When we lived in Boston, we had friends who loved celebrating the Fourth of July as much as we did. Our family drove 13 hours to share our first Fourth as residents of the city where freedom was established. We did it all, including a gourmet picnic by the Charles River, the perfect location to see Neil Diamond sing with the Boston Pops. Our game plan was perfect: ride the T into the city and back home again, all without stress or hiccups. We stayed all day by the Charles, playing cards and reading books and magazines. The weather was warm with a cool, delightful breeze, and we were so happy to celebrate our nation’s birthday.
We were happier still to be joining our fellow Bostonians singing “Sweet Caroline,” and we even teared up when the national anthem was played before cannonballs were fired in rhythm to the 1812 Overture. It was sheer heaven, delightful and completely carefree. We knew freedom came at a price. And we celebrated, knowing we were still living in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Fast-forward five years. We no longer live in Boston, having moved back to our homeland, trading the Charles River for the less inspiring Great Miami that runs through Dayton, Ohio. Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” doesn’t exactly rally Daytonians. And even if you had enough courage to go downtown, you wouldn’t really feel “at home” laying blankets down on the concrete and reading a copy of Yankee Magazine. Plus, with three kiddos in tow now, it makes any large crowd situation an adventure, to say the least. Dayton just doesn’t lend itself to creating an emotional Fourth of July. Our city has much to be proud of, but you can’t go to the Old Statehouse and stand at the site of the Boston Massacre and feel the weight of all that was sacrificed for your freedom from then to now. It just doesn’t lend itself to sentimental reflection and celebration.
So, it seems the rational choice would be to have a small celebration at our house — maybe light a couple of sparklers and watch the fireworks on PBS from the safety of our family room, where our kids can immediately go to bed afterwards. Perfect, tie a bow on it and call it done. Happy Fourth.
But that’s no fun. What message does this send to my three little ones? That we don’t think enough of our country to celebrate it? That talking about the Founding Fathers, and their many sacrifices, isn’t worth it? Actually, most kids probably don’t know the difference, because it’s not brought up in schools much anymore; it’s too sticky a topic to talk about (religious freedom and all that dangerous stuff). Most youth in America know the Fourth of July only as a holiday to watch fireworks and eat hot dogs. And if your city isn’t wise with its money, you don’t even get Roman candles.
Not many hometown businesses can afford to put on fireworks displays, as they did when I was young. There aren’t a lot of empty fields you can go to, to put a sheet down and anxiously await the sun setting to see the display of magic. Most kids see enough entertaining displays of megapixels on their phones or gaming systems to care about some old-fashioned fireworks. And it certainly is easier to watch them at home; after all, PBS does a bang-up job (no puns intended).
Call me crazy, but these alternatives to an old-fashioned Fourth only emphasize our need to go old-school. Anyone who bleeds red, white, and blue knows that unless we teach the next generation of freedom lovers their roots, and what was and is continually sacrificed for their freedoms, it will turn into a holiday that’s good for cookouts but nothing else.
So, buy those flags and wave them high and let your kiddos wave them proudly. Throw a couple sparklers in for good measure. Yeah, they’re hot and dangerous if not supervised — so join in the fun. Show your kids the importance of celebrating their nation’s birthday. Make it personal for them, and don’t be afraid to let them know about some super-cool, ancient guys and gals who persevered for their cause — even though society deemed them wrong — and in the process founded a new world where we are free to create life, enjoy liberty, and pursue happiness. Take time to tell them why we have huge displays in the skies and hot dogs to eat, and why you may get teary at the sound of our National Anthem. Maybe it will spark a conversation; they may even find a new hero. At the very least, they will beg to go see the fireworks in person.
Here’s to braving the crowds, watching a hometown parade, and putting out the flag. If you find yourself in Dayton, you’ll find us singing patriotic songs, dressed in red, white, and blue, and talking about John and Abigail Adams, Davy Crockett, and World War II bubble gunners.
We wish you and yours a happy and safe Fourth of July!
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