Going to the country fair? Oh man, you’re going to hate it.
The first several times we went to the fair with several children, it was a miserable experience: tears and accidents, stickiness and anxiety, disappointment and recriminations. But for some reason we kept trying, year after year, and what do you know? We figured it out.
Here are ten tips on how to have a good time with the kids at the fair:
Just accept that this is going to be a ridiculously expensive day. Figure in admission, parking, ride tickets or passes, food, souvenirs, and possibly special rides or shows, plus emergency cash for unexpected expenses like replacement hats or bail bond. An unlimited pass is almost always cheaper in the long run, and saves the anxiety of rationing your fun.
Check the weather report and dress accordingly! Pouring rain might make you squander ride time (don’t expect sympathy from the carnival folks!), and punishing sun really takes the edge off your enjoyment of pigs and goats. Bring sunblock and more water than you think you’ll need.
Make sure your kids know what to do if they get lost. Our strategy: yell and yell, and then find someone who looks like a nice mother and ask for her help. Make sure your kids know their parents’ actual names, besides “Mommy and Daddy.” Keep a list of what your kids are wearing, in case you’re too flustered to remember. Establish a meeting place.
Variety makes everything more enjoyable. 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, and expect older kids to get worn out, even if they don’t normally ride. Also, it’s helpful to have somewhere to stash all those drinks. Did I mention you should bring plenty of drinks?
Bring a picnic meal, but buy snacks. Kids appreciate a cloud of rainbow cotton candy or a caramel apple much more than an $8 hamburger.
We arrive at lunch time, but then go on rides right away before eating. This way, they get the first excitement out of the way, and work up an appetite so they’ll actually eat.
Succumb to the stickiness. Your kids will be sweaty, sugary, dusty, and, yes, possibly throw-uppy. Dress them in clothes you don’t care about. And be smart: let them 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. Bring plastic bags. Trust me on this. Sooner or later, you will find yourself holding something that desperately needs to be wrapped up in a plastic bag.
Discuss expectations before you even enter the grounds: How many rides can they go on? Will you be playing games of chance (my vote is no: souvenirs are less exciting, but less emotionally perilous), or buying snacks, balloons, toys, riding the pony, seeing the show, etc.? Let them know ahead of time, and stick to it. Don’t just wing it, especially if you have lots of kids with various ideas of fun.
Parents should discuss expectations, too. My husband and I remind each other that our first 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.
Kids are tricky. You will expect them to be grateful and satisfied after such a fabulous day, but they may feel exhausted, let down, and cranky—especially if they’ve been anticipating this day for weeks, and now it’s over. Tomorrow, you can go back to the old routine, but no kid gets spoiled in a single day. So go whole hog, right up until bedtime. Plan some small surprise at home, to soften the landing—a new DVD, some coveted dessert, or new waterguns or something. And once the kiddies are in bed, you can have a nice little drink and put your feet up.