Independence Day

July 5, 2006 at 9:29 pm (Uncategorized)

When I was a kid, July 4th was one of my favorite holidays. Because it landed squarely in the middle of summer vacation, I never felt the lurking dread of having to return shortly to school and schedules and responsibility that I did with Christmas and Easter. Plus it was a purely fun holiday — no religious preparation before it, no obligations, no church in the morning. Just hamburgers from the grill, picnics, watermelon, badminton games in the front yard, ice cream, and of course, fireworks.

I am the youngest in a venerable line of pyromaniacs. My brother shot bottle rockets up the chimney one New Year’s Eve, and my sister came damn close to launching some out of her hand. We were never satisfied with the piddling municipal fireworks shows. Instead, we spent hours at fireworks stands before the 4th, and would hold our own show when it was dark. As the youngest, I had to wait several years before I got to ignite the big ones, but I remember running around our back yard in upstate New York. I clutched a sparkler that sizzled and lit up the night and matched the glow from the fireflies that flitted around me.

Today promises to be more sober than 4th of Julys past. My Mom and I are still a mess after the car accident. I’m not even sure we could tilt our necks up to watch fireworks explode in the sky. Andrew and my Dad have a nasty summer cold, and Jay threw out his back dancing at his brother’s wedding. Call us the walking — and drippy-nosed — wounded.

The truth is that Jay and I didn’t plan for this holiday at all. He was in North Carolina for the long weekend; I couldn’t go along because I was sick, so I was going to spend the time at my parents’. It is only because of the car accident that we are all together here on the 4th of July.

Before Jay got on the airplane that ferried him to North Carolina and before my Mom arrived in Helena to drive me back to Roundup, I was struck with the realization that we would be spending a holiday weekend with our families of origin not with each other and our son. I actually got pretty worked up about this before he left. I knew I was too sick to go along, and that Andrew wouldn’t cope well to being separated from me for five days; I knew that weddings are joyful events and that I should be happy to support my husband in going to witness his brother getting married; I knew that Jay’s going would make his whole extended family happy. I knew Jay was happy to be going. In short, I knew that Jay attending this wedding would make a whole lot of people — nearly everyone but me — happy. I’m usually all for pleasing other people, but this time I felt decidedly sour about the separation. Maybe I had a premonition about what was going to happen with the car wreck, or maybe I was just finally fed up with obligations. Sure, a wedding is a happy event, but it was still an obligation and one that parted us during one of the few long weekends in summer. I often feel as though we lurch from obligation to obligation — from cross-country doctor’s visits to family funerals to work trips to weddings. Where was there time for us?

However, even if Jay hadn’t gone to North Carolina and I hadn’t come to my parents’, and even if we were all healthy, I’m not sure we would have celebrated the 4th in the spirit of my childhood. Don’t get me wrong – it would have been nice to be home together. But we wouldn’t have organized a picnic or gone to the fairgrounds. We certainly wouldn’t have shot off fireworks or set Andrew loose with a sparkler. Probably no water balloon fights or red, white, and blue cupcakes. We would have had a regular mellow weekend, just with a couple of extra days.

When Jay was about to leave for North Carolina, it occurred to me why I was so cranky about the whole thing. It wasn’t anything as mundane as feeling “abandoned” by him to head off when I had pneumonia and Andrew was sick. Having sarcoidosis has frequently meant that we split up and that I cope with being alone when I feel like crap. This was different. My epiphany was that we hadn’t really gelled as a family. We still thought of our families as the people we grew up with — not as each other and our fair-haired son. When a holiday like the 4th crops up — or Easter or Passover or Halloween — it’s like we’re waiting for our mothers to show up and organize everything for us.

It’s odd, but it reminded me of when we were preparing to leave the hospital with our newborn son. I felt like a fraud. I kept waiting for the nurses to come into the room and carry Andrew away to “real” parents — responsible ones who would know how to take care of this mewling, red-faced critter. But the hospital staff let us leave with him, and somehow we’ve figured things out. Still, I often don’t feel like I’m competent. And my house and my holiday celebrations prove it. I have drawers full of junk, a linen closet that looks as though my goal was to tie the sheets into knots, and piles of clutter everywhere. I find the holiday decorations four months after the event has passed. We buy our Halloween pumpkins on Halloween, our Christmas tree on December 23. We do an equally shoddy job organizing for the Jewish holidays.

I’d like to do a better job of carving out our own holiday celebrations. I want Andrew to grow up with his memories studded with the happy images of our Passovers and Christmases, our July 4ths and January 1sts. I want these things for him not to “prove” that I can get my act together as a Mom but because such memories sustain me in troubled times and remind me of who I am — and I want the same for Andrew.

Eventually Jay and I parted for his brother’s wedding on good terms. I had passed from feeling irritable to feeling deeply melancholy. But my moodiness came to abrupt end on Friday when I spent a few seconds thinking I was going to die in the wreck. When I emerged from the ruined truck with Andrew, all I wanted was for Jay to be there. I wanted to feel his arms around me and around Andrew. I didn’t need sparklers or a badminton net to let me know who I loved most in this world. And that, I suppose, is the family celebration that trumps all the others.

1 Comment

  1. Lori said,

    “Still, I often don’t feel like I’m competent. ” This feeling, I am sorry to say, will continue for years to come. It seems at every bend and bump that was slightly different from the day before I could chalk it up to me being incompetent as a parent. I mean, how could I honestly have left the gate open when Cory was 8 months old and let him bounce down the stairs just because I went back to get the freakin’ coupons that would save me all of $2.75 in breakfast cereal. Now he’s 12 and it comes back at me in pre-teen sidelong glances and not-so-slightly veiled sarcasm that I really am incompetent. I just fight back …. no I’m not, no, I’m not. On good days the mantra works. Hope to see you soon, Lori

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