“We’re going to try and have an adventure, ok?” I gently cajoled.
“Really, what is it?” They asked. I shook my head, “I want it to be a surprise.” They blurted out guesses that quickly began to make my plans for an afternoon at the county fair seem kind of lame.
“Nope,” I said trying to keep my spirits up as I weaved defensively through the weekend traffic.
“Mom, is it ok if I take a nippy-nap?” Finley asked quietly.
“Sure, of course. Do you feel sick?” I asked worried.
“Yes, do you feel sick, Fin? Are you going to throw up, because if you are we should stop,” Briar said in a mixture of fret and lecture.
“No, I’m just tired.”
I wondered if I was trying too hard. Sean was going to be home after midnight and another day of going it alone with the flowers on Mae’s grave stopping us all in our tracks made me think getting out would be a relief. The thing is I am hopeless at getting places; my inner compass and instinct always guides me left when I should go right, south when the destination is north.
We got a little lost, but I didn’t lose it, not when Siri, who I only used at the girls’ insistence said, “Boy, that’s quite a distance from where you are,” and not even when the farmer on the side of the road, in response to my question, “Can you tell us how to get to the Washington County Fair?” began laughing.
An hour into what should have been a 30-minute drive, I let go of expectations and just tried to give myself to the current of the day. It was hot. There was a dramatic wrenching right of the steering wheel in bumper-to-bumper traffic to beat the tide of car-sickness. There was the lingering veil of loss, missing Mae and wishing that Sean were with us. Oh, and the last leg of summer, I’m-kind-of-sick-of-you, sibling rivalry. Then we made it.
We walked a half a mile from the parking lot to the admission gates. It was easily another half a mile to the rides. We stopped to see the animals. The girls gasped and exclaimed, the big girls reading aloud the signs of each animal’s lineage. I smiled, proud.
“So this is why you had us not wear our new shoes, right mom?” Avery asked as she side stepped a large pile of manure.
“Yup,” I grinned. We walked through the tents and barns remarking on the smells and sounds. Avery snapped pictures with her camera, Briar lingered at each pen holding her hand up gently and whispering to the animal, “Yes, yes, don’t you, don’t you like this? I love you. Yes, yes, I do.” It’s hard not to wince at how unwaveringly she wears her heart outside of her body; free to anyone she meets and startlingly open to hurt.
Despite a large breakfast and snacking before we left, the girls quickly needed a bite. I shepherded the girls past onion blossom shacks and fried dough wagons. I reminded myself that we were at a fair. “Chicken tenders, girls?” They squealed. After buying the food I scanned the area. “Mom, are there tables? And shade?” Fin was still off from the car ride. I found a patch of grass and shade on the ground behind a ticket booth and beneath a ride called, “Chaos.”
We sat over plates of greasy food. Sweat pooled in my shirt, both sides, and I struggled to enjoy an experience that I had little control over.
“Is it good?” I asked as they dipped French fries in little plastic cups of generic ketchup while Counting Crows crackled from the speakers on the ride above us. “Awesome! Mom, look, that lady lost her shoe. It flew right off!” I looked up and sure enough there was a bare foot whizzing by.
“Wow,” I said.
“Can we go on the Scrambler now?” Ave asked.
“Sure, Fin and I will stay here. When you’re done let’s pick one that she can do too.” They ran off nodding. Finley and I watched and laughed as they zoomed close and away; a blur of whipping hair and flapping hands.
Next we hoofed it to the slides, I was grateful for the three lanes, “Look, we can do it together!” They sidled up next to each other in the line, claimed their carpets from the ride operator with a cigarette wedged between his lips, and made their way up the rickety steps. I chided myself for thinking of tetanus, germs, and mange as they bubbled over about who would take the teal one and who would be pink or purple.
We broke apart so the big girls could ride something called “Rock and Roll” while Fin and I rode the Ferris wheel. I may have mentioned rides don’t come naturally to me, which seems to enhance the girls’ enjoyment of the rides. I teetered between terror, remorse, and relief that I said yes.
As our supply of tickets ran down we bought more. I declared each ride, “the last one, ok?” We’d walk along with them counting quietly, “One, two, three—thank you mom!” and me saying, “Ok, one more, pick one you all want to do.”
A headache nipped at my temple and I took a slug of water. As I gulped it occurred to me that I hadn’t cried all day, hadn’t yelled either. I gave Briar and Avery the last few tickets and asked Fin if she wanted to sit with me. She nodded and slipped her hand under my shirt and rubbed my waist.
We left slowly, weaving our way through the barns again. Goats, bunnies, pigs, cows, horses, chickens and ducks. We walked past monster trucks and motorcycle displays. We passed through food tents, 4H booths, and hand washing stations. When we got to the parking lot they asked to take a courtesy cart to the car.
“Sure,” I said. Their heads whipped, shocked. I am usually very much a, “Nope, you have to walk,” kind of mom. It was hot, the car was so far away, and the cart was right there. They hopped on as excited as if it had been another ride.
As the man drove of us over the bumpy field I slipped away in my mind, reflecting on how it was ok, we were ok. It’s ok that we aren’t happy every minute, or eating clean at each meal. Getting sticky and sweaty is a part of summer; climbing the walls and getting car sick are all a part of this whole thing.
Just like with the laundry room, I found myself pretty proud that I braved an unfamiliar drive with all three girls and let go of (most) of my worries. It was fun and we all needed it.
Have you learned any life lessons this summer?