I've always believed in a little magic.
And after a cross-state move, starting a new job, getting children acclimated to a new school system and learning to navigate York County, I was definitely in need of some enchantment.
So my husband, our three children and I set out for Hershey's Giant Center to see the opening night of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's latest incarnation "Dragons." We expected tricks and treats, athleticism and acts of bravery, well-trained animals and whimsy.
I did not expect to have a large fountain drink spilled on me, someone else's toddler firing a sippy cup at my head, a tall gentleman (the same person who spilled the drink) behind me repeatedly kneeing me in the back of the head, or leaving the event with what is probably a broken toe (thank you, lady at the end of the row who decided to wear high heels to a circus).
But I've never been one to let a few mishaps spoil some magic.
The thing about talented performers is they make you forget what just happened because there's always something better to see.
Highlights: For our family, those better moments came when eight members of the Torres family rode specialized motorcycles inside a 16-foot steel globe, zipping around at 65 miles per hour within inches of each other.
Dressed in orange-and-black glow-in-the-dark costumes, the riders strategically managed paths that were both parallel and crossed in front of each other. This was especially impressive to our 5-year-old son Ty, who is learning to ride a Spider-Man bike without training wheels.
Another high point came when the Flying Caceres soared through the air on a double-decker trapeze, somersaulting from bars to each other's hands in a symphony of athleticism.
Lessons, too: That act also provided a teachable moment, as one of the family members failed to connect with the next bar and instead twisted to a safety net below. Getting to his feet again, he gracefully bowed to roaring applause.
"It's nice they still clapped for him because that was a total mistake," our 8-year-old daughter Cienna said.
I later explained the crowd realized there wasn't a person in the audience who hadn't made a mistake -- the five of us included -- and we simultaneously admitted we barely have the skill required to climb onto the trapeze, let alone leap from it.
More important was the grace the athlete showed when he stood up after his fall, I said. When you screw up, it's so much better to own it and move on than to make excuses or be too proud to admit the mistake.
Our youngest son Dimitri, who rocks 3 years old better than anyone I've ever known, was most impressed with the fleet of trained Asian elephants, horses, rescue dogs and cats.
Any and all of the animals were far more accomplished than any pet we've ever had -- in our house, the goldfish have always been smarter.
As Ringling Bros. frequently says, the circus-animal menagerie represents animals from 10 pounds to 10,000 pounds.
Growing up with cats who did little more than eat, it was remarkable to see domestic felines walk across a low wire, balance on balls, jump through hula hoops and walk across parallel bars using only their front paws.
But perhaps the most impressive act at the circus came in a moment of realized personal growth.
The last time I went to the circus, I was in Pittsburgh -- a place I called home my entire life. It was time for a change, but it wasn't easy to say goodbye.
However, I realized last night that as difficult as it can be to leave a place where your children took their first steps, that sense of loss doesn't compare to the joy a parent can gain from seeing their kids take new steps in the journeys of their lives.
That's the real magic.
-- Reach Candy Woodall at 505-5437 or email@example.com.
See the show
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show "Dragons" is open through Monday at the Giant Center in Hershey.
Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, at 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, and at 1 p.m. Monday.
Ticket prices range from $25 to $80.
For more information, visit www.ringling.com or www.ticketmaster.com or call (800) 745-3000 or (717) 534-3911.