Kendra Squeo and her tuckered cowpoke via instagram.com/ksqueo
The key to surviving the livestock show with kids is to accept the fact that you are going to step in some shit, both literally and figuratively. Regardless of the matter of this shit--animal excrement, toddler tantrum, or long carnival lines--you've got to shake it off and keep going.
Yes, except for you, Super Parent of Exceptional Children. You might go about taking your children to the rodeo as my sister-in-law planned her wedding day: 7:55 a.m. In line to enter grounds, highlighted and annotated schedule and Chick-fil-A free passes in hand; 8:07 a.m. Commence walking to dock dogs demonstration via Marketplace; 8:47 a.m. Mandatory bathroom break, fresh diapers for all! As in all situations pertaining to childrearing, you are the exception, and yes, if your child had his own goat, he would be the one winning that scholarship. Read no further, for you clearly know what's best.
This is for everyone else--maybe not for my friend Jenn who believes all large animal events exist in their own private circle of Hell, but for parents who are eager to share this San Antonio tradition with their little cowpokes but worry that their children's behavior could earn them a spot in the wildlife exhibition.
Try to remember that you're not at the livestock show with your kids, you're taking your kids to the livestock show. While I don't advocate for martyrdom for the sake of your children's delight, you're probably going to have to keep your kids reasonably entertained in order for you to have a good time. Here are some tips to help you do that.
1. Go on Dollar Days if you want to save your money. Go on a random full price day if you want to save your soul. On Presidents' Day and every Friday of rodeo season, San Antonio descends upon the AT&T Center for dollar grounds admission and rides, popcorn, hot dogs, and sodas at the carnival. Large crowds also gather on Family Day, the final Sunday of the season, when a coupon from Chick-fil-A grants free admission and a $5 parking discount. That's a big savings, considering that regular admissions prices are $10 for adults and $5 for children over the age of 3, but only you and your threshold for crowds can decide if it's worth it. Go early to avoid the afternoon rush.
2. If you can't leave the stroller at home, fill that beast with supplies! When the crowds thicken, you'll want easy maneuverability. Push a stroller, and you'll get stuck behind slow walkers and at the bottom of the bleachers. But if you've got to bring it, load up with kid snacks and drinks and wipes, wipes, wipes! Large farm animals equals poop everywhere, so you'll also want those wipes when you get back to your car. Wipe down your stroller wheels or your car will smell like the inside of a Diaper Genie.
3. Pick two or three must-see events, but let your kids set the schedule. There are many engaging activities, especially in the Family Fair area: petting zoo, pony rides, wildlife exhibits and demonstrations, pig races, that carnival your kids have been pestering you about, and Little Buckaroo Farms, an interactive learning experience for kids that includes a milking area. If the Family Fair area gets overwhelming, go west to the Texas Wildlife Expo to see dogs flip through the air to catch frisbees over a swimming pool or blow your kids' minds by introducing them to the miniature horses up north at Horse Discovery. Need a place to rest and give your baby a bottle? Grab some seats at the horse show or at any ofthe other livestock competition arenas. It's all fun, so just enjoy wherever your toddler scrambles.
4. Talk to the cowboys and the 4-H kids. You don't need to pay $20 to snap a cellphone picture of your kid on a glassy-eyed, taxidermied bull. Talk to the people working the livestock stalls and demos and ask them to introduce your kids to the real deal. Older kids will get a better awareness of the real work that goes on before the big show, and the free picture of your child's wonderment as he tentatively strokes a calf's muzzle is way more special than a Glamour Shot.
5. Embrace your inner cowboy: farm equipment and beer. The outdoor alley between the two main livestock buildings must have been master-planned by a parent. One side has tractors, rideable mowers, and other farm equipment on which children are allowed to play, and the other side has food and beer. Give all valid driver's licenses and cash to an adult representative, and send him out with your beer order. Two beers per ID. Hope that he finds the cashier who won't make him open the cans at the counter so that you can tuck extra cans in your diaper bag. The nice farm equipment representative will even give you a free koozie for your beer.
6. Don't set yourself up for disaster. Unless you want to say "no" and "don't touch that" a thousand times, do not go in the Marketplace. It's not as cool as you're hoping it will be. Leather products, pocket knives, silver crosses for your wall. Consumable nostalgia is not worth the potential for your curious kid to lock you into a purchase of a dozen mangled dreamcatchers. And if all of your kids are under the age of 3, don't bother taking them to the carnival. If you do go, buy your ride tickets inside the carnival area, where the lines are significantly shorter.
7. When people give you and your kids funny looks, enjoy looking back. The SA Livestock Show and Rodeo is fascinating, not just because of the animal events but also because it affords some of the greatest people watching ever. People come from all over the country to show their animal children and skills at animal control. Some days, it feels like I'm doing that, too. So when my son starts screaming because I won't let him collect goat droppings at the petting zoo, I like to straighten my posture, my hands poised like an animal presenter: Ladies and gentlemen, cowboys and cowgirls, my ill-behaved child.
8. When it stops being fun, pack up and go. This might seem obvious, but many people, myself included, sometimes squeeze onto the attitude, I paid for this, and we are going to stay and have fun, damnit. I'm not saying that you shouldn't attempt to coax your children's enjoyment with cotton candy and HEB swag, but when the magic from the glowy toy has worn off and your children are tired, it's best to head out towards the sunset.
The San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo is going on now until February 24th at the AT&T Center, 3201 East Houston Street, San Antonio, TX 78219. For more information, visit sarodeo.com.