The Magic of Summer
Even before my daughter Becky was born, we took her to Maine for as much of the summer as we could. We crashed at a friend’s place for the first several years; then later we were able to rent a place of our own. Maine was our destination not just because of the clean air and the crystal water and the blueberry cake. We went to Maine because it’s a place where magic can be found. And for an urban child, magic is a necessary thing.
Our summer vacation tapped into a kind of magic different from the merchandise displayed in the wizard or princess aisles of any kids’ store. It was a more elemental magic – a magic that came from being outdoors, from taking a step back from life in the fast lane. Things move fast in the city, even if you’re in a stroller.
In our regular life, we gave Becky rational, pedagogical answers to her many questions. The stars twinkle because they are so far away. Flowers grow because someone planted them. Thunder is no more than temperature changes, and currents of air.
But on vacation, those answers did not seem right, or even true. Stars twinkle because they’re trying to say hello to you. Flowers grow because the fairies scattered seeds. Thunder is the sound of the trolls at play.
On vacation we allowed things to take time. Projects that would have to be cleaned up in a small apartment had a way of spreading out in a summer house. Time slowed down, and magic flooded in. We built fairy houses, waved at mermaids; we looked for signs of pirates and we were never disappointed.
The summer I knew the magic truly worked was the summer of Aaron Carter. Some of you reading this will remember Aaron as your own crush – he was the adorable little brother of the cutest member of the Backstreet Boys.
Our good friends at Nickelodeon had worked their young viewers into a fever about the Aaron Carter Special, which was airing on the day Becky would drive up to Maine with my husband. (I was to follow two days later.) The Aaron Carter Special would reveal Aaron’s inner thoughts and feelings. It would show us the private Aaron – the Aaron we’d never seen before. The Aaron Carter Special would unlock the key to Aaron’s heart. It could not be missed.
Of course there was no TV reception at the summer house, much less cable. So Becky was going to miss the single biggest television event of the year.
She was 7 years old and we were criminals. We were stopping her from knowing Aaron as others would know him. We were preventing her from seeing the program everyone else would watch – and talk about. It was the equivalent of banning her from the season finale of Mad Men.
She begged us to let her stay an extra day. She sobbed. She pounded her fists on the table. And we almost cracked. We came very, very close to shaving a day off her summer vacation so she could stay home and watch the Aaron Carter Special.
To this day I can remember shutting the car door as my husband and daughter set out from upper Broadway, the car packed to the gills, for the eight-hour drive. The rain was teeming down. My daughter was literally wailing as we strapped her into her seat. I don’t even know if she said goodbye.
I walked to the subway crying myself. Had we done the wrong thing? Had we denied her the one true symbol of her own independence and separation from us: her love for Aaron Carter?
Cell phones were a rarity back then so I did not hear from them as they drove the long hard drive up I-95 through Connecticut and Massachusetts and New Hampshire to Maine. (Not to mention that once you get to Maine, it’s another three or four hours before you get to where you want to go.) Was she hysterical the entire trip up? Was I the world’s worst mother for not understanding her needs?
Finally, at a little after five that evening, when the rainstorm was long over and the sun was beginning its descent toward the horizon, the phone rang. It was my husband. “How is she? How is she?” I asked, still a little frantic. “Is she okay?”
“I’d put her on,” said my husband, “but she’s out looking for fairies.”
Put some magic in your children’s life this summer if you can. Whether it’s in Maine or upstate or Central Park. Turns out it’s even better than an Aaron Carter special, and it can last a lifetime.
Margaret McNamara is the Christopher Award-winning the author of the Fairy Bell Sisters series, about Tinker Bell’s little sisters (who live on a magical island). She has also written a number of picture books, among them How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?, The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot, and the Robin Hill School series. She lives with her family on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.