Last night was Kim's last time working with ticket sales at the Boulevard Carnival. It rained a bit during the first half hour, but the night turned out to be a perfect one for the event. Maggie and the other fourth graders were carnival veterans. They knew the games they liked and the food they wanted. I held on to most of Maggie's tickets as she ran off to do this or that. I wasn't rationing her tickets so much as making sure that she checked back in from time to time when she ran out.
Kim, as usual, spent the evening working. She'd been selling tickets all week. Tonight she was walking around with Officer Vince taking the money from the ticket and raffle sales into the school office to be counted and later deposited. She was easy to spot in her yellow "just in case it rains" windbreaker and her white beach hat. She kind of looked like Paddington Bear as she stopped at the various booths to check in.
There wasn't a lot for me to do. This was my fourth year at carnival and Maggie didn't really need supervision. She'd been pretty independent last year. I guess it's the usual progression.
When Maggie was four and Elena was just two, Kim had brought them to their first carnival. Maggie was set to start Kindergarten at Boulevard in the fall and this was one of the things that Kim was doing to make Maggie feel more comfortable in her new school. That summer they would go play on the Boulevard playground and walk back and forth to our house so Maggie got to know the way.
The next year, Kim volunteered for a couple of committees. I was out of town so her mom and sister took the girls around that night. Ever since then, Kim has worked carnival and I've taken the girls.
The first year was special because they had been to carnival twice and I'd never been. They tugged me one way and then another to show me the games they liked the best.
"Come on dad," Maggie would say, "I'm going to get my face painted."
"What are you going to get?" asked Elena.
"A soccer ball," said Maggie.
"Well, I'm going to get a butterfly."
They stood in line and each held the tickets to give to the older girls who ran the face painting booth. When Maggie was in first grade those middle school girls looked so much older. Last night when Maggie had a pink heart painted on her cheek, they didn't look so old.
"Oh dad," Elena said as soon as her butterfly had been finished, "we've got to go to the toilet."
"Didn't you just go?" I asked.
"No dad," Elena said, "the toilet. We've got to go to the toilet."
"Oh, I know what she means," Maggie said. "She wants to go to the outhouse game."
"Yeah. It's so funny dad. You are going to love it."
So we went over to a booth with two toilet seats arranged with the lids up and a hole under the seat. The kids were given these things to toss that looked like rolls of toilet paper. Three cylinders with little tails. Elena missed all three. Maggie got one in. No one walks away a loser at the carnival. Each girl could choose a consolation prize. Some little item worth a penny or two.
Now the spell had been broken, we'd played a game. The girls wanted to play another one. They shot a plastic puck at a target with a plastic hockey stick. They tossed bean bags towards a sharks mouth. The chose teachers and put their tickets down and waited to see which teachers face would come up on the roulette wheel when it stopped spinning.
"I want Miss Shorter," Elena whined.
"She's my teacher," Maggie snapped back.
Elena wasn't happy but recognized some logic in that retort. She moved her marker.
The girls wanted to eat. We stopped by the ticket booth and took Kim's order. Elena carried the turkey wrap and water over to Kim while Maggie and I brought the hot dogs, popcorn, and juice over to a table. The girls went back for watermelon. They played a bit on the playground. I steered them back to the games. The did the lollipop pull and the can crush. They looked at the items in the silent auction. They eyed the bicycle being raffled off.
It was one of those perfect nights.
As an aside, I'm amazed as I write page after page here how many perfect nights we had during Elena's short life. Sure there were the frustrating ones where someone is crying or the girls are fighting or someone (maybe even me or Kim) is in a horrible mood. But there was a surprising amount of perfect days and nights. At least the way I remember them.
We stopped at the prize table at the end of the night and traded in the prize tickets that the girls had won here or there. After what seemed like a very long time, they finally chose the rub on tattoos and the bracelet and the glittery pencil and we headed home. We walked the long way home. We never walked this way. Kim had to stay and count the money so me and my girls walked home talking about the games they had played and the people they had seen.
The next year was much like the one before it. The three of us walked around together and they chose what activity they wanted to do next.
Last year was special in two ways. First, even though this was Elena's fifth time at carnival, this was the first time she was going as an actual Boulevard student. She knew teachers and students there. She wasn't just Maggie's little sister, she was a member of the school. Second, Maggie was old enough that she wanted to walk around with her friends. She promised to check back regularly with me or Kim but she wanted a little more independence.
O.K. I walked around with Elena and Maggie would come back to see how we were doing every ten to fifteen minutes. Elena was such a shrimp that people would let her get a little closer during the different games and so she was accumulating more prize tickets than usual. We all met up to eat as usual and then Maggie was off on her own again. At the end of the night they spent their time shopping at the prize table and we walked back the long way and swapped stories.
This year there was a part of me that didn't even want to go to carnival. I knew we had to for Maggie but I also knew how tough it would be without Elena. To compound that, we're now leaving the Boulevard community. Maggie will be done with school on Thursday and we won't have the next three years in this school as we had expected. This carnival was one more symbol of things not continuing the way we had expected.
So this was Kim's last year of working at carnival. Maggie, for the most part, didn't need me. She'd stop by to check in or to see if I wanted to go with her to see the baskets in the silent auction. We walked through and put down the opening bid on some artwork her Kindergarten teacher had painted. We went and got some food together and then she was off playing games and talking to friends. At the end we walked around together for a half hour. I just love her independence.
As the night came to a close, Maggie headed over to trade in her prize tickets for more junk. While Maggie was inside I watched Katie for a few minutes since Mike was inside helping Jack at the prize table. I lifted Katie up into an elevated garden. Then I lifted her down again. Then up. Then down. Then up. Just as I was getting tired of the game she turned to me and said, "knock knock."
"Who's there?" I smiled. It's the same with all kids this age. Maggie had gone through it and so had Elena. I knew what was coming next and I new it would crack me up anyways. She was going to tell me some joke that she didn't understand and didn't get quite right.
"Banana," she said.
"Banana who?" I prompted.
"Banana orange," she answered and laughed and laughed.
I laughed too. It's kind of the twist on the whole thing. The joke isn't funny and that's exactly what makes it funny. Then the child leaves thinking they told a funny joke so they tell it again.
And she did. And when I stopped laughing at it she mixed it up.
"Orange," she said.
"Orange who?" I replied knowing her answer is supposed to be "Orange you glad I didn't say banana."
Instead she said, "Orange banana." And then she laughed. And then I laughed. It reminded me of my girls. In a good way.
Maggie came back outside and stood with us. She showed Kate what she'd gotten at the prize table. Kate needed to go to the bathroom just as Mike was coming back out the door. He took her and Maggie and I headed home.
Maggie and I kind of glanced at the long way home. Our last year at carnival while Maggie was a Boulevard student. I asked her which way she wanted to go. She shrugged. Yeah. Me either.
We went the short way home.