The Iowa State Fair from a Mom’s Perspective

Yesterday, Boys #1 and #2 and I marked the last day of summer vacation by attending the Iowa State Fair. For those of you who are from Iowa or have attended the fair, you know what this entails. For the rest of you—wow. I don’t think my description will even do it justice. Picture tens of thousands of people of all kinds gathered in one place for 10 days in a row. (And yes, some people actually do stay the entire 10 days!) The smell of pig manure mingling with the aroma of pork chops on a stick, deep fried Twinkies, and fresh-squeezed lemonade. Wonderful and nauseating at the same time.

In honor of our adventure, I give you the highlights and lowlights of the Iowa State Fair, according to me and the boys.

The Highlights:
• Watching Boy #2 and his class, and the rest of the Ankeny Dance groups perform on the Ann and Bill Riley Stage. Even though it was kind of hard to do knee slides on cement and despite the fact that Boy #2 tripped and fell at one point (but quickly jumped back up and KEPT ON DANCIN’), all of the groups were warmly applauded (and the little boys even got some hoots and hollers!).
• Boy #2 experiencing his first foot-long hot dog, and Boy #1his first turkey drumstick (which looked like something a caveman would’ve gnawed on). Oh, the food! There is so much to choose from, and as I was already hot and tired (as you will read about in my “Lowlights”), I didn’t feel like wandering the fairgrounds for my favorite Pork Producers meal or that Louisiana stand I’d heard about, so I settled for a foot-long hot dog myself. Nothing like 12 inches of ground-up animal parts to curb the hunger!
• The baby animals were a huge hit. If you’re not from Iowa, yes, we have cows and pigs, but we also have ostrich farms! The babies were adorable, as were the baby goats, chicks, and ducks. The ducks were even trained to go down a slide! It was soooo cute and almost made me forget about the time I got spanked by a mama duck when I was 2 because I was trying to pet her baby. (Traumatic experience!) The boys especially loved the baby pigs. Having been around farrowing operations before, I know that there is nothing much cuter than a baby pig, but that window of cuteness is mighty small! It’s not long before they get big, ugly, and quite smelly!

• Butter-rama. Perhaps one of the most iconic sites at the Fair is the Butter Cow. Yes, it is what it sounds like. A cow. Made out of butter. And not just a miniature cow carved out of a pound of butter. This is a life-sized cow, carved out of 600 pounds of butter. This year, we also got to see—yes—the Butter Shawn Johnson. You know you’ve made it to the big-time when your image gets sculpted out of a dairy product! Sorry, no picture of Shawn Johnson-Parkay. Although we DID see the sculptures, we didn’t want to wait in the 45-minute line to walk directly past the dairy case, but here is a photo of a Butter Cow, courtesy of the Iowa State Fair Web site.

• Celebrities. Much to Boy #2’s delight, we not only got to see the Budweiser Clydesdales, but we actually got to see the entire hitch team parade down the street, including the dalmatian from the commercials! Yes, we even saw Hank! They are the most beautiful and majestic creatures. We walked past the horses as they were in their pens, and, wouldn’t you know it, the thing that Boy #2 was most fascinated about was one of the horse’s genitalia, which was protruding quite prominently. Okay, I have to admit, that thing was HUGE and looked disturbingly of the human variety. Nevertheless, I didn’t expect my 6-and-a-half-year-old to proclaim for all to hear, “Wow! Look at his pee-pee!” [Yes, ashamedly, we taught the kids “pee-pee” instead of teaching them the “anatomically correct language” when they were little. I blame it on the fact that I grew up with no brothers and didn’t know any better.] Boy #2 went on to say, VERY LOUDLY, “Wow! His pee-pee is so cool!”
• No Vendo-Land imitation ice cream. Thanks to my friend Emily for reminding me to not settle for ice cream anywhere but the REAL Dairy Association barn, where they served hand-dipped homemade chocolate, strawberry, and cookies & cream cones. Mmmm…. (Can you tell my favorite part of the fair is the food?)

(Notice there are no pictures of me eating MY ice cream? Yeah, that’s because I snarfed mine down so fast it couldn’t even be captured on film.)

• The Super Bull. Over 1300 pounds of all-male bovine beauty. I’m pretty sure he gets all the ladies.

• Live fish and dead rodents. The Department of Natural Resources exhibit is someplace I always found extremely boring growing up. Who, I wondered, cares to see all the different kinds of fish that inhabit Iowa’s rivers, streams, and ponds? Apparently BOYS do because this was definitely the hit of the day. As a mom of 3 boys who grew up in a house of 3 girls, I’m expanding my horizons and learning to appreciate the way the boys study the fish and quiz each other on the different varieties, as well as the light in their eyes when they tell me, “Mom! That’s just like the one I caught last week! Well, it was ALMOST that big anyway…” Boy #2 was also mesmerized by the animal pelts and skeletons that they could touch and try to identify. The naturalist behind the counter met her match when he walked up, firing question after question at her, including, “Is this where its brain was?” and “How did its brain get out of there?” The building also had a putting green station (BONUS!). I think my boys’ Heaven looks remarkably like the DNR Building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

• Family nostalgia. I think my dad MAY have gotten a little misty-eyed when he spotted this Minneapolis Moline tractor, almost exactly the one he had for many years as a farmer. I know he was proud to show my boys, and the boys were excited to learn about it too. Those darn farm implements—I always SAY I’m not going to cry…but they do it to me every time!

The Lowlights:
Yeah, where should I begin… Oh, yes, how about the two-hour near-standstill traffic jam I was in just to get TO the fairgrounds! Seriously, it wasn’t pretty. Not to mention the fact that I was trapped in the car with two of my boys, who were either fighting, making annoying noises, or throwing things and hitting me in the head while I was trying to “drive”. Fortunately, my parents called and were a couple blocks ahead of me, so they let me cut in front of them. Then as I’m watching the clock, noting that it’s now 10:36 and we’re supposed to be at the stage at 10:45, I notice the flashing sign ahead that says, “Fairground parking near capacity. Find alternate parking.” Now, this isn’t really a problem considering the majority of the people that live anywhere near the fairgrounds seem to make their entire year’s income during this 10-day stretch by charging people $6 to park in their yard. (They really don’t seem to mind having permanent ruts in their yard and only a few sparse patches of grass.) However, this meant that we were going to have to walk run a looong way in an extremely short amount of time. In 85 degree heat. Good times. So after being waved into a spray-painted parking spot that was barely wide enough for my little Nissan to fit into, we ran about 5 blocks or so to the entrance of the fairgrounds, all the while weaving around and past the slow and aged (Of course it was Senior Citizens’ Day!), jumping over potholes, and taking turns carrying a 45-pound boy on our backs. Then came begging someone in the front of the ticket line to let me cut and more running THROUGH the fairgrounds this time, dodging corn dog vendors and MORE slow old people. When we finally got to the stage, less than 5 minutes before Boy #2 had to perform, sweat was LITERALLY pouring off my face. My hair was wet, my eyes were stinging from my salty perspiration, and sweat was DRIPPING off my nose. Yes, I was a vision of beauty. And no, none of the other dance moms looked like me. Most of the rest of them looked as if they had just stepped out of their own personal hair and makeup trailers, all fresh and pretty…and UNSWEATY! But we made it, so at least making my sweat glands work overtime was worth it!
• The crowds. Yeah, did I mention that it was Senior Citizens Day? AND it was supposed to be one of the nicest days of the week. I suppose that’s why there were people EVERYWHERE! I couldn’t walk without bumping into someone or jabbing someone with the free yard sticks the boys insisted on taking from the Varied Industries Building. But they weren’t ALL 65+. There were definitely all ages of people from ALL walks of life. You could seriously injure yourself by getting overstimulated just from people-watching! We even saw a pirate standing in line for an ice-cream cone. By the end of the afternoon, I was more than a little tired of the crowds, especially when I was trying to walk on the sidewalk when this nasty-looking couple started making out right in front of me. Yes, I saw tongue—up close and personal! I nearly threw up my foot-long hot dog. Not that it would take much…
• The looooong walk BACK to the car after a long, hot day. Sweating. Panting. More sweating. Throbbing feet. Whining kids. More whining . More sweating. FINALLY—our car! Then screaming as the kids get burned by the black leather seats that have been baking in the sun…

As I told Husband when I got home, “It was fun, but I think that will tide me over for the next three years!” Who am I kidding? Next year, I’ll get “Fair Fever” again and will find myself wandering the fairgrounds in search of the World’s Biggest Boar and a funnel cake.

P.S. I only WISH I had that worn that great shirt to the fair that I featured at the beginning of the post. This comes from Des Moines’ own Smash, which seriously has the world’s best T-shirts (and no, they’re not ALL about Iowa).


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