7 Quick Takes: “Fair’s Fair” Edition

Don’t worry, it’s not another scholarly fisk of the cultural significance of Billy Jean.  I’m talking about the county fair!  The fair!  Who doesn’t love the fair?

If you’re taking your kids to the fair for the first time, you are going to hate it.
It will be, second only to the birth itself, the most miserable, sticky, disappointing, and ludicrously expensive day of your life as parents.  You will go home wondering why you just paid hundreds of dollars to make your kids this dirty and unhappy.
Also, you’re fairly sure you had eight children when you left the house, and now you only have six.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.  We kept trying and failing to have fun at the fair, and eventually we worked out some guidelines.  And this year, it finally happened:  we actually had a good time! All of us, even the wimp, the show-off,  the escape artist, the malcontent, the spoilsport, the worrier, and everyone.
Well, the baby actually hated it, but she kind of hates everything right now.
So here is how we managed:
–1–
MONEY
Start saving money last year.  I’m serious — this is an expensive day.  You have to just accept that it costs what it costs, and there is really no point in making the effort if you’re not going to go whole hog.  Be prepared to shell out for admission (and possibly parking), ride tickets or passes, food, souvenirs, and possibly for special rides or shows — plus emergency cash for something unexpected, like bug spray or a bail bond.
And do some research.  There are usually a few cheaper days and a few expensive days, so work out exactly how much it will cost to do everything you want to do.   I recommend going on an unlimited pass or bracelet day.  We tried individual tickets, and it was not only more expensive, but made us very anxious, because we had to pace ourselves and conserve tickets.
–2–
WEATHER
Check the weather report! A wonderful day can be ruined by  clothes that are too hot or too cold.  Once we went on a rainy day, and lost a whole hour off our unlimited ride time.  And once we went on such a hot day, everyone just wanted to sit on a bench and suck down lemonade.  Which we could have done at home for much cheaper, with slightly less of that nauseating barnyard smell.
Bring sunblock and lots and lots of drinks.  The screaming, walking around, and the general excitement will make your kids even thirstier than they normally would be after a day outdoors.  There will be drinks for sale, but they will be EXPENSIVE.   Have I mentioned this?  It’s not because I’m a cheapskate; it’s because I don’t want you to have to tell a weeping 7-year-old girl, “I know I said you could ride the pony, but Mama spent her last $6 on your fourth lemonade!”
–3–
GETTING LOST
Make sure your kids know what to do if they get lost.    We tell them to first yell and yell (in case the rest of the family is right around the corner) and then they can go to a policeman,  someone behind a counter, or someone who looks like a nice mother, and say, “I’m lost – can you help me find my parents?”
Make sure your kids know their parents’ actual names (a surprising number assume Daddy’s name is “Daddy”), and what their parents are wearing (my daughter once described me as “the one with the haircut”). Dress your kids in distinctive clothing and write down descriptions of everyone (“black sweatpants, a Jack Kemp T-shirt, and a homemade haircut”) in case you need other people to help you find them, and are too flustered to remember what they look like.
The earlier in the day you go, the smaller the crowds will be.  Know which kids are likely to bolt or wander away, and give them a special lecture beforehand.  (We didn’t need one of these until kid #7 could walk, and then we needed it desperately.)
–4–
PACING
Plan for variety, especially if you need to stretch your money.  Do something thrilling, then something where you sit down, then something where you wander around, then a snack, then something for the older kids, then something for the younger kids, etc.  Save something primo for last, so when it’s almost time to go, you can say, “Okay, the fair is over . . . but not before we do such-and-such!”  Makes your exit much happier.
Bring the roomiest stroller you have.  The fair is completely exhausting for little ones, so kids who’ve outgrown the stroller might need a ride.  Also, it’s helpful to have somewhere to stash all those drinks.
–5–
FOOD
In order to make the effort and expense worthwhile, you will want to be there for several hours  — which means you will be there during a meal time.  I recommend packing a picnic for the meal, and spending your money on snacks, instead.  Kids don’t appreciate an $8 steak sub, but they will always remember getting a cloud of cotton candy or a caramel apple with rainbow sprinkles.
What we do is arrive at lunch time, but then go on rides right away before eating.  The kids would have been too excited to eat at first, and would have just pecked at the meal, and then begged for snacks later.  After a few rides, they were happy to take a break for sandwiches and chips.
–6–
STICKINESS
Succumb to the stickiness.  Your kids will be just disgusting by the end of the day:  sweaty, sugary, dusty, and, yes, possibly throw-uppy (although that never happened to us, miraculously).  It’s a good idea to have them wear clothes you don’t care about. Be smart about timing:  they can ride the Neck Snapper, but not right after eating one of Doody’s Famous Fried Pickles.
Bring a change of clothes for the youngest kids, and plastic bags.  Trust me on this.  Sooner or later, you will be stuck holding something that desperately needs to be wrapped up in a plastic bag.
–7–
EXPECTATIONS
Discuss expectations ahead of time.   Before you even enter the grounds, let them know what they will be doing, and what they will not — and stick to it.  How many rides can they expect to go on?   Will you be playing games, buying a meal, buying snacks, buying balloons, buying toys, riding the pony, seeing a show, seeing the animals?   Especially if you have lots of kids with various desires, just winging it will lead to someone feeling disappointed.  (We skip the games of chance altogether, and just let them pick out a souvenir.  Not as exciting, but cheaper, and less heartache.)
My husband and I discuss our expectations, too:  we remind each other that our #1 goal is to give the kids a super fun day, and that we will both try our hardest to be patient and generous, and do our best to give the kids what they want (within reason). A day of fun is no time to teach lessons. It’s okay to be over-indulgent once in a while, as long as you’re doing a good job on most other days.
Also, this may sound silly, but unless you’re getting home late at night, it’s a good idea to have some mild treat waiting for them at home — lollipops or a special movie.  Kids are tricky, especially if they’ve been looking forward to something for weeks– and now it’s over.  You will expect them to be grateful and satisfied, but they will likely feel exhausted, let down, and cranky.
So go easy on them.  Tomorrow, you can go back to the old routine, but it’s nice to do whatever you need to do to keep things pleasant today.  And once the kiddies are in bed, you can have a nice little drink and put your feet up.
And for goodness’ sake, take better pictures than I did.  Never before have so many knees, ears, and backs of heads been captured for posterity.
Oh, before I forget:  check out the other 7 Quick Takes hosted by Jen at  Conversion Diary, and leave a link of your own!  Or, wait, it’s actually at Betty Beguiles this week, I forgot!

 

Simcha’s guide to financial empowerment

Does your library give out copious prizes just for checking out books in the summer?  Ours does:  ice cream and pizza coupons, tickets to sports events, T-shirts and toys, games, stickers, etc.

But the prize that thrilled my kids the most was something new this year:  ten dollars!  Their enthusiasm was only slightly dampened when we explained that no one was actually going to hand them a ten-dollar bill–they’d have to open an account at a local bank, which would credit them $10.

Daddy was glad to help.  He would bring the happy little misers to the bank, sign them up for accounts, go home, and then truck them right back to the bank again as soon as humanly possible to close out their accounts.  They would then zip on over to the Dollar Tree to blow their glorious cash on sticky hands, expanding dinosaurs, and expired Laffy Taffy.  You know, the American dream.

Not so fast.

Don’t ask me why I didn’t see this coming, but there was a catch.   Of course there was a catch!   Sure, they’ll deposit $10 in your Young Saver account.  They’ll even waive the $4 monthly fee, as long as you’re age 18 or under.  All you have to do, kids, is keep a minimum monthly balance of $250.

$250! Stupid jerks.  What kid has $250 seed money to start a Young Saver account?   No one.  Okay, maybe some enterprising Eagle Scout mowed enough lawns to save up $250, but I guarantee that all the other Young Savers got their minimum deposits straight from mom or dad’s wallet.  Bah.

When I was a kid, our local bank that gave out little cardboard boxes for collecting quarters to put in your junior savings account.  There were no minimums or monthly fees–it was all about teaching you that money doesn’t just materialize out of nowhere.  If you don’t spend it, you’ll still have it; if you keep spending it, eventually it will be gone.  But the most you could possibly save up was maybe $20 before the box fell apart.

I really don’t want my kids to have a meaningful financial portfolio.  That’s the idea of being a kid:  you learn the lessons, but you don’t get any of the actual benefits.  You don’t need benefits, because you parents are taking care of you.

When you get older, then you learn how money really works.  In a nutshell, adults have two choices.  You can turn over your finances to a ravening monolith that will (1) warn you by mail that, four days ago, they charged you a monthly fee for your overdraft protection plan, which will (2) hit you at a bad time and make your balance dip below zero, at which point the bank will (3) charge you an overdraft fee for letting your balance dip below zero, and then (4) charge you a second overdraft fee because you didn’t have sufficient funds to cover the first overdraft fee.

This is called “customer service.”

Your other choice is to keep a wad of cash in the freezer.  This is a bad strategy if you are an avid collector of half-empty cartons of old, drippy ice cream.  In that case, a workable counter-strategy  is to invest in the really high quality brands of  Ziplock baggies, which really keep your money dry.

Our financial adviser (who speaks directly into my ear at 4 a.m.  She has a querulous voice tinged with panic, and sounds just like me) has counseled us to diversify our portfolio.   So now we keep our Regular Money in the bank, and our Frivolous Whim/Horrible Emergency Money in the freezer.

For an even niftier fiscal maneuver, try letting your prudent, thrifty super-ego save money, while allowing your idiot, scatterbrained id to forget all about it.  Then, one day, your ego (who is in charge of cooking) will be gloomily surveying the dark landscape of Dinners Yet to Come, and in between the freezer-burned pork chops and the eleven chicken carcasses that never will be soup, you will see something.  Something . . .

Could it be?  Yes, yes, it’s a Ziplock bag!  And inside it is . . .

Aw, you thought I was going to say $250.  No, it’s only $42.  The label on the bag says $250, but you had to spend part of it on a new spinner thing for the washing machine, and part of it on the great Tooth Fairy Amnesty Pay-Off, in which each child aged 5 to 12 got $5 and was counseled to move on with their lives.

But that leaves $42!  Enough to settle either your bank fees or your library fines, with some left over to buy some brand new ice cream for the freezer.

Isn’t that a good system?  God bless America.