I remember exactly two things about my first circus experience:
1. There was an elephant. It was the 1980s, and it was still acceptable to force large animals do tricks for the amusement of small children.
2. A clown tried to talk to me and I cried.
So it was with some hesitation that I agreed to take my two-year-old Zippos Circus when it came to Glasgow recently. I took her to a butterfly exhibit once and she freaked out when a butterfly flew near her face. If she thought that was too stimulating, how would she deal with a show that might include knife throwers, acrobats and contortionists? Or, God forbid, CLOWNS?
When we entered the circus tent, someone handed her a light saber and I knew things were going to be okay. Nothing makes kids happier than having something large and flashy that they can hit you in the face with.
Now here’s the really surprising part.
This child – who has never sat through an entire film and can’t generally focus on anything for longer than five minutes – watched the whole circus. All of it. She sat quietly on my lap, her eyes open wide, as people swung from trapezes, jumped through hoops and swung fiery ropes with their teeth. She applauded at all the right places and occasionally made comments like, “fire is hot” and “lady jumping”, but for the most part she stayed silent, just kind of awestruck.
I’m pretty sure the circus blew her little mind. It blew mine a bit too, and it’s not easy to blow minds these days. We’re so used to seeing CGI spectacles in films and video games and that not much seems that impressive anymore. That being said, I dare you to watch a woman juggle fire with her feet while lying on a motorcycle and not think it’s awesome.
There’s an art to that kind of thing. It’s a weird art, but it’s an accessible one. Not everyone is going to appreciate an abstract painting, but we can all watch a foot juggler and recognise that something pretty special is happening.
I’m glad I got to share a bit of old-school magic with my daughter. I’m glad she got to see that amazing things can happen in real life and not just in the movies.
And I’m especially glad that there weren’t any clowns.