Sunday, July 02, 2006

A new kind of Utah for us

I’m pretty lucky. Harry and Ella are close enough in age, 22 months, that finding activities, TV shows or books that they both like is fairly easy. Gender issues get in the way at times as Ella wants to play “babies” day and night, while Harrison is content to create with Legos or Playmobil. They generally come to the middle and compromise with a game of “picnic”, “fire station” or by working on art projects. Even though they have extremely different personalities and demeanors, I am often blind to the differences until we are in a new setting.

Last night we joined Chris’ brother, and his wife’s family, at a popular annual professional rodeo. It was an entirely new experience for the four of us. Even though I worked at the Horse Barn at the Minnesota State Fair one summer in my early 20s, I don’t remember much about the performances in the attached arena. Beer was on my mind and I was more focused on how cool it was that the Budweiser Clydesdales were in my barn. Held up in the mountains, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I assumed (correctly) that the new cowboy hat I bought to wear to outdoor concerts this summer would probably help me fit in.

We found our way to our bleacher seats and hunkered down for the TWO AND A HALF HOUR show. The rodeo had a clown who immediately started talking about the “queens”. I TRULY thought he was referring to gay men and couldn’t believe how far out in the country we were! I learned that there is a queen, and attendants, elected for this rodeo and others for for various other regional and national levels. They wave EXACTLY like the queens on parade floats except they are racing by you on horses. Instead of a tiara, they wear fancy cowboy hats. Sequined chaps instead of gowns. All of them had one thing in common – hot roller curls billowing down their backs. It was quite a spectacle.

Harrison got really tired about an hour into it and BEGGED to go home. I pulled every distracting comment and game I could muster out of my head to keep him occupied. We had driven about 45 minutes to get to this wonder family event – dammit, we were staying to the bitter end. He mainly did not want to stay due to his fear of fireworks. Immediately following the rodeo they had a 10 minute show. Harry wanted no part of that and tried with all his might to convince us to leave. It was hard to not just wrap him in my arms and bring him to the car. However, the car was parked across a large parking lot, over dirt and grass (with piles of attack ants) and then down a short road. I wasn’t sure I could find it without Chris.

Ella had trouble staying focused as well, but loves fireworks and knew that if she patiently waited, she would get to see a wonderful display. She liked the barrel racing mid-way through the show because all the competitors were female. It was enough to hold her interest – as long as she received Swedish fish and licorice from my sister-in-law’s mother at each five-minute increment.

As the fireworks show got closer and closer, Harrison’s anxiety rose and rose. He was really coming up with great reasons why we should leave. It was heart breaking because as much as he wanted to leave, Ella wanted to stay. I promised him that I would plug his ears during the show and as we were continuing our negotiations, the lights went dark and it began. Harry’s head dove into my lap. I finally asked him what it was that scared him so much. He said he was afraid that the explosions are going to fall on top of him. No amount of discussion, explanation, cajoling could get him to watch.

Distracted by my Mother Lion responsibilities with Harrison, I didn’t notice Ella’s reaction to the very same situation. The fireworks were to my right, and as I turned to my left to talk to her, I was struck by her expression. She had put her “fireworks” hat (a denim hat with stars all over it) back on and her face was bright with joy and the light from the show. She was smiling and in awe. She didn’t shudder from the loud noise, nor turn away at all in fear. She loved all the colors and shapes. It was so endearing to watch her.

As soon as the display was over, Harrison popped up and was back to his happy self. The anxiety had disappeared and he started chattering on about the clown and the bull riding. Ella immediately wanted to be carried and whined the whole way back to the car. (Her new favorite expression is “I caaannn’tt waallkk!” It’s a multi-faceted expression that can be used in situations similar to last night, as well as when she doesn’t want to pick up a toy, or turn the television off.)

Two minutes down the road, they were both sound asleep. I was thankful they both came together on that one.

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