Send in the Clowns

So we took our kids to the circus. It was wonderful. What’s more, we really felt we’d got our money’s worth. How often can you say that, right? We had nothing but praise for the performers, the staff, the venue, the music. Even the woman at the ticket window had been friendly and helpful. It was really good. All but the family sitting behind us.

Yeah, I know, it’s the circus, not the opera. I wasn’t expecting everyone to sit quietly on their hands, politely clapping at the appropriate moments. Of course not. We were all laughing, cheering, “ooh-ing and aah-ing.” No sane person goes to the circus expecting peace and quiet. But still…

Should one family (or one kid) be allowed, or feel entitled, to lessen everyone, or even anyone, else’s enjoyment? Even at the circus, doesn’t courtesy have a place? After a solid 5 minutes of crying and shrieking loud enough for performers to cast a glance in your direction, should you maybe think, “Perhaps my shushing isn’t working and I should remove this child for everyone’s sake?” Apparently not.

The family was mom, dad, and two young sons. About half-way through the show, mom got up and left the arena, leaving both boys with dad. The toddler immediately started screaming. Not whimpering or asking for mommy, but shrieking, full-throttle. The dad tried some half-hearted shushing, to no avail. After a few minutes, people were getting annoyed. Heads were turning to see who was being tortured in row G, and when they could expect it to stop.

Later on, my husband and I talked about it. What could they have done?

They’re his parents. Surely they know the kid well enough to predict what would happen if mommy, rather than daddy, went to buy snacks and souvenirs? He didn’t become a mama’s boy right then and there, did he? Daddy should have run the errands. But what if mommy had to go to the bathroom? Well, she could have brought him along. She probably does it all the time when she’s alone with the kids. But what if, for whatever reason, that wasn’t an option?

I recently asked my 7-year-old what she thought about the situation.

Me: Do you remember the screaming kid at the circus?

Mine: How could I forget? ‘Waa, mommy!, waa!’ Kind of annoying.

Me: Whose fault do you think that was?

Mine: I kind of think it was the parents’ fault, but I didn’t hear them say, ‘No, stop it.’

Me: Oh, the dad did say to stop it. But it didn’t work. So should he have let the kid keep screaming all that time, until the mom came back?

Mine: Well, first of all, that would be being a bad parent, and second of all, it could annoy people.

Me: Yeah, it did annoy people. So do you think he should have taken the kid and the brother outside until the kid calmed down? Would that have been fair?

Mine: Well, maybe not fair to the brother, but fair to everyone else.

Me: I agree, and you know why? Everyone had paid to be there. And it was expensive. So if you ruin the experience, if someone has less fun than they would have had if you’d stayed home, then really, you’re stealing from them. Every minute the kid screamed — and people had their attention taken away from the show to see if the dad would make the kid stop screaming or take him outside — they were stealing from all those people.

Mine: That’s not fair.

No, it isn’t. Even a 7-year-old can figure that out.

(originally posted March 7, 2010)


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