Saturday, July 5, 2014

Independence Day

4th of July pinwheel!
Photo by Rose Anne Karesh, 2014.
Last year on the 4th of July my husband and I were unpacking everything in our house after moving. Our daughter was up with my husband's mother for a few days so we could work without her "help" and so we spent the holiday frantically laboring, trying to get everything done before we went and picked her up. In one of our rare pauses I watched a few local fireworks from our back deck, the ones that were close enough and high enough to see, and thought wistfully about my childhood 4th of July celebrations. Next year, I vowed.

I grew up in the Historic Triangle area of Virginia; the area defined by Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown Battlefield, where the American Revolution was won. Each year for the 4th of July we would take a picnic dinner over to the base of the victory monument at Yorktown. Sometimes we'd invite friends and other times it would be just our little family, but no matter what else was happening in our life we went every year that I can remember until I left for college. We would wander around the fields and woods and the beach of the York River and then eat our dinner. Then we'd lay down on the blanket and listen to the Air Force band play their concert of patriotic songs while we waited for it to get dark enough for fireworks. Once night truly fell the whistles and booms and bright colored stars would dazzle while we oohed and aahed. At the end we'd pack up our belongings and head back to the car and then wait in the jam to get out of the park, usually arriving home after 11pm.

This was the experience I wanted to recreate, a year ago on my back deck. I wanted to bring my daughter and my husband and my mom (and I would have liked to bring my sister, had her busy schedule permitted it) to Yorktown and feast on fried chicken and watermelon and my mom's potato salad which is the best I've ever had. I wanted to walk on the beach and up and down hills and see if the bamboo thickets were still growing strong. I wanted to listen to the 1812 Overture and watch fireworks with my daughter for the first time.

Unfortunately, things don't always work out as planned. We drove down to my Mom's house this weekend, despite the hurricane off the east coast, trusting the National Hurricane center's predictions that it would be far enough into the ocean for safety. The 4th of July started out rainy but cleared up by late morning and we thought all would be well. The plan for the day was to take my daughter out to a favorite local museum to tire her out and then put her down for a nap so she could stay up late. Then off to Yorktown in the afternoon for our picnic, explorations and fireworks.

My husband and I executed our part of the plan, but of course my daughter somehow missed the memo. She absolutely, categorically refused to nap. We tried for two hours. We played her regular sleep time music. We read stories. We took turns watching over her and even laying down with her. We even told her - no nap, no fireworks, since there was no way she could stay up and out so late. Alas, it was to no avail. Our darling daughter would not be quiet, would not lay still, would not close her eyes, and above all would not sleep.

So we changed plans. We've learned that our daughter is a terror when she hasn't slept enough. If she stays up late she will not sleep in the next day; she wakes up at her usual time but in a terrible mood. All the sweetness and fun that usually balances out the strong-willed aspects of her personality evaporates and she is angry, demanding and impossible to please. Worse, she gets so keyed up that she has trouble sleeping, which just prolongs the pain for all of us. This can go on for two or three days, until she finally manages to catch up. My husband and I had some anxiety about taking her to fireworks even with a nap, but we reassured each other that a solid afternoon nap the days before and after the big event would head off enough of the unpleasantness to make the evening worthwhile. Without a nap, we decided that discretion would be the better part of valor. We changed our plans.

We packed up the car with our picnic and headed to a different and quieter local park. My daughter wore the adorable 4th of July outfit my mother bought for her, with a lacy red white and blue skirt. We talked about our country and what freedom means and why we were celebrating. We ate our fried chicken and potato salad and watermelon and topped it off with brownies for desert. We blew bubbles that the breeze grabbed and wafted far out onto the nearby reservoir. We picked weeds to pop at each other and played on the playground and were home by 7:30 pm. Our daughter went to sleep at her usual bedtime and woke up cheerful and pleasant this morning.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. I was, and am. I grumbled to my husband and I whined to my sister on the phone a little. The irony that today, when we have no particular evening plans, she is soundly asleep for an afternoon nap is not lost on me. Still, I think it is a marker of some of the growing I have done that I didn't have my own temper tantrum and spoil the whole evening with bitterness and sulks. I was able to shift and enjoy the outing we did have, even though it wasn't the one I had wanted. Perhaps that's another kind of independence.