On the way to the circus they sleep in the car; two little children, heads lolling onto their shoulders. They look like the dolls I used to mother; they look like somebody else’s children. It takes me by surprise sometimes that I have babies of my own, that my babies are such nice people. They are beautiful, dreaming silently. Their eyelashes flutter as we bob gently across the speed bumps; it takes my breath away to think that they are mine. I notice that in the breach between car seats, my sons are holding hands.
I don’t know what to expect of the circus. I don’t know if they are too young to sit through two hours of entertainment; I don’t know if they will understand the humour. But they are always so willing to come anywhere with me; they call it an ‘adventure’ even though I am the least adventurous person I know. We have taken my sister for back-up; it feels wonderful to share family life with her again, as though we are little girls again playing at being responsible. She is so good with my children. Discovering her as an auntie, watching my babies engage with her, makes me love her in a new and unexpected way.
We have popcorn, and candy floss. I’m never sure how much sugar is too much sugar and ordinarily we wouldn’t have either, but I want to armour myself with distractions in case they are too lively to sit quietly – and besides, this is our adventure. Adventures deserve pink spun sugar, they necessitate mothers who say ‘yes’. They have light-up sticks that glow in the dark; after they almost poke my eye out for the fifth time, I swap them out for the popcorn and feel secretly smug that I thought so far ahead. Sometimes the shadows dim, and I feel like such an excellent mother. We sit with a twin each on our laps; they squirm and chatter and laugh and they are so happy to be with us, at the circus.
The lights dim, and the music is almost deafening. We watch acrobats hurtling through the air like flying squirrels; we are breathless, eyes wide, heart hammering. They shout encouragement, cheer when the acrobat grasps the trapeze and swings himself, impossibly, to relative safety. I ask them, “would you like to do that?”. Meaning: would you like me to sign you up to gymnastic classes? “Yeah!!” They are half off of our laps before we can haul them back, ready to climb the ladder and tiptoe the tightrope themselves. And I think to myself, you are so innocent and in your minds, the world cannot harm you. The concept of death is impossible to them. In their minds they are immortal.
There are horses, five of them, and as always hoofbeats make my heart leap. I fall in love with a little chestnut Arabian who canters as though it is a dance, and whose ears flicker as he listens to his rider. I tell them, “Mummy used to do that”. The smell of horses at work takes me back to my own childhood, to a time where I was a centaur girl. My heart feels so swollen that it almost hurts. “You’re getting a pony,” I tell them, imagining it: tiny jodhpurs and lead-rein classes, “you’re going to learn to ride like that.” “Yes,” they say, and I know that they are seeing themselves riding in the circus. “We are going to get a pony and learn to ride like that!”
And it is so – so easy. It feels like a kind of magic, that I could take them out to a show and have it be so easy. Sometimes I forget that the baby days won’t be forever, that they are growing and changing every day. And it’s not that other mothers are better mothers – it’s just that they have older children, or fewer children. And our journey is beautiful too and leads to all of the same destinations: to the circus, to days out, to hand-holding triumphant walks back to the car, laughing together about what we have seen. And we will go back again. Maybe not to the exact same place – or maybe we will – but there are beautiful adventures in our future.
Disclaimer: Zippo’s Circus offered us complimentary tickets. They did not request a blog post – but we had so much fun, I wanted to document the experience.