ANCHORS AND SAILS: Going solo at the fair

Brenda Kelley Kim
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“The empty nest is underrated.”

– Nora Ephron

OK, my nest is not yet empty. While my children are adults, one still lives at home, and it works out well. She’s in school and working full-time, so anything I can offer to support her is fine with me. Recently though, I had the chance to do something I only ever did with kids. I went to the Topsfield Fair…by myself! For years I took the kids to the fair. We patted every bunny, mooed at every cow, ate apple pie and ice cream, curly fries, fried dough, and footlongs, and came home sticky and dusty but happy. I hate to brag (OK, I don’t hate it, I actually enjoy it), but my middle boy was the Jr. King of the Topsfield Fair in 2004. It’s been a big part of my time as a mom of littles and my kids’ childhoods. Sooner or later, however,  the kids hit the age where they want to go with their friends, not their mom. Even before COVID, the fair seemed a thing of the past. If you can’t take kids to the fair so they can ride spinny things and puke on the way home from too much junk, why even bother going?

I would have given it a pass this year, except I won tickets. It was an Instagram thing, and while it was fun to win, I’m still uncertain about how it happened because Insta is a mystery to me. Especially the part about a “story.” Still, something must have gone right because I won four tickets. As it happened, no one I knew could go with me, including my kids, so I went alone with the plan of randomly giving away the other three tickets to unsuspecting strangers. Pro tip: randomly giving away something is really fun. It was a total surprise when I won the tickets; why not share that? 

I wandered around the fairgrounds, stopping at exhibits I wanted to see. I was also doing some research. There is a lot to choose from in fair food, but it’s a bad idea to overdo it and have one of everything. I might have wanted to have all the junk, but discretion is the better part of avoiding what would surely be a long night of worshipping the porcelain god in my bathroom. Once the food choices were decided, it was all about the animals. I might be fifty-something, but I will still moo at every cow, say “bah bah” to every sheep, and talk to the bunnies like they are my long-lost friends. Do you know how cool it is to watch a cow get milked? Or a horse get shod? Seriously, the horses calmly lift up their hooves while some big strong guy pounds nails into their feet. Of course, the cows can get a bit cranky at milking, but can you blame them? 

Another bonus was getting to avoid the carnival rides and games. First, it saves quite a bit of money when you don’t have to fork over $10 (per kid!) trying to win some tiny stuffed animal I could buy at any dollar store. When it stops spinning, there’s no screaming at the top of the Ferris wheel. Full disclosure, the screaming was me, but only because, at the time, the kids were too short to go by themselves, so I had to accompany them. Still, when I found a seat at a picnic table to enjoy my sausage-pepper-onion sandwich, there was a mom with a boy about five years old. He was anxiously awaiting his turn at the midway, playing games and getting dizzy, but mom just needed a minute, and who could blame her? He started chatting with me about rides, and it was then that I missed those messy days of sticky hands and merry-go-round rides. I remembered my boys on one of the kiddy rides, with the cars that fly around in a circle. An older kid wanted the seat my four-year-old was in and said to him, “I’m seven, and I could beat you up!” My older boy was in the car behind them and said, “Oh ya? Well, I’m 12, and I’m his brother so keep it moving, buddy!” I missed the chatter from my daughter when she was five and wanted to name all the baby chicks that were hatching. Five minutes later, though, I was making my second pass through the building with the quilts, and it occurred to me that the times I had kids with me, I barely got to make one quick pass through the quilts before the nagging started about going on yet another ride or playing “just one more” squirt gun game. 

Maybe we shouldn’t think of the nest as empty. Perhaps we should start calling it “roomy” or “spacious?” Maybe instead of being sad about what’s in the past, we can celebrate the parts of being unencumbered by the big demands of small children, like getting to finish a piece of pie or skipping the line for the haunted house. There will always be times when our kids are at sea, their sails full, their course set for adventure, while we are anchored back in the harbor, bobbing around in one spot. That’s how it’s supposed to be, so perhaps finding a way to enjoy it instead of mourning it is a good idea? Trust me; the kids come back. Not always to stay, but if you have groceries in your fridge, a meal on your table, or even a soft place to land? They’ll be back. 

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