It's been many years now since I've seen a display of Independence Day fireworks.
As a child, I never missed them. A number of times, our family made the trek all the way into D.C. for the occasion, walking blocks and blocks with blankets tucked under our arms and playing cards stuffed in our pockets. Most years, especially the more recent ones, we stayed close to home but still had to walk a fair distance and battle traffic on the way home. It was always a tradeoff- some amount of hassle for a short period of enjoyment- but I looked forward to it every year, all the same.
As a young adult, I even worked for the City of Rockville one year, helping to set up the stage, assisting in organization, and minding entry points to keep unauthorized personnel out of restricted areas. At the time, I resented having to put in hours on what should have been a holiday, but I'm grateful now for the memories of the time I spent behind-the-scenes of a major city event.
However, particularly in my college years, I tended more toward the cynical, and began to battle with my once-pure feelings of patriotism and pride. I felt guilty celebrating with abandon the birth of a nation that found its beginnings in the decline of a prior civilization (though, didn't all nations start that way, to some degree?). Though I was intensely grateful for the freedoms that I enjoyed, I wasn't at all sure that I was proud of what America had come to stand for (and I'm still not really sure just what that is).
And so each year, I began to make excuses. One year, it was an overcast sky. Another, it was the heat. Yet another, I didn't even try to blame an outside force- I simply declined to attend.
Then I became a mother, and my reasons since have been strictly logistical. I haven't felt entirely comfortable bringing along young babies who should be in bed well before the festivities begin, and who would likely startle and scream at the volume of sound that accompanied them. Especially as their numbers have increased- from one, to two, to three- I've felt less and less capable from an organizational standpoint, anyway (that is, when there weren't crazy-damaging storms sweeping through and causing the cancellation of local events, as happened last year).
As for my conflicts and doubts, they've been tucked far away behind day-to-day concerns:keeping naptime schedules; preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner; changing diapers; cleaning hands and faces; reading books and building block towers. I've hardly the time for such stray thoughts as I struggle to find a spare moment just to do the little extras, like impromptu photo shoots for the benefit of loved ones far away (and because they're fun).
The day never goes by unnoticed, however. If nothing else, it's a reminder to me of many things for which I should be, and am, quite thankful.
With my head so close to the ground among the chubby-handed, short-of-stature majority in my household, my focus is no longer on the larger question of what it means to be an American citizen; it remains caught up in the finer details of my life:
How well Michael fits into that 2T shirt that looked so enormous on the hanger.
The realization that Michael has discovered a safer, sturdier way to descend the slope of our backyard: on his tush.
A tender moment between my father and my youngest child.
The awesomeness of boundless energy and unstoppable determination.
The beauty to be found in my own backyard.
The endearing (and disgusting) nature of sweat-soaked toddler hair...
... complete with creative growth patterns.
The many faces of Mia.
Family resemblances (though she's not modeling it here, Mei Mei has a bit of a reputation in our family for her tendency to stick her own tongue out in times of great concentration).
I realize now, as the fireworks start their drumbeat outside my window, that I am glad of them, and glad of where I am. Though I am not, myself, taking up a vigil on a blanket in the cooling summer air, I am heartened by the knowledge that some child out there is bursting with pride at the sight of colorful rocket art against a black sky, and applying that same pride to love of country.
I will never regain that youthful naivete, but I have come to realize that whatever weaknesses our country may suffer from, they should not quash my hope for a better future. I need not spend my time considering whether my pride is pure or rightly-earned, but rather, in nourishing my faith. Faith that a happier future may perhaps lie ahead, in the hands of those very same pint-sized beauties who so monopolize my existence.
I worry sometimes that I've lost sight of the larger problems around me as I retreat more completely into the raising of my family. But really, it is good for me to be focused on their small details. The job of raising them is, after all, the most important one I will ever have. Should I do it well, one day they may have a part to play in the betterment of their struggling country; their struggling world.