When I was a kid, the best 4th of July celebrations were at my Grandparents’ house in Long Island, NY. This was not the crazy, strip-mall filled, traffic snarled, suburban sprawl that covers most of the Island, but a sleepy little beach town on the north shore. Every July 4th the entire town becomes one big beach party, with a huge bonfire on the sand where each street meets the beach. Everyone would swim and barbeque all day, then at dusk, we’d head down to the water for the bonfire and fireworks. If memory serves, these were not professional fireworks shows, but amateurs who got their hands on the real thing. It was all perfectly “safe” since the fireworks all went off over the water—most of the time, except sometimes when people threw them in the bonfires, but I digress … Anyway, I loved lying on the beach with my cousins watching the fireworks explode right above us, with little sparks sizzling into the water after every sparkly burst.
I moved to Wakefield in 2003 and it took a few years before we learned that someone had to set up chairs on the parade route really really early in the morning or we would never be able to see. Now my husband sneaks down and puts our chairs out at 5am. (Although rumor has it there are chairs out there now, as I write this, on Monday.) We aren’t really into the activities that start early in the day. I don’t think my kids are too keen on the idea of their bike/scooter/pet decorating skills being judged by strangers, so they have never really been inclined to participate. This is totally fine with me. I don’t need any more projects.
The rest of the day is usually spent barbequing with friends, watching the parade, more hanging out with friends, then eventually heading home to watch the fireworks. Every year the kids talk about staying by the lake to watch the fireworks show, but every year either tiredness, or mosquitoes or the want of a real bathroom gets the best of them. So far, we have been home for the fireworks every 4th – watching from the street with our neighbors. When the kids were really little they would watch out the window from my oldest daughter’s bed. They would fall asleep in a pile at the end of the bed, under the window. When the show was over, we would carry them back to their own beds. They are too big for that now, but I know they all look forward to the events of the 4th.
Tasha Schlake Festel
Every year it happens. In the week leading up to July 4th, the old Project Manager in me rears her ugly head. We start discussing plans for the town-wide kids’ bike decorating contest, fleshing out ideas that will meet the needs of the stakeholders (judges), that can be accomplished with the resources available (by the kids with very little parental involvement), and will come in on time and under budget.
I’m trying my best to relax, but if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a fairly high-strung Type-A personality who likes to be in control. It ain’t easy for me to let go. Of anything. Ever. Especially if there is a prize to be won.
My poor kids.
After biting my tongue and calmly guiding the children through the design process, we shop for patriotic supplies of all sorts. This is always tricky. I want to win. Um, I mean… I want the kids to enjoy the process of decorating and be proud of their finished products. But I don’t want to break the bank. Seriously, with just a stinkin’ trophy as the prize, the ROI (return on investment) just isn’t compelling enough for me to spend the big bucks. However, every year they manage to pull together some really great entries, and every year I am a little less involved. For instance, this year, my 8-year-old has made it perfectly clear that she does not want my help, only my money. (Why do I see this as foreshadowing??) Somehow, before bedtime on July 3rd, the bikes are done and loaded in to the van, ready for competition on July 4th.
Wakefield is such an awesome place to celebrate July 4th. The celebration on the Common is what July 4th is all about as far as I’m concerned: family fun on a hot day in a small New England town, complete with kids, high school marching bands, politicians, firetrucks, and over-priced blow-up toys from surly street vendors. Ah, America!
It would take a lot to convince me to leave Wakefield for July 4th. After the competitions are over and the sting of losing the decorating contests and running races has faded ever-so-slightly (let’s face it, the numbers are against us), we head home for some lunch and relaxation, gearing up for a neighborhood pool party. (As a side note, I have the best neighborhood ever in the history of the world. Yes, it’s better than yours. Really.) We swim, we laugh, we eat, we drink, and then we skip out early for a parade party.
I always joke that I trolled up and down the parade route, hoping to find a friend at whose house I could watch the parade. Well, it just so happens that I have a lovely friend who lives on Church Street, and it just so happens that she has an Independence Day bash every year. Score! Love her, love her party! It’s perfect. We see everything with the convenience of clean bathrooms, great friends, and good food.
After the parade, we saunter on home and relax on our patio while the kids play in the yard and we guzzle some adult beverages, eat pizza and wait for sunset. Living in the old-fashioned ‘hood that we do, we gather together once again to outfit the kids in glow stick bracelets and necklaces and lie in the grass on the front yard of a friend’s house and enjoy the spectacular light show.
I consider myself to be a patriotic person and an all-around family girl, but something about July 4th in this little town brings it all together. There’s nowhere that I’d rather be than in Wakefield on Wednesday.
Happy Birthday, America!
This week my mom asked me what I was writing about. “Fourth of July traditions,” I said. “But, we don’t have any traditions...” she said. “That’s what I’m writing about!”
There are some major holidays where we have some pretty serious traditions, matching pajamas for 10 at Christmas, for example. The Fourth of July is not one of those holidays. Growing up we spent a lot of time at the Cape, so the 4ths that I can remember are at the beach. I remember watching fireworks over the water from Nani’s porch a few years in a row, and getting new bathing suits for the 4th with one of my best friends. Nothing was set in stone though, and that has carried over to how my family now celebrates the 4th.
When Ryan was little, we drove home from the Cape one 4th of July night. We left the Cape at bedtime-ish so we were making our way down 95 through Boston at dark. For every city and town we passed we saw little bursts of fireworks all throughout the sky. Hearing 2-year-old Ryan exclaiming every time we saw another burst, it was one of the best 4ths we have had!
Once Lily came, and Ryan got a little older, they have wanted to see fireworks at night. The past few years we have happened to be in the area for the 4th and so we truck on down to Lake Quannapowitt, parking at Mo’s and walking the rest of the way. We pick a spot, fight the bugs, and wait for the fireworks. I absolutely love fireworks and the kids just love staying up late and hanging out with us, but Tom would rather be home watching the Boston Pops and singing along!
This year, Ryan and Papa are going to have the best 4th together. They are best buds and they go to the White Mountains every summer and hike to their Secret Spot. This year they will wait until sunset, head above tree line, find a comfy rock to sit on, ready Harry Potter with their headlamps and wait for some New Hampshire fireworks. If I could apparate and join them I would, but I think this year Tom and I will snuggle the girls on the couch and listen to the musical stylins’ of Mr. Lockhart. Who knows what next year will bring :)
Mmmmm! Love, love, love Independence Day! Many of the other days of the year, I feel guilty about not exuding more overt patriotism. On Independence Day, though, I can happily join in on all the flag-waving without feeling judgmental about whether I or those around me live up to the standard of what being an American requires. Of course I fall short, but for that day, I am alive with hope and excitement about what makes America great: her generations of citizens who exhibit courage, bravery, generosity, resourcefulness, integrity in their daily lives, through their own free will. The expanse of sheer opportunity and possibility for success and adventure spreads out abundantly before me.
I count myself a cautious optimist on most days- I’m happy to see the positive side of things if you can give me a little help seeing it. On Independence Day, though, I’m true-blue happy optimist, through and through, and can’t wait to share it with our boys. We talk about freedom and opportunity, sacrifice and responsibility. We say a prayer of gratitude to God for all our blessings. We also try to show them proper flag etiquette- from how to treat the flag itself (Please, no dragging it on the ground!), to how to behave when it’s on display (hat removed, mouth shut, hand-on-heart optional).
Following a tradition that I love from my childhood, we sing all the patriotic America-loving songs we can think of on our way to Aunt Sally’s house for her annual birthday barbecue. We don red, white and blue. We swim and eat too much. We burn our wrists and fingers on sparklers and if we’re lucky, we have acquired some of those snapper-thingies that pop when you throw them at the ground. We have a blast!
At Aunt Sally’s we partake in what might be strictly a Maine tradition: red hotdogs! I have failed in passing on the passion for red hotdogs to my kids, however, who regard them with a mixture of horror and snobbery. (“I don’t want bloody hotdogs!!”)
As a child, our family would head downtown for the parade- sometimes to watch, sometimes to march, depending on age. My favorite part was (and still is) when the marching bands are performing. Marching music stirs something in me at a visceral level, and I don’t care if it makes me a dork to admit that I always tear up when they pass. My family members are unabashed parade-clappers. We clap for every float or performer. We hoot and holler and salute the veterans who know very well that “Freedom isn’t free.”
This practice of noisy gratitude isn’t so prevalent these days, but we do it with our boys now and I hope they’ll carry on the enthusiasm. (Incidentally, they have found that the amount of candy lobbed at them is directly proportional to the amount of clapping and appreciation they show during the parade.)
The fireworks display is a must, of course. As parents, we have generally avoided them as too loud and too late for our kids. (By this, I mean, “not worth keeping them up three to four hours past their bedtime to suffer their sleepy wrath the next day.”) The last two years, however, I have brought the older boys downtown with a blanket, popcorn and drinks to stretch out and enjoy the ritual of “ooh-ing and aah-ing” over fireworks.
There is plenty to criticize about what America is doing wrong these days. Give yourselves permission to lighten up and indulge in some good old-fashioned, wholesome nostalgia and patriotic pride this year. Happy Independence Day, everyone!