Every now and then I find the courage to leave my house with the kids. It isn’t easy, as any suggestion that we move from Point A to Point B is an affront to their senses.
If I suggest that we walk around the block, my son will scream, “No!” as if someone has asked him to enter a cage of vipers or pat an unknown dog. Suggest that we go to the beach, and my daughter will be jubilant until she learns that no, she cannot go swimming in 34-degree weather.
On one dull Saturday afternoon, I found myself flying solo with the kids while my husband engaged in the Sisyphean task of renovating our home. The coronavirus epidemic was continuing to cramp our style, leaving my kids few options for play. They were at each other’s throats, viciously tearing apart Lego structures and flying the other’s flimsy paper airplane without written permission from the family lawyer. We had to leave before they started making snowflakes that resembled troubling Rorschach tests.
Out the window, gray clouds pressed at my vision. It wasn’t raining, but it was dark, and within an hour, the sun would set. If we didn’t leave soon, my children would pack their bags and pretend to move to Mars. At this rate, I might join them. I was feeling lethargic and desperate to move my body beyond the walls of our home. In a panic, I suggested: “Want to go to the beach? Or for a hike?” Cue: wailing.
My son’s eyes brightened. “Let’s go to Mackworth Island!”
My heart leaped at the possibility that my children would willingly go somewhere. I took one look at the overcast weather and knew this could be our chance to visit one of the most beloved parks in the state of Maine.
You may be wondering why my darlings were willing to go to this one place. Of course, the island is beautiful: wooded and surrounded by water, accessible only by a long causeway. A lone trail and secluded beaches wind around the periphery. Large wooden swings appear at intervals, perfect for a quick snack or makeout session with a significant other.
The beauties that attracted others were but trifles to my children.
The real attraction of Mackworth is the island’s fairy village. Dozens of fairy houses inhabit the woods, most of them lovingly cobbled together with sticks and bark. There is even an official sign welcoming tiny builders and cautioning against the use of artificial materials (read: trash) in their creations. Reading the sign aloud is pure magic for children, as it inspires them to break ground with a gusto rivaled only by an all-expenses-paid trip to the snack bar at Aquaboggan.
The trouble is that Mackworth is popular with adults as well as children. The grownups come for the sweeping ocean views, but they also come for our parking spots. While the adults may enjoy the charm of the fairy village, they do little to contribute to its upkeep. In fact, some bring ruinous dogs hellbent on destroying the fairy houses whether through games of fetch or haphazard urination. These are the parties stealing parking spaces from the upstanding fairy champions otherwise known as my children. I hoped that the island fairies would keep this in mind as they magically doled out parking spots.
We knew the rules: natural materials only, so before leaving, we plundered my garden, snipping browned rhododendrons and petrified hydrangeas. We were determined to build a fairy house that distinguished itself from the others.
Of course, the spaces at the head of the Mackworth Island causeway were already taken – not that I could imagine dragging two small children across the narrow, windy causeway. So I drove on, hoping that I would slide right into a parking spot and deliver to my children access to the most exclusive fairy resort in southern Maine.
Unfortunately, the cars were 10 deep, and with the sun setting in 45 minutes, it was futile to hold on to hope. I hit the breaks and started hatching my escape plan.
My son knew we were doomed the moment he laid eyes on the line of cars choking the causeway, and while I had conned them into the car with the promise of visiting the fairy village, the truth was that I needed this more than either of them. I needed to be somewhere, anywhere, other than our house.
As if sensing my need to primal scream, my son’s wails erupted from the backseat. My daughter – who takes her emotional cues from her surroundings – struck the higher note in their chorus. I practiced deep breathing as I executed a 32-point turn on the narrow road between our dreamland and the mainland.
In desperation, I asked, “Want to go to the Audubon?” (the place where children’s Mackworth dreams go to die). Then the clouds started spitting rain. I drove home, two beautiful screaming children crying intermittently, syncopating as if this were all part of some grand musical plan.
Once we pulled into the driveway, my son raced inside, shouting, “I’m never building a fairy house again!” He ran into the living room and tore cushions off of our couch, angling them into a miniature A-frame and topping it with blankets. He went on to build a fort that would be the envy of any fairy taking a close look at the Maine real estate market. My daughter had also found a way to occupy herself by placing naked Barbies in a circle and chanting over them as if enacting a sacred ritual.
Seizing this rare moment of peace, I climbed aboard my stationary bike, which sat facing our icy gray backyard. Though the pandemic had kept us between four walls, my children’s imaginations were alive with creativity and stories, scantily clad dolls and a living room in tatters as my evidence. I had even found a way to exercise – even if it meant pedaling into oblivion.
Shana Genre is the 2021 Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance Martin Dibner Fellow in Memoir. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, The Belladonna Comedy, Slackjaw, and The Museum of Americana. She is a school librarian in Portland, where she lives with her family. Despite her better judgment, Shana will be performing stand-up comedy at Aura on June 17.