When I was a kid, the 4th of July was our summer vacation. Our family traveled to my aunt and uncle’s house every year, where we’d celebrate the holiday and my grandparents’ wedding anniversary. There was always an anniversary cake. My brother and I ran around with our cousins, visited with my grandparents and great-grandma, and played on the tire swing. My uncle loved holidays. He always bought a stash of fireworks that rivaled the town’s display. It was both disturbing and magical to watch him hold a Roman candle as the colored stars were ejected into the air. It seemed we had been transported to a different world that day. We stayed up late, sometimes wrapping ourselves in blankets, as we sat on lawn chairs and watched fireworks explode over the lake.
Who can compete with this sort of family celebration? We don’t celebrate like that any longer because my uncle and aunt are both deceased, as are my grandparents. Those were the good old days.
I’ve felt bad that my boys have never really experienced much joy or excitement on the 4th of July. It really isn’t their holiday. They are a little like Colonel – even if they can’t chew through a garage door, they don’t like the loud sounds and explosions. They dislike parades. It’s too much sensory overload. We watched fireworks a few years ago, and Isaac refused to get out of the van. When he finally did, he was not interested and covered his ears. Noah schooled Henry on the physics of fireworks and their voices were so loud that people were giving us the evil eye. Nobody was thrilled. It was a disappointment for all.
When the boys were younger, getting out of routine was nearly impossible, and we’d pay for it for days. If Noah got into bed after 7:00 p.m., the only way to calm him was to set back all the clocks to convince him it was really 6:45 p.m. It was best for everyone if all boys were in bed at the regular time, even on a holiday.
We drove to my mom and dad’s house for the 4th of July this year and ate lunch. We shared our flag cake that Noah and Henry decorated. It’s about as patriotic as we get these days, but it’s our 4th of July tradition.
I was grateful for the invitation. We don’t get invitations often because our kids can’t always do what everyone else is doing. Sometimes it’s disastrous. I told Sue she was a brave soul to invite us. She emailed, “We’ve really built our braveness muscles in the past couple months. You Rouws are a breeze.”
When I told the boys about the sparklers, Henry said, “Aren’t those dangerous?” We’ve never bought sparklers before. Everyone was too fearful. He wasn't interested in being close to sparks or fire!
That evening we sat on the porch and chatted, while the kids took turns jumping into the inflatable pool Sue bought for $7 on clearance at Wal-Mart. (Be still my heart.) The kids had great fun splashing and tossing a Barbie into the sky. Sometimes her head was attached to her body, and other times it wasn’t. Laughter rang in the air.
Isaac didn’t interact with anyone for a while. He went in and out of the house so many times I lost count. He loved the sound of the door when it slammed. Our hosts said they weren’t bothered. (I think they were being nice because it nearly drove me mad.) I told Isaac to put his swim trunks on, and I went inside to find the little firecracker totally naked sitting on the toilet, which was an appropriate room in which to be fully undressed, even though he left the door wide open. Eventually he jumped into the pool with the others and took turns. He was laughing and smiling – and wearing trunks.
It wasn’t lost on our hosts. Sue said, “I love seeing Isaac getting into it, too.” Todd remarked that a few years ago when we were at their house, Isaac never took off his coat. It was Isaac's way of saying he wanted to go home.
After some coaxing, Noah and Henry followed Mason and Lily’s lead with the sparklers. They watched as Todd lit the black tablets that changed into coiling snakes. At one point, Noah held a sparkler in each hand and sang, “America!” with his strong voice. Lily, Henry, and Mason ran to the sidewalk and blew horns at cars passing by.
We ate ice cream together. Mason caught a lightning bug. My heart was happy. It was priceless to see all my kids interacting with friends; for those few hours, it seemed effortless. It felt like a new step – a new kind of independence – one that didn’t include meltdowns, judgment, a bulldog, or fireworks on the lake. It was exactly what we needed.
Let freedom – and doorbells – ring!