You get four balls for a dollar. You're supposed to land a ball in one of the red glasses. I am already $16 into this. Boing, boing, boing, boing. Make that $17.

"This," I say to Jennifer, "is why I don't gamble." I have a hard time not winning. I have never won anything. I have always wanted to be one of those people you see walking around the county fair carrying a giant stuffed Fred Flintstone or SpongeBob or Scooby-Doo. A winner! Today is the day I will make it happen -- for my kids. And isn't that noble? Don't my heroic intentions earn me special favors with the gods of carnival games?

Boing, boing, boing, boing. No, apparently, they do not.

"Just let Dan do it," Jennifer says to me. "He always wins these things."

This news doesn't help. Dan is Jennifer's husband, and my contractor. A few hours ago, we ran into them and their two kids and his parents at the fair. It was wonderful seeing the whole family together. Last I left off with Dan, his 8-year-old daughter, Kierra, was just coming out of one in a long string of surgeries. And now here they all are, happily frolicking at the fair, with Kierra in a wheelchair because she's still quite weak.

And so my family and Dan's family ended up doing the fair together, all of us in one big lump. It was hard to tell if we were tagging along with them or they were tagging along with us; I suppose it was a little of both. It's interesting to do a fair with another family. You benefit from a new fair style. I'm used to my sisters and brother, Type-A fair-goers who study the map and plot out how to accomplish everything. Dan's family goes more with the moment. They actually sit on benches and . . . talk! Also, they aren't afraid of fair food. Led by Jacob, 13, they do ice cream, corn dogs, deep-fried pretzels stuffed with cream cheese, and just whatever horrible thing strikes their fancy. This inspired us. In fact, at this moment, Alex, my husband, is over at a table tackling a castle of funnel cake topped with ice cream, strawberry goo and whipped cream. Complete strangers have commented on the probable carbohydrate count of this sugar event, prompting Alex to go defensive. "Half of this is just whipped cream. There's a lot of air in here!"

So this brings us to my current efforts to sink a ball into a red glass. I might be able to give up if it weren't for the enticing prize: a giant stuffed Rainbow Dash. This is a blue pony with a rainbow-colored mane that is featured in cartoons and storybooks and that happens to be my 5-year-old daughter Anna's favorite character on this Earth. I've already asked the woman at the booth if I could just buy the darn thing. But, no. I am $25 into this. Boing, boing, boing, boing.

Dan comes over, plunks down a dollar. Boing, boing . . . plop! Red glass. I can't believe this. The woman climbs a ladder to get to the giant Rainbow Dash, hands the mammoth thing to Dan. Dan hands it to Anna, who nearly faints with joy.

I can't believe this. There is so much I need to say. But first things first. "What about Kierra?" She's been so sick, she's in a wheelchair, forgodsakes; give the pony to her. Dan says don't worry about it. Kierra is off playing carnival games with her grandmother; she's having fun. I run over to Alex, tell him everything, demand that he be the hero and win something for Sasha, our currently toyless 3-year-old. He looks up at me as he shovels in the last load of strawberry goo. He does not look like a hero.

I see Kierra approaching in her wheelchair. To everyone's delight, she has a giant stuffed toy in her lap. (What is with this family?) It is, to my horror, a giant stuffed Sparkleworks, an orange pony with a sparkly mane, known to be Rainbow Dash's best friend, but more importantly my daughter Sasha's favorite character on this Earth. Oh, dear. Oh, well. Kierra has a look of sheer delight as she approaches her parents. "I won!" she is saying. "I won this for Sasha!"

Excuse me? "But now I have to go win something for Anna," she says. When it is explained to her that her father has already done this, she says, "Oh, good job, Dad."

What is with this family? I am starting to get a sense of the type of people whom the gods of carnival games smile favorably upon, and I'm realizing how much work I have to do.

And so my girls get to be kids walking around a fair with giant stuffed toys. I am so happy about this that I can barely breathe. "This is amazing! I've never won anything before!" I shout into the night sky. "Then again, I guess I still haven't. Heh heh."

Later, I tell Dan I'm in awe of his daughter and her generous spirit. He smiles, shrugs, says he's used to it.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.