Hey there! Hoop-la! The circus is in town!
Have you seen the elephant? Have you seen the clown?
Have you seen the dappled horse gallop round the ring?
Have you seen the acrobats on the dizzy swing?
– From “The Circus” by C.J.Dennis, A Book for Kids, 1921

Circuses in Australia have changed somewhat since C.J. Dennis wrote his poem. But I bet that the sheer awe and wonder that they generate are the same.

I love going to the circus. I marvel at the feats of strength, agility and dexterity. The courage and daring. The concentration. The infectious excitement of it all. Everyone does their own stunts. Nothing is computer generated. It’s all real – unfolding right before your eyes.

For some years now, when one circus or another has come to town, the Wombat family has talked about going but has never got around to booking tickets. Well, last holidays, thanks to Hubby Wombat’s organisation, we took Dancing Wombat, Free running Wombat and Littlest Wombat to Circus Oz with one of my brothers. I also acknowledge that, unlike many families, we could afford the expense.

In true teenage style, Train Wombat claimed that it was overrated and chose to stay at home. Okay – fine. It was a shame, because I think that he would actually have enjoyed it, but we didn’t push him.

We were, however, a bit uncertain about how Dancing Wombat would react. She finds it hard to sit and concentrate on any sort of performance – whether live or on film. It saddens me that she won’t sit and watch some TV with her brothers, preferring to watch the same YouTube music clips over and over, by herself, in her room. I understand there are multiple sensory issues that challenge her, amongst other things. Nevertheless, I think that if we could just find the right environment and the right performance, she’d get a lot out of it.

Despite this, Dancing Wombat is slowly developing her ability to manage an occasional outing to the cinema. She has now successfully watched two movies with us – Zootopia and the BFG. Interestingly, both involve characters who are a bit different, and need to make extra efforts to find their place in the world and be accepted for who they are. So I was hopeful that maybe, just maybe, she would be engaged by the circus. I knew that she could sit still-ish for close to a couple of hours. The performances would move at a reasonable pace, with multiple acts to spark and maintain her interest. I hoped that the music wouldn’t be too loud, or the lighting too intense. But she was keen – always a plus! So, Hubby Wombat and I felt it was worth a try.
Circus Oz programWell – here’s my plug for Circus Oz. It was brilliant! The performers were brilliant. And Dancing Wombat loved it. Despite asking every five minutes during the first half when were we having dessert (‘at interval, for the tenth time, sweetheart’), and then in the second half, when were we going home, she was engaged pretty much the whole time.

I was amazed. This was wonderful, on so many levels. Dancing Wombat really was watching closely what the different performers were doing. She pointed out the funny things – like the lady getting undressed while standing on the man’s head – then getting redressed in the clothes that he had removed while she was still balancing on his head! She marvelled at the scary things – like the performer winding himself up then unrolling himself at speed on the aerial silk. She “got” some of the funny, punny jokes that the crystal healer-cum-tarot-reader-cum-would-be levitator was cracking. She even enjoyed the music, which was not only the background to the performance but part of the performance itself.

It was such a relief to be with her at a performance, not feeling the need to hush her, comfort her, encourage her, sustain her, point out things to her, just keeping her going for the sake of everyone around her. I can’t help feeling that it sounds selfish, and I know it’s part of having kids, but sometimes, I’d just like to sit back and enjoy the show for myself.

So, you might ask, why not leave her at home? Clearly, she doesn’t want to be out – for whatever reason – if you have to do all that. Yep, that’s a valid view, and one we often consider, and heed. But there’s also a strong part of me that says if she’s never challenged, or exposed to a variety of experiences, she’ll never have the opportunity to discover things that she might actually enjoy doing. (Like indoor rock climbing with the Girl Guides years ago – where she excelled.)

Strange as it might sound, I think it’s actually unfair on Dancing Wombat to allow her to always take the easy option. After all, what sort of a life would it be for her for the next sixty years, sitting on her bed, reading the same magazines over and over? Lining up the same Lego dolls? Doing the same 300-piece jigsaws so often that she practically knows each piece by name? Personal growth comes when we venture outside our comfort zones. My fervent hope is that eventually the desire to engage in different things will come from her. In the meantime, I feel it is my – our – responsibility to draw her out into these different activities and experiences.

So – back to the circus. As I said, it was brilliant. But we found out the true measure of the impact that it made on Dancing Wombat at the end of the show, after the final applause. She turned to me and asked, “Can we come back again next week? But this time, during the day, when I won’t be as tired.”

Hallelujah! Or as C.J. Dennis might have said, “Hoop-la!” I was astonished and tremendously pleased. Rarely has Dancing Wombat expressed the desire to return to any sort of live performance.

Until next time ‘the circus comes to town’, maybe I could teach Dancing Wombat how to juggle? Two balls to begin with – that’s all I can do! Keep it simple, and achievable. After all, it will be good for her motor skills, hand-eye coordination, concentration, create another topic of conversation…

Until next time, Happy Wombatting!