The Fourth of July celebration sets off fears, not fireworks.
Story: Tiffany Roach // Illustration: Megan Mericle
Confession: I’m not a big fan of the Fourth of July. Don’t get me wrong, I love ’Merica, Chevy pickups, country music, and the freedom to order a hot dog the size of my 3-year old. What I’m not a fan of is 2 billion percent humidity, sweat dripping down my back, and mosquitoes feeding on me like I’m all-you-can-eat wing night just so I can herd and wedge my five sugar-sticky kids between motor scooters to watch fireworks at midnight when it finally gets dark. Call me un-American if you want, but this is just not my idea of a good time. And I think the Founding Fathers would agree with me on this. I can’t imagine that spending July in the hot, stuffy room of Independence Hall filled with a group of guys dressed in wool suits, stockings, and wigs debating grammar and unfair taxes was a guys’ weekend worth recreating. I can’t imagine afterward they were all, “Yeah, let’s do THAT again.”
Sort of like my July pregnancies—which I did do again. Three times. The first time I was pregnant in July, I was in my second trimester with triplets, so I was roughly the size of a Volkswagen. The next time I was pregnant in July, I was brewing only one baby but still managed to be the size of a Volkswagen, now towing a flatbed of 1-year-olds. And the third time I was pregnant in July, I was once again the size of a Volkswagen, but more like an exhausted Volkswagen on blocks parked in the front yard. It’s not that I blame my children for my aversion to the Fourth but enduring the third trimester of pregnancy in July in Florida can really mess with a person’s long-term perspective.
Case in point: Last July, I packed up my 11-year-old boys, kissed their shaved heads, and dropped them off in the woods near Gainesville for a week of Sea Cadet Basic Training “camp.” I tried to play it cool, but I was a hot mess dripping in fear, swatting at nagging worries that their little boy hearts would need me in the middle of the night, that they’d run out of socks, and wouldn’t remember where the bug spray was packed. I wasn’t sending them off to the sort of summer camp experience of snack bars, laid-back camp counselors in sandals, tie-dyed art projects, and giant inflatable balloon pillows launching kids into lakes. This was more like food rations, marching in formation, pushups and cadence—“Full Metal Jacket” meets middle school. To top it off, my son fell the day before we left and was favoring his wrist, which I suspected might be fractured.
“I’m good, Mom,” he said.
“He’ll figure it out,” my husband assured me.
“This sucks,” I said as we pulled away, the highway miles stretching out behind us. I was referring mostly to the part of parenting where our kids act excruciatingly courageous; the part of parenting where our kids choose to do hard things, but we’re not sure how it’ll turn out; because it could all be great, but it could also go very, very badly with a lifetime of therapy bills just for starters.
There was a time when I enjoyed celebrating our country’s independence. These times came before kids and they were filled with Maine’s seaside breezes, cold beer, and crab dip. They came during a time of freedom—before goldfish crackers, before the success of my day was determined by whether or not my kids fell asleep in the car. A time when thigh sweat was not a “thing.” Celebrating my own independence was cool and easy; it was fit and rested and wrinkle-free, concerned only with checking the weather and pondering which shoes to wear.
My kids’ independence? Well, that’s a different story. Their independence is…well…complicated; because their independence costs me. It cost me my figure and my sleep. So much sleep. Their independence means I’m constantly 20 minutes late because they want to put their shoes on “by myself”; it means I have loads of pink laundry, and my kitchen counters have crusty egg residue on them. Their independence means that I’ll spend hours rescheduling my day because they’ve been issued a detention or because they’re accepting an award for showing kindness. It’s hard to celebrate my kids’ independence because I see glimpses of them becoming the men and women we are raising them to be and it makes my heart feel all tight and hot and drippy.
“Today in class we were asked, ‘Would you choose to live as a coward or die for your country?’” my son told me.
My chest constricted.
“Well, what would you choose?” I forced myself to ask.
“I raised my hand. I’d die for my country,” he said.
And he said it not as a 12-year-old boy but as a young man with deep roots sown in freedom, a strong heart raised with and alongside sacrifice. My mother’s heart burned hot and tight, dripping gratefully alongside centuries filled with mothers and Founding Fathers—every one of them willing to do it all again.