The circus family that wasn’t

My family spent last week in Florida together. By family, I don’t just mean parents; I mean both my parents, my three siblings, my sister’s boyfriend, my dad’s parents, my dad’s sister and her husband, their son (my cousin), his wife, and their three daughters. All in one rented house. For a week. It was loads of fun.


Aside from the obligatory day spent at Disney World (it rained; we wore ponchos), we spent time at the botanical gardens, at the movies, and driving around (this really did feel like an event in and of itself when nine people were crammed in for a couple hours every day). Also, we went to the circus. Everything else we did required the presence of my siblings to make it fun because people who like to laugh make everything fun. But the circus— THE Cirque du Soleil— could have been empty, I could have been utterly alone, and it still would have mesmerized me. The silks, the tightrope, the trampolines, the wooden things on strings that four girls threw around in perfect unison! The jump ropers, clowns, bike riders! They are artists. Every single person on that stage knew how to control their body in ways most people never know. To balance like they did— even just to pretend to be bad at it— requires an awareness and strength I envy.

So, of course, I tried the most basic of basic moves when I got home to assure myself that trapeze-as-a-hobby is within my grasp. Only without a trapeze. On the ground. What I did was practice my handstands. And then my family found me and joined in. We took turns showing off; it’s what we do.  After an episode (every episode we watch together) of So You Think You Can Dance, we get up and practice the coolest-looking moves: on the beach, in parks, at the airport— we have gotten down. (Ok, we haven’t actually danced at the airport— we aren’t that weird— but my sister and I did practice a one-arm up, one-arm down pushup at the airport last week. Which does make us weird; I get that.)

Dad, cousin's daughter, brother

Dad, cousin’s daughter, brother

Sister, sister's boyfriend

Sister, sister’s boyfriend



But that wasn’t the weird part.

As I watched the circus artists perform their art, I thought, This could have been my family, had my dad chosen to join the circus. That could have been ME! — partially because I romanticize what could be rather than looking at what’s in front of me and partially because I have this idea of the circus that people get into it by either being born into circus families (like I could have been!) or by having such strange and unique talents that their only chance at a vocation is to join the circus. I don’t know where I got this idea or if it is even remotely true. But instead of following that thought with the reality check of something along the lines of, You overestimate your potential, and when has Dad ever mentioned even wanting to join the circus? I went with it. I imagined my dad as a young teen, strong yet goofy, signing up with a circus (is that even how it happens? by ‘signing up’?). I imagined him meeting my mom the same way they met, only instead of doing whatever it was he actually did when they met (carpentry?), he was a circus trampoliner. She fell in love with him the same way she did when they actually met— instantly— and the rest is parallel-universe history: they had four kids, and each of us found our niche within the safety of the circus world. I, of course, would be a trapeze artist. Caitlin would be a trampoliner, like our father. Caleb would be the balancing juggler clown. Connor would be a dancing clown whose goofiness belies her wit.

I could see it so clearly. And I wanted it so bad.

Which is when I started ‘practicing.’ I was working out the feelings, the yearning for a life I missed out and won’t ever have, the one in which I am a star on a hanging bar doing graceful things and looking strong. It’s an image I can’t seem to shake. But then my mom came up the stairs, and then my dad and my siblings, and we all started enacting our interpretations of what we had just witnessed. We laughed. We fell. We laughed more. I was with my family. Doing circus stuff.

I was born into a family that does circus stuff.

So maybe that’s not the same thing as an actual circus family. We can barely do handstands on carpet against a wall, let alone bounce from a trampoline to the roof of a fake building and land on our hands. I’ve only taken one trapeze class, and the woman had to help me (and everyone else, thankyouverymuch) get on the bar. Caleb’s decent at juggling, but he has been known to break a glass jar of jelly in a grocery store honing his skills. There is no resemblance between what we do and what those in Cirque du Soleil do, except that we admire them and aspire to be them, if only in another life.

And yet, we have each other. We are close like I imagine those who grow up in circus families to be close. We try things out; we have our quirks; we laugh a lot. We have loads of fun.

I may be a dreamer, but I can recognize when something is good. And what I have is good.

Together for the first time in a long time

Together for the first time in a long time


With Granny and Gramps

With Granny and Gramps

Disney Day

The Disney Day


4 thoughts on “The circus family that wasn’t

  1. I am so grateful every time one of you four expresses your love of family – our family. It is affirming, that in spite of all our parenting goof-ups, we hold strong to each other – we love each other – we enjoy each moment together – we share in each other’s joys, struggles, sorrows, achievements – we give each other room to be. I thank God for this! And while we’re living in a parallel universe, I want to be in the circus, too. I want to be a gracefully goofy, adorable girl clown who can also do gymnastics. It doesn’t matter that I can’t do a cartwheel in this life, right?! I love you, Trapeze-and-Silks daughter!

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