The Greatest Show on Earth
Isn’t it funny how certain things can stand out in our minds, years and years after they happen? And, not even those big things, but those simple little things that we think nothing of can make a huge difference.
My family never went on vacations growing up. Unless you count the time my younger brother and I traveled to Indiana for a funeral with my parents, or the time we picked my sister up from Space Camp (don’t even get me started about the year many Rhea County students got to go to Space Camp for free AND I DIDN’T GET TO) we never even went out of state. In fact, our first full family vacation, the first time two of the four of us children saw the ocean, happened in 2011.
Although we never took big family trips or walked the streets of Disney, or stayed in a hotel for anything other than our house burning down, my parents never sacrificed on entertainment.
We played games. Lots of games. We watched movies. And we went to the circus.
I have very fond memories of the circus. From as early as I can remember, we traveled to Chattanooga once a year for the circus. And, not just any circus. It was the greatest show on earth!
I can remember watching the tricks and the stunts. The tight rope walkers, the trampoline artists. The dirt bikes in the sphere. And, of course, the animals. I loved the animals. The dancing dogs, the curious cats, and the enormous elephants. I’m pretty certain my love for elephants was a direct result of the many circus shows I saw as a child. If we are being completely honest, I still went to the circus in high school and college.
Of course, with the abundance of good memories I have of the circus, I wanted to share the event with my children. And, in proper fashion, Nana and Poppa went too. So, you can imagine my heartbreak just a few weeks ago when I read that The Greatest Show on Earth was closing the curtain for good. I may have even cried.
Their reasoning was probably the most disappointing aspect of the whole thing. Of, course, the main reason was declining ticket sales, with some people refusing to attend if there were animals involved, and others refusing to attend if animals weren’t involved. But, that wasn’t what stuck out to me. I’m not going to talk about animal rights, because the issue is much, much deeper than that.
In an interview with the LA Times, Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment which owns The Greatest Show on Earth, said the longest act - the tiger segment - lasts 12 minutes. "Try getting a 3- or 4-year-old today to sit for 12 minutes," Feld said. He added they tried to stay current, launching a mobile app and shortening the show, but, ultimately, the circus can’t hold its own against YouTube and today’s digital celebrities.
12 minutes. Seriously? 12 minutes? They can’t sit still for 12 minutes! I’ve seen the circus a bazillion times and I’m still mesmerized by the show. What does it say about the kids we are raising if the lights and music and performances of the circus can’t hold their attention for 12 minutes, yet their eyes can stay glued to a screen for hours on end? We talk about the importance of experiences, yet we prefer virtual experiences over reality.
I have a smart phone. I watch Netflix and have an Instagram account, and I even use SnapChat. I’m not living under a rock and I’m not resisting change. I’m just not sure if what we are gaining is worth what we are losing.
And, it’s not just the circus. Do families still play games together? I rarely go out to eat anymore and see families just talking. Today’s kids don’t know the pain that goes with a long car trip with the radio being controlled by the parents. Even within a group, we isolate ourselves with our devices.
And, please understand. I’m bad too. Last night when my kids were doing a play for us, I was browsing Amazon to find a good deal on baby wipes. And my husband looked at me and simply said “You know Ansley can see you, right?”
I don’t want my kids to become so dependent on their devices that they are no longer awed by the world around them. I don’t want videos of animals to take the place of seeing them in person. I want them to run and play and rides bikes and be home when the street lights come on. I want them to catch lightening bugs and get dirty. I want them to go to the circus.
So, I challenge you. And myself. Set aside a device free time each day. Maybe around the dinner table. Maybe just before bed. It will be like pulling teeth, but start small. And make the commitment yourself. Allow your kids to see you doing the very same thing you ask them to do. And if you are scared and overwhelmed and don’t know what to talk about, stop by the Women’s Care Center and grab a Let’s Talk Box, full of conversation starters for these very moments. And, I’ll do it too. I’ll put my device down and watch the play. After I buy tickets for the final performance of the Greatest Show on Earth.