Small Prizes

Our family spent the day at Knoebels this past weekend. As a part of my husband’s employee “Family Picnic” experience, we ate a big lunch, rocked our matching t-shirts, and hit up our favorite rides. Being a sunny Saturday in June, it was packed, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves. An amusement park is what you make of it. When the line was too long, we skipped the ride. When the sun got too hot, we hit up the ice cream stand and found a bench in the shade.

Everyone has their favorite ride. I can hang around on the trains all day and laugh at the stealth squirrels that hop around the park looking for free corn handouts. My boys like the coasters and the water games. Scattered throughout the park you can find booths where you pay a quarter to squirt water out of a high powered nozzle at these crazy Rube Goldbergian scenes. Hit the knight and he chases the damsel! Shoot the fire out of the high-rise windows! Set the flags spinning on top of the castle! You don’t win anything, but it’s still really satisfying.

We don’t really play the other games of chance all that much. For me, it’s a combination of never being able to win and not really needing the thing they want me to spend $10 on. But if you have your heart set on a that four foot rasta banana then go knock yourself out. I won’t judge. When the bears were little it was hard trying to explain to them the odds of winning were frustratingly slim. Then when you did win, all you got was what they considered the “small” prize, like a green disfigured stuffed duck or a noisemaker. You had to win so many small prizes to trade up to the medium, then repeat until you get to the large prize you actually wanted.

Every parent has been in this situation. You have a hot, sticky, tired, sugared-up kid who is nanoseconds away from a complete meltdown and you’re stuck. You can’t win, literally or figuratively. I’ve tried all the arguments, that the crane machine is rigged to the prizes are really small. The only tactics that I’ve found that have worked to combat the midway madness is avoidance and bribery.

As an adult the tables have turned. Avoidance and bribery aren’t always appropriate when I’m at my meltdown point. I almost have to treat myself like I was the little kid on the verge of exploding because things are not working out in my favor. I have to cling to the mini victories in life – the small prizes – and trade them in for larger ones when the timing is right.

When the bears were small enough to take to Chuck E. Cheese they would eagerly gather up all their tickets and feed them to the ticket muncher (my favorite part) to get one final receipt. Then they would spend longer at the prize counter picking out tiny lollipops, tattoos, or sticky hands than they did playing the games in order to get the tickets. Every trip we would try to convince them – hey, why don’t you save up for next time and get a big prize? Nope. A fistful of dum-dums now was WAY better than an action figure later.

I get it now. I take what I can, when I can, and enjoy it. I’ll relish just spending time with my guys and not fret about missing out on riding the Phoenix or the Twister. There will be times when holding on to the small prizes is the right thing to do and times to trade it all in for the big banana. We won’t know until it happens, will we? Today, I’m just going to make the most of what I’ve won.

Karen Padden

Karen, Queen of the Paddens and first of her name. Teacher, Baker, Petter of Cats, Multiple Sneezer and Crocheter of Wubbies. Believes in kindness, always.

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