terribly important during his English classes, were suddenly of utmost significance. The location, the timing, who would run each booth, which booths would be included, how much would it cost, how much could you charge for a square of peanut chews.

Which eventually led to the million-dollar questions: Who would make the peanut chews? And the cupcakes? And prepare the chocolate for the chocolate fountain? And call the soda can salesman to ask him for cans of soda, wholesale price? And arrange for the small cotton candy machine’s special flossing sugar to arrive from the Crown Heights store? And computerize the posters, so they look way more impressive than the posters advertising the other four carnivals that were taking place on the same day, at almost the same time, just a few short blocks away? And get the big bag of ice from the gas station a mile away from our house, where it was cheaper and better, for the slush machine?

Soon, I was the one making lists, planning routes and dates. It made sense for my niece to pick up the sugar, the soda salesman said I should keep calling and he’d give me his truck location, and when I went to meet the truck four blocks down, I needed to use the stroller to lug the cases of cans home.

While my toddler gave up his coveted seat, he then calmly explained to me, in his toddler version of language, that he needed to try every trike and slide in every yard we passed. It was four very long blocks. It’s a good thing the cans were aluminum; every other material would have melted in that heat.

The popcorn seeds were the easy part; the tables were a bit harder. We had two folding tables, the neighbors downstairs had another two. We needed more, but nobody else was offering. Was I really going to buy folding tables, because of a moment of lunacy on my part? Was there any way I could turn the yes back to the NO it was meant to be?

Although originally planned for a Sunday afternoon, the weather forecast had the children switching it to the Friday before the planned event. New posters, lots of tape, change of date, still lots of competition, but hey, it’s a tough life out in the business world.

Then it was Friday, the tables were set up, and the extension-cord debacle began. The orange one had three prongs, and couldn’t go into the white one. The claw candy machine wouldn’t stay plugged into the brown one, could you switch the dark yellow one with the lighter yellow one?

The customers started arriving, and the cans were still in the spare Pesach fridge in the basement. Under the relentless sun, the popcorn seeds barely needed the heat from the machine to make them pop.

Sweat pouring down his forehead, my son’s beaming face was priceless, even as he eyed the toy cash register with concern. Would they recoup their losses, make a profit? Stressed investors can probably relate to his level of hope as he ran up and down the stairs, refilling the empty ices booth, bringing water to the sponge-throwing children, carrying freshly melted chocolate from the microwave to the fountain.

It was a food fest with happy music, and the requisite rivalry was fully present. When Boy A wanted to switch booths, but Boy B insisted that the rules stated only boys over a specific age could man a food booth, Boy C started crying, insisting he had originally wanted another booth. Maternal intervention promising free ices and slush to the boys who were mevater worked its usual magic. All that initial talk of boys not fighting was obviously just that — talk.

By the time the cotton candy machine finally, slowly, churned out its last bit of fluff, there was crusted sugar and spray-fan water running down all the boys’ faces, but there were smiles. Garbage bags were filled, with tickets awarded according to the amount of litter discarded. Tables were folded, the chocolate fountain was cleaned, and the searing sun slowly started moving over for the blue sky and soft winds. The final gorel was drawn, and the winner walked away with some magic trick set I’d been wishing out of my house for months.

It was over.

Battles had been fought, lessons had been learned, friendships had been formed, and money had been earned. A good time was had by all.

And now, I can’t wait until my son actually makes a carnival, all on his own. Which will probably happen when his NO turns to yes, many years down the line, in response to his own children’s pleas.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 703)

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