Posts Tagged With: circus

Mr. Fox Joins the Circus

Long before Queen Elsa’s song in Disney’s “Frozen” added the phrase “let it go” to every four-year-old’s vocabulary, the concept of giving up control over what isn’t yours to manage has been important for living with balance and serenity. Twelve-Step programs call this “detaching with love.” It can also be described as plain old “minding your own business.” (The hard part, of course, is figuring out what is your business and what isn’t.)

A while ago I came across a saying that’s become one of my favorite ways of reminding myself to let go of things that aren’t my responsibility: “Not my circus; not my monkeys.” The image it conjures up makes me smile and helps me avoid stressing over things I can’t or shouldn’t do anything about.

Except, of course, that sometimes it is my circus and sometimes those are undeniably my monkeys.

Like the three-ring family extravaganza that took up most of last week. Ring One contained the usual local suspects: my daughter and son-in-law with their two-year-old, plus my stepson and his wife with their three kids, who are three, two, and seven months. Ring Two was my stepdaughter, visiting for the week with her three children, aged six, four, and ten months. That, ordinarily, would be quite enough circus for anyone.

To illustrate: one evening we celebrated the seventh birthday of the oldest grandkid in this particular bunch. It was fun, it was noisy, it was delightful, and it was surprisingly free from conflict. Until 7:23 p.m., when ice cream intersected with bedtime. Suddenly four children were in tears, one child was throwing a hissy fit and demanding to leave, and the adults unanimously agreed that the party was over.

But wait—there’s more! Last week we added one more act in Ring Three. The feature attraction, right there in the center of the Big Top (well, actually, in the maternity wing of the hospital), was the birth of my daughter’s second child.

My own participation in this particular circus was a balancing act—dividing time, attention, and energy among taking care of my daughter’s two-year-old, spending time with the visiting grandkids, having meaningful conversations with my stepdaughter in 27-second increments, helping provide a couple of family dinners, and being with my daughter and her husband for part of the 30-something hours they spent at the hospital waiting for their new son to show up.

More by luck than planning, his arrival was timed so I was able to be there when he made his grand entrance. Cue the trumpet fanfare and the spotlight for Fox Reed!

Fox is grandchild number 16, and I am thrilled that in part he’s named after me. He is a beautiful baby with the proper number of fingers and toes, he has brown eyes like his mother and grandmother, and he seems to be settling into his life quite nicely. So far his big brother seems to think he’s pretty special, although it’s possible that big brother assumes Fox is just another visiting cousin who hasn’t gone home with the rest of them yet.

As he grows up, I’m sure Fox will learn to appreciate the fabulous troupe he’s been born into. As one of the founders of this particular circus, I feel a certain amount of responsibility for him and all the rest of those incredible, amazing monkeys. I also am pleased and relieved to understand clearly that I’m not the ringmaster here. The next generation of performers have taken over, and they are doing a wonderful job. Their skills at balancing, juggling, and keeping the show on the road are superb.

Oh, I have a place, too. Sometimes I can hold a safety net. Sometimes I help out behind the scenes. Sometimes I get to just sit in the front row and cheer.

And always, I can say with pride and delight if anyone asks or even if they don’t: “Yep, that’s my circus. Those are my monkeys, all right!”

Plus one brand-new fox.

Categories: Family, Living Consciously | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

A Little Too Close and Personal

When I was a kid, going to the circus was a big deal. In Winner, South Dakota, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the circus wasn’t held in a “big top.” It was in the open air at the baseball field. Since the field was lighted, it was a perfect venue for an outdoor circus, especially at night.

I remember being awed by the elephants striding across the ground with ponderous dignity, carrying beautiful women in splendid clothes. I remember watching the aerialists out over the field, high above our heads. Their costumes glittered in the lights as they swung from trapezes, twisting and twirling and flinging themselves through the air. It was breathtaking. It was beautiful. It was magical.

Then one year, when I was probably ten or eleven, for some reason the circus was held indoors. I remember walking into the Winner city auditorium with my sisters, scurrying through the crowd, almost overwhelmed by the people and the noise, and finally finding room to squeeze into one of the upper rows of the packed bleachers.

In this makeshift space, even our upper bleacher seats were like being in the front row. The elephants were only a few feet away. The aerial acts were almost at eye level. Instead of seeing the performers as remote creatures, way up in the air in the spotlights, we were up close and personal.

And I was shocked.

The elephants were still dignified. But their skin looked worn and rough, their headdresses were a little dingy, and, to put it bluntly, they smelled really awful.

The aerialists were no longer the beautiful, fairy-like flying creatures I expected. They were dreadfully ordinary, even plain. The flowing golden hair on some of the women was clearly dyed. Some of them even looked old—maybe as ancient as 40 or so. Their glamorous costumes, seen that close, didn’t look much different from swim suits. Some of them had obviously been mended. The sequins lost much of their sparkle in the everyday indoor lighting.

Even worse, I started to recognize performers from one act to the next. It was disconcerting to realize that “Madame Yvette” with her dancing poodles was the very same woman I had just seen swinging from a trapeze as part of the “Flying Santorinis.”

Without the lights and the distance, the illusion that helped make the acts so marvelous was destroyed. The reality was such a disappointment that I lost much of my childhood enthusiasm for the circus. I had seen too much of it, too close. The magic was gone.

I’ve been to a few circuses since then. I’ve enjoyed them. But I’ve never recaptured my early awe and wonder. I know too much about the reality behind the illusion.

I clearly remember the last time I went to a circus. Unbelievably, it was 25 years ago. It was the first time I met my soon-to-be stepchildren. Believe me, there were plenty of illusions involved on that occasion.

Thank goodness that, over the years, we’ve grown to know each other well enough to get past most of those illusions. It hasn’t always been an easy process. But the closer we have become, the more we have learned to value reality.

Just think about the distance it takes to maintain our illusions about other people. A couple you know slightly might seem to have a perfect marriage. Unless you get close, you have know way to know what really goes on between them. I used to see other stepfamilies who seemed to be doing everything right. As I got to know them better, I realized most of them had the same struggles and challenges that we did.

This week we enjoyed a performance of “Hairspray” by a local theatre group. The singers and dancers were graceful, energetic, and polished. Whether they were veterans or this was their first time on stage, they all looked confident and comfortable. It wasn’t until after the show, when dozens of cast members surged into the theatre lobby on a wave of adrenaline, that we could feel the nervous energy they must have been feeling. From the audience, we weren’t aware of the sweaty palms and the shaking knees.

There’s a time and place for illusion, and I greatly appreciate the many performers who put so much discipline and practice into creating illusions that we can enjoy. But I have come to appreciate even more the reality behind those illusions. Whether it’s a show, a job, or a family, the most incredible performances are the ones given by people who show up, day after day, and do what they do.

Who have the courage, the grace, and the heart to do what needs to be done—and even to make it look easy. To get up close and personal. To live with reality—even when some of its sequins are missing.

Because reality, I now know, is where the real magic happens.

Categories: Family, Living Consciously, Remembering When | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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