September 8, 2010 

My original title for this article was going to be "Why You Should Never Make A 90–Minute Round Trip To Pick Up Your Two Nieces, Take Them To A Mcdonald's® With A Playland, Spend Two Hours Shopping For Clothes And Then Walk Around For Three Hours In 98–Degree Heat At A Carnival Where They Can't Agree On What Rides They Want To Go On." I figured that would be a tad bit too long though. In fact, that's the article for this issue. Thank you and good night.

Seriously, the plan was simple: Go get my nieces – Allison, age nine and Haley, age seven – and have a wonderful Saturday afternoon. They knew we would be shopping for school clothes, but they didn't know we were going to the county fair afterward. That was going to be a surprise. It started out easily enough. I arrived at their house and when asked what the surprise was, I told them that they were going to help me clean my bedroom and wash my car. It's always fun to start them off with mindgames.

Once we made it to Belleville, the first thing we had to do was have lunch. It seems that most of the McDonald's® have gotten rid of their play areas in recent years. (I don't know why. What could possibly go wrong with junk–food stuffed kids climbing around on ladders and tumbling down large slides on top of each other?) Mind you, I said "most." The stores that decided to keep their playlands are every single McDonald's on the way from my nieces' house to mine. So there was very little chance of just stopping for a quick bite.

After what seemed like an eternity, it was off to the store to shop for clothes. I've done this with them before. All I can say is I must have blacked that entire experience out of my memory. For one thing, I'm an overweight tomboy. I'd rather have a root canal than shop for jeans. I don't understand clothes. Sizes are just a bunch of nonsensical numbers. Children don't make sense to me. It was like being in the middle of an episode of Lost. Certainly I can't be the only one who thinks that the kids clothing section in a department store is some sort of bizarre alternate universe.

I had this brilliant plan of making a math game out of shopping. I gave them a price limit and told them we would keep track of everything they picked out so we could avoid the whole "I have to have as many things as she does" game that they usually play. (I'm sure the mother of any seven–year–old is having a nice laugh at my expense right about now.)

Allison is the older, more responsible one. She totally got the concept. Which would have been great if we had found the cheapo calculators I thought we'd pick up at the grocery store on our way. As it was, I was forced to do math in my head. Swell.

Haley didn't concern herself which such foolishness however. She happily dashed from rack to rack, grabbing one or two things off of each one. My cart quickly began to look like a clown car. I've also learned that there's no sense in arguing with a seven–year–old about what matches and what doesn't. I don't have to dress her in the morning. If she thinks the purple plaid blouse matches the green plaid shorts, then so be it. And while it was nice of the store attendant to point out that one of the cute dresses was actually a swimsuit cover, I just let it go. If it fits, it's a dress! No one at their school is going to know Aunt Beth had anything at all to do with the clothes they put on in the morning. If the seven–year–old shows up with a camouflage tutu–slash–cocktail dress on picture day, I'm completely in the clear!

Earlier, they had asked me to give them clues for the surprise and I decided it would be perfectly safe to spell it for them. After all, who is going to guess S–T C–L–A–I–R C–O–U–N–T–Y F–A–I–R? Just the "ST" part alone, would certainly throw them off. But I had to go and explain what an abbreviation was. To my horrified surprise, it took mere seconds for Allison to yell out "saint". All it took was the letter "C" and she immediately yelled out "Clair". I was counting on it taking at least an hour to get the "saint" part. Within 2 minutes she had half the clue.

While Allison and I waited for Haley to finish trying on her clothes, I threw out another letter. There was no way either of those children knew we were in St. Clair County, so that second "C" was going to finally stump my little genius. About ten seconds after I said it, she smiled that knowing smile at me and said she had it. We were going to the St. Clair County Fair. I wanted to abandon the clothes shopping and instead take all of the money I was planning to spend and immediately set up the trust fund for her education at Harvard.

About that time, Haley triumphantly emerged from the dressing room wearing butt hugging, hot pink, stretchy shorts and I proudly announced that Allison had guessed the surprise. Haley wanted to know what S–T–C–C could spell and Allison yelled at her because their wasn't a word with two Cs in it. (I decided not to spoil the moment by telling my Harvard–bound niece about the word "soccer".)

Surprisingly, clothes shopping with kids turned out to be kind of like a chore. (Once again, I hear you moms snickering.) But finally, we got through it and were on our way to the fair. A carnival was guaranteed fun. Right?.....Right? Kids love rides. Carnivals have rides and I have kids. Nothing can go awry with that combination. (Okay, seriously, stop laughing at me.)

They seemed excited when we got there. I bought tickets and Allison suggested going on the merry–go–round. Haley happily agreed. So far, so good. My first hint of trouble came when I noticed the sad, bored expressions on their faces as the horses chugged slowly round and round. Uh–oh.

Apparently Haley thought that merry–go–round meant ferris wheel. She was fixated on that giant wheel and I knew the day would be ruined if she didn't get to ride it. Here's the problem though: Haley is a fearless little daredevil. She didn't want to go on any rides unless they were fast, tall and scary. Allison was not really loving any of those options. She's the brains, Haley's the brawn. Together, my nieces would make an excellent crime–fighting duo. But perfect fair–going buddies, they aren't.

They refused to go on the same rides. They refused to go on different rides alone. And I refused to go on rides with one and leave the other one with a carny.

Eventually, we all agreed to go to the expo hall for some A/C and a cold drink. It was a small reprieve of sorts. That is, until they encountered the man on stilts dressed as Uncle Sam. For years, this guy has been walking around the county fair, inviting kids to walk between his ten–foot tall red and white striped pants. Well guess what? My fearless little daredevil was terrified of Giant Uncle Sam. As I watched him lean over to talk to them, I tried to picture it from their point of view. Jurassic Park came to mind. I'll be damned! Uncle Sam on stilts is really creepy! Needless to say, Haley will NOT be joining the military.

Stinky the Clown was a hit however. Haley had to have two balloon animals before I could usher them back out to the rides. Eventually I just gave in and rode a couple of rides with them and that seemed to help. I'm also happy to report that Haley did get to ride the ferris wheel–alone. Allison was even nice enough to win a monkey for her while we waited. Overall, I'd say the day was a success. But ask me if I'd do it again. In a couple of weeks, there's another town picnic with rides. I'm toying with the idea of taking them. QUIT LAUGHING!

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