Have you ever thought you were doing something good for your family and it turned out…well, not so good?
Recently a local cultural center sponsored a Frontier Day festival in our community that included many activities for children.
Seems like a great way to spend a Saturday having some fun together as a family.
Or so I thought!
When we arrived at the festival there were many activities for the toddlers to do. We started with the arts and crafts then made our way over to the moon bounce.
What interested the toddlers the most was riding on trailer stacked with bales of hay and pulled by a tractor. So we took a spin on the hayride.
As we returned from the hayride, some Pony Express riders were warming up for a demonstration. Then we watched as the riders raced the horses at full speed around a track and handed a baton off to one another at full gallop. It was thrilling to watch and to imagine how real Pony Express riders did it in the frontier days!
And best of all, when they finished with their demonstration, they took the children for a ride on their horses.
Kaleb and Kenzie got a turn and big brother held little sister tight as they rode around the track together on a horse led by one of the Pony Express Riders.
As they were finishing their horseback ride I noticed a gunslinger talking with one of the Pony Express riders. He was telling the rider that the gunfight would start in a few minutes, but they would wait until all the children were off the horses before they began their show.
I suppose that should have been a clue to me of the intensity of the event that awaited us, but all I could think was, “Oh boy, the children get to see a re-enactment of an Old West gunfight!”
And, it probably should have occurred to me that in a gunfight, somebody gets killed and toddlers cannot always distinguish pretend from reality. So they might not understand that the gunfight was only a dramatic re-enactment. That it was just entertainment.
So the show began and we stood on the sidelines watching. The actors were dressed in full gunslinger attire with real guns! The “good” guys are on one side and the “bad” guys are on the other side. One side accused the other side of stealing their cattle, the thievery was denied, someone pulled a gun, and that’s when the shooting started.
Real guns using blanks are quite noisy and smokey. As I watched the toddlers watch the staged gunfight, I expected to see happy faces and shouts of joy. Instead I observed looks of terror rising up on their little innocent faces and they put their hands to their ears to try to muffle the sounds of the gunfire.
Yes, they were terrorized by the whole event! And then, of course, it seemed like the shooting would never stop!
But it finally did when all the bad guys were lying on the ground dead (and needless to say, all of the good guys remained unscathed in the exchange of gunfire)!
“Children, it’s not real!” I exclaimed. “It’s just pretend!”
But they would not take their hands off of their ears, fearing the loud noise from the shooting might start up again.
So I knew that our fun day at the Frontier Day festival had come to an abrupt ending. As we prepared to leave I pleaded with the toddlers to take their hands off their ears. (Besides being embarrassing, I didn’t want anyone to know that I had just allowed these babies to be traumatized.)
As we walked dismally toward the car a line from a poem by the eighteenth century Scottish poet Robert Burns popped into my head:
And leave us naught but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
As we drove away they finally removed their hands from their ears.
In a little while Sissy asked, “Where are the bad guys?”
“The bad guys are far, far away,” I said, reassuringly. “And from now on Poppy will keep the bad guys away!”