For the five years we've lived in Alberta, we've always gone to the Sneak a Peek at the Calgary Stampede, for several reasons: I hate crowds, I'm cheap, and we believe in experiencing the culture where you live. I'm amazed at the number of people who have never taken their kids to the Stampede, as it has become a big part of our family summer tradition, and a key building block in what my kids will remember of their childhood.
When Jason and I lived in the greater Vancouver area, we always attended the Pacific National Exhibition in late August because it seemed to be a quintessential part of the lower mainland experience. Sure, it costs money, but it's so much fun, particularly in Calgary where the whole city goes cowboy-crazy for ten days.
I don't think I was as conscious of the process of building my children's memories when Ava was very small, but as they have grown, I've enjoyed looking at the different traditions we have established, and feel proud of the impact these annual events are having on their minds and emotions. Traditions anchor our memories to something solid and sure, provided the feeling around them is happy and not stressful or painful.
It's fun to look for more things to add into our rotation. They don't have to cost money. They just have to be regular, and enjoyable, and the expectations have to be kept reasonable for the age of each child. I have had to work at this, but I'm slowly improving. I used to daydream about what an event would be like, and fail to factor in the tired toddler having a meltdown, and my daydream would crash into reality and they would not be at all the same thing.
I try to plan for the best and expect that if it goes sideways, we'll still have a story for our collective family history. As they get older it becomes easier. There is no more baby equipment to haul around, or allowance for naps, and very few meltdowns. Now we can stay out later and do more all together, which is a beautiful stage to be in.
My kids are also old enough to remember these events from year to year, and say, "Remember that time we had deep fried oreos on the midway" or "I loved that ride last year and I want to go on it again!" Each memory becomes another layer in their childhood experience, and it's so fun to share it with them.
Sneak-a-Peek only costs $8 for gate admission (kids 6 and under are free) and you can get 56 credits on a ride pass for $36 at Safeway. After $20 for parking, the only other cost is for food. That's why I love attending on the Thursday night before Stampede really gets going, because I feel like I'm saving money, and there are no lines for the dream home or Superdogs or anything we like to watch or ride. It's relatively quiet, and I've always felt safe, and we have so much fun that I try not to sweat the twenties flying out of my wallet for mini donuts, frozen lemonade or fish and chips for dinner. It's all worth it in the end.