Thursday, April 7, 2011

I am a Homeschool Carny...

Did you ever go to fair or a carnival when you were a kid? Do you remember the guys who would holler out to you as you went by, “Three shots for a dollar!” “Try your luck!” “See the bearded lady”…Carnies.

And I am one.

Back, and back again I remember when the carnival came to town.  Mud encrusted vans and trucks pulled up into a deserted farm field that the day before had been home to bunny and bird. There was slamming and banging, men and woman jumping out of the vehicles and scurrying to replicate some grand theme park.

Catalogs ready to go.
With pneumatic tools and lots of muscle, Ferris Wheels, Tilt-A-Whirls and my personal favorite-- The Scrambler-- would rise from the trucks and dust, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. The bright plumage of the rides made the brown field look old and tired.
My Carnival, ready and waiting.
 Then, when the last rivet was in place, families and young lovers would stream into the area with bright happy faces and change in their pockets. The Carnies would beckon from their booths to come spend your money with them.

They always seemed a bit over-anxious and scary to me. I kept to the middle of the aisle, lest one should force me to spend my quarter trying to shoot too-big balls into small hoops. The glitter from the outside seemed a bit scary when I was on the inside.

Books and Banners--kind of like a ring toss!
When the lights went out on that final night, and all that could be found were the cast off cheap stuffed toys and the sticky cotton candy cones, and when all good children were home in their beds—then the Carnies began the rather depressing job of taking down the magic. And, before dawn, the carnival was gone and all that remained was a dust-bowl field with large gaping cracks in the earth, devoid of grass, fun or anything shiny. 

In our sparkly convention clothes-notice no sequins!
Several years ago a circus came to a field about a mile from here. It was much the same, but less glitzy. An actual elephant helped to raise the “Big Top” and it was glorious to see. It was during the week, on a school day, so the only people out watching were the myriad of homeschoolers in our area. Even as an adult, the glory and wonder of it are etched in my memory.

Tigers and lions lounged in giant, open sided semis that were fitted with strong iron bars as one triumphant elephant used her enormous gray head to straighten a tent pole. The men, sweaty and strong, pounded in huge tent stakes. It was the stuff of story books and Disney movies, and we were there. I didn’t see the circus that year because I gave my ticket to one of my older sons, but the memory of that old field becoming a circus lingered in my thoughts long after the elephant was lead to her semi and traveled to the next town, and the one after that.

Ready to go to the next town.

I sell homeschool curriculum at state conventions; this is my 13th season. This year while I was packing up to go home after The Midwest Convention in Cincinnati, which hosted  5000 families, something occurred to me that I had never thought of before,

"I am a Carny.” 

Our Circus Wagon.

I roll into town in my large pick-up truck and we back into the loading dock of the convention hall. We haul hundreds of pounds of catalogs, books, racks, flooring and more to a forlorn looking 10x30 foot space and begin the hard, sweaty work of making it into a curriculum showcase.

The Big Top after the show is over.
Foam floors are fitted together, shiny tablecloths cover tired tables, book racks unfold and open their arms to hot-off-the-press books. We raise banners with nothing but our strength and crawl under tables to hook up the electricity so that the computer and DVD player will spring to life.

We put on our sparkly carnival clothes, comb our hair, pinch our cheeks so we look healthy, put on our smiles and wait for the doors of the convention hall to open. Our adrenalin is pumping as the doors open and we can’t wait to be an encouragement to homeschool parents.

 I think moms can understand best what it feels like when those convention doors open. It is a lot like labor--when the contractions come over you, and you can feel them coming, and all you can do is meet them head on, stay focused and wait for them to do their work.

Conventions are like that.

The doors open and the people rush in in waves, all wanting to see what we have in our booth—all wanting to talk to us. We meet them head on, stay focused and we go to work, helping them as well as we can. We stand at the front of the booth and beckon them to come in…”See our curriculum. It is the best. We can help you teach your children.  Throw a ball—make a basket—read our books!"

Yep, I am a Carny, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When the lights go down, and the crowds go home, all the education and fun and glitz go back in the tubs. The shiny tablecloths go back in the box, the tables fold up, and we unplug our gadgets, put on our jeans and tee-shirts and are off.

It is kind of sad to look at the littered floors and ugly black extension cords lying around like orphaned puppies—but that is the life of a Carny. Move to the next town, jump out of the truck and do it all over again.

I am a Homeschool Carny—who would have thought?

Take care,


  1. One of the best parts of being a carny is the family. It is a highlight of my year. Glad to be in your family Jill!

  2. What a great analogy! Ditto what Tonya said!

  3. We Carny people stick together. I think we are an odd bunch.