Prize Winning

By Debbie Farmer

In the eight years I've been raising children, I've learned a lot about life. The main thing I've learned is that no one, no one, ever feels the same way about a prize they won from a carnival game once they get it home. Let's face it, no matter how much of a good idea it seemed at the time, a nine-foot stuffed gorilla doesn't have the same ambiance in, say, your living room as it did hanging from a hook alongside a basketball hoop. I'm not sure why this happens. Perhaps all of the flashing lights and loud music creates a mysterious force that compels you to spend tens, sometimes hundreds, of quarters to win something that you wouldn't take home from a garage sale for free.

So this summer, when my family dutifully made the rounds of county fairs and carnivals, I made up my mind that there would be absolutely no throwing darts, tossing Ping-Pong balls, shooting baskets, or any other kind of physical action that might result in winning a prize. However, any fool knows that all of the good rides are on the carnival midway, strategically placed somewhere between the coin toss and the rubber ducky pond.

Sure enough one sunny afternoon, as we were strolling towards the Tilt O Whirl of Death minding our own business, I heard a voice call out from the water gun races, "Win a jumbo Pokemon of your choice! Only one dollar!" I tried to ignore it, but I could tell by the way my five-year-old son was jumping up and down and pulling on my elbow, that it was too late.

"Hey, Mom," he said. "Can I try? Pleeeeease?"

I considered telling him all about the mysterious force and the flashing lights and loud music and all that, but I knew he wouldn't understand.

"Well, OK," I said. "One try." After all, I told myself, I was a good mother and wanted my child to be happy. Besides, what were the chances of a person who had just learned how to aim into the toilet accurately, hitting a target the size of a quarter with a water pistol?

Imagine my surprise, then, when he came in second place. So, naturally he wanted to try again. And again. And again.

By his fifth turn I finally worked up the courage to do what any smart parent would've done after the first try: I told him it was time to stop. Then I moved to lucky water gun number eight and handed the attendant a dollar.

"Stand back," I said, taking aim.

Of course, life and genetics being what they are, I didn't win that time. Or the next time either. I plopped another dollar onto the counter.

"What do you think you are doing?" my husband asked.

"I'm going to win a jumbo Pokemon," I said. "What does it look like I'm doing?"

"But those kids are all five-years-old," he hissed. "You can't play against them."

"You're right," I said. "But if I stay here long enough they will eventually go away."

Sure enough, after three more tries I finally came in first place. And for a brief moment, as I turned to give my son a high five, I was more than a suburban mother whose biggest challenge is getting her family to eat all of the four basic food groups. I was a bona fide water pistol champion. A WINNER.

"Mom, why are you jumping around and yelling like that?" my son asked.

Now, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that the minute I get home and regain my senses I will regret spending $57.00 to win a $10.00 stuffed animal. And you are probably right. But, for now I'm going to enjoy my place in the carnival sun. Besides, in all of the years I've been raising children, there are two other important things I've learned about life: 1) deep down it's not really the prize that matters, it's the fact that I made the day more special for my son and 2) no matter how much money I spent trying to win a giant stuffed animal, it could've been worse -- at least we didn't try the goldfish toss.

Debbie Farmer is an accomplished freelance writer published in magazines around the country. Her book "Don't Put Lipstick on the Cat!" is available from, or in bookstores everywhere.

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