When we were in Wisconsin I really wanted to take the kids to a small county fair.
We’ve taken the kids to the Los Angeles County fair before, but it is huge. Over a million people attend each year. Our experience there is entirely different from what I remember growing up because there are approximately 990,000 too many people there. I want small. Small! I want to revisit my childhood!
I often have the desire to do things with my kids that I did as a child. Especially on vacations. I have such magical memories from going to xyz on vacation! I want them to go to xyz and have magical memories of it too! But sometimes my attempts wind up being like the second lobster scene in Annie Hall. You just can’t relive a those magical moments. On the other hand, often shiny new happy memories are layered on top of my dusty old ones. Having these layers of memories of a place or an experience (both as child and as a parent to your child) is one of the coolest parts of being a parent, isn’t it?
So we found a fair that was going on near us! (It was the Dodge County Fair outside of Beaver Dam for you WI locals.)
This is what happened…
We park in the parking lot, which is really just a grassy field. We enter the fair and as we walk up I can already smell the yummy fair smells. The corn dogs! The cotton candy! The caramel apples!
It is a hot and humid day so the kids park themselves under a tree with snow cones and we make a plan. To the right are the games and rides. To the left are the agricultural barns. We’re in the middle where the food is. Games are next.
As they eat their treats, a golf cart drives by with a young woman on the back with a crown on her head and a sash that says, “Corn Princess” and she waves at everyone. Awesome.
As we walk over to the games (throw a dart at the ballon, pick a duck and all the classics) I marvel at how little has changed since I was a little girl.
Then I see it. I can’t believe it.
They. have. the. goldfish. game!
The game where you toss a ping pong ball into a gold fish bowl and then take home a goldfish in a plastic baggie? They actually still have it. Apparently, PETA hasn’t made their way to Beaver Damn, WI yet to save the fishes and ruin everything. (I talk about this game as part of my fish history in my Crappy Fish post.)
I’m so excited that I whip out my phone and start taking pictures of it. This causes people to stare at me with confused looks on their faces and for a moment I’m afraid that someone is going to saunter over and say, “You’re not from around here, are you?” But nobody does.
Crappy Boy starts begging to play the fish game. “I want a fish! Can we win a fish?” I try to distract him with promises of cute animals if we head to the barns.
We move on and head to the craft and agricultural barns. This is the thing I’m the most excited about because not even Crappy Papa has been in one. We’ll get to see quilts and cows!
We go in the crafts barn first and it is split up into sections. There are displays of decorated cakes, jars of jam, plates of cookies, quilts, clothes, woodworking, leather crafting, barbed wire making, stained glass, paintings, knitting and so on. All of the things are adorned with blue, red and white ribbons. Okay, not all of the things, just the winners.
I get to the tomatoes and I’m so happy I’m practically jumping up and down and clapping. I’m reading the tags and announcing the names, “Look, so and so won the blue ribbon!” all excited and proud as though I know the person.
Crappy Boy is intrigued about how one could win a ribbon for growing a tomato or for making a birdhouse. I can tell the seeds of inspiration are planted and I have a moment of parenting satisfaction until I look over at Crappy Baby.
Crappy Baby is popping a 2nd prize cherry tomato into his mouth.
My kid is snacking on the PRIZE vegetables.
As I’m telling him to stop, the tomato is gnashed by his teeth. Too late. We have a tomato casualty. My reaction startles him though so he immediately spits it out and hands the already-been-chewed tomato to me.
I start to explain that the tomatoes and other veggies here are not for eating but he runs of to join Crappy Papa and Crappy Boy who are looking at horseshoes.
So now I’m standing there holding the evidence. Alone. Looking guilty.
People are nearby and about to turn down the tomato aisle. I have no idea where a trash can is. Someone is going to SEE me holding the tomato bits! What should I do? We could get kicked out of the fair! We could get run out of town!
Frantically, I look side to side to see if anyone is watching or noticed the infraction that just occurred.
And I do the only thing I can think of.
I swallow the evidence and quickly walk away.
It was delicious.
(To the girl who was missing a tomato: I’m sorry I ate it. My son chewed it but I ate it. If it is any conciliation, I think you deserved the blue ribbon, not the red one. Not that I tasted the blue ribbon tomatoes, but come on. Yours were the best cherry tomatoes I’ve ever stolen.)
We head next door to the dairy barn.
Oh how I love the dairy barn! The gentle giant cows with their milky brown eyes and long lashes. Here we go!
In this particular dairy barn, the cows are in rows that you walk down, with cows on either side of you. There are no pens or stalls separating you from the animals. You’re right among them.
I notice that the cows are tethered to poles with what appears to be a thin and easily snap-able rope. Embroidery floss or kitchen twine probably.
We are also within the perfect kick-your-brains-out-of-your-head range of their hooves.
I look around and notice that we’re the only “tourists” inside the barn. Everyone else in there looks like they should be in there. And I don’t mean that in a snobby way. I mean that everyone else is wearing boots and overalls and they are busy watering or feeding or brushing or milking. Even the other young kids.
Crappy Papa must feel my hesitation because he turns to me and asks:
He defers to me on all things country. I’m the farm expert because I once lived in the country. Which is like considering someone an architect because they once lived in a house.
But I’m confident that we’re okay. We’re just being paranoid city folk. I used to play on the pasture with a steer! I used to do chores with my grandfather and feed the cows! No big deal!
That is what dairy barns are for. You are supposed to tour through them and admire the cows and notice who got the blue ribbon for prettiest udder. (No really, that’s a thing.)
So we continue. Deeper into the barn.
I look up and see a young girl (I’d guess 10-12 age range) coming down the aisle leading her giant holstein. But this cow isn’t happy. This cow is fighting her and the little girl is using her entire body weight to attempt to guide this cow down the aisle. They are going this way and that way and knocking into other cows. She struggles but continues leading the cow down the aisle.
The aisle that we were standing in.
Which meant we have to quickly get out of the way or be trampled to death by a rogue dairy cow. I can see the headlines. “Los Angeles Family Killed by a Cow” or something much more clever because I suck at titles.
We step aside next to a cow that is almost as tall as I am. We huddle together as the little girl struggles and fights to gain control of her cow who really just wants to go back outside.
And the little girl? She manages it. This tiny girl who is barely bigger than Crappy Boy handles this giant dairy cow and successfully ties the cow up in her space.
I’m SO proud of this little girl. I’m also super relieved that we didn’t die.
This unique relief/pride combination mixes a euphoric cocktail in my brain which makes me decide right then and there that our family MUST move back to Wisconsin.
We must raise cows so our boys can learn how to handle them like this little girl did. There is no way they will grow up to be confident and happy people if they can’t lead a cow. It is just fact.
Of course, I never learned how to lead a cow. But the OPPORTUNITY was there. That is important. Sure, there were no opportunities for much else. But. COWS! Happiness! We must move to the country! We must! It is the only thing that makes sense!
Have I discussed my “rustic dream problem” here yet? I see something inspiring and suddenly I’m all, “That’s IT, we’re moving to a cabin to live off the land!” or I watch a movie about the 1960s and I’m all, “That’s IT, we’re joining a commune.” And I completely, totally talk myself into it. And I’m SERIOUS about it. I become obsessed with the idea and no amount of convincing will change my mind.
If I didn’t have the levelheadedness of Crappy Papa to remind me of simple things like reality I’d definitely be living in a homemade shack in Alabama with no running water by now.
So the cow fire had been lit. We must move to Wisconsin because of cows. Yes, that makes no sense. Yes, I know that we live in California where there are actually more cows than in Wisconsin. But it doesn’t matter. My “rustic dream problem” has nothing to do with logic.
I keep my relocation plan for our family to myself because Crappy Papa already heard a similar one yesterday. Yesterday we went to Amish country and the women wore cotton calico dresses with bonnets and baked pies and put them on windowsills to cool. Since I have an ongoing Little House on The Prairie themed “rustic dream problem” I decided that the best thing to do was for our family to become Amish. We’ll convert. It was a great idea until Crappy Papa reminded me that no electricity (which I could handle) means no internet (which I can’t) and the plan sort of dissolved from there.
But Wisconsin! They have internet there!
So I’m thinking through all of this as we walk through the rabbit and chicken barn. I nod approvingly as Crappy Boy and Crappy Baby point out their favorites, making mental notes of the breeds for our future farm. We’re totally going to do this.
We enter the last barn which is the “kids’ zone” and they spy a game.
The game consists of a big wheel that you spin and you land on a category that has something to do with agriculture in Wisconsin. Soy, cheese, cows and such. The kid spins and then has to answer a question about that topic correctly to win a sticker.
The game is run by two little girls, about the same ages as Crappy Boy and Baby.
I brace myself for the fact that my boys will likely not know a single answer. They didn’t grow up on a farm! It isn’t their fault! We have to move here so they can experience all of it!
Crappy Boy spins and it lands on horses, which is lucky. They’ve taken horsemanship classes. They know horses.
He answers it correctly!
He continues to talk to the girl about horses and riding them and all that he knows.
She is impressed. She loves horses but doesn’t have one and has never ridden one.
Crappy Boy came away looking like a horse expert.
I’m shocked. In all my focus on what my kids aren’t getting by living where we do I lost track of all the cool things that they are experiencing. In that moment I became horribly homesick and grateful for our home.
Shortly after that, we left the fair and spent our last night in Wisconsin.
They left the fair with sticky faces and happy memories.
And I left the fair (and Wisconsin in general) with new layers of happy memories.
It was a great trip.
Nobody left with a fish. Wait, actually Crappy Baby did. But it was plastic.