Monday, July 4, 2011

Mom's Crazy Fireworks Anxiety

I hate fireworks.

Is it "American" to say that?  On the holiday that celebrates our nation's birthday with huge bangs and flashing fire-lights, isn't this like saying "I hate birthday cake?"  But I really, really don't like fireworks.

I used to like them.  I remember loading up in the car every 4th of July evening, with blankets, bug spray, and a huge paper grocery sack of fresh popped corn, and driving over to the local high school.  The adults would sit and chat while the kids ran around with sparklers, writing our names and drawing pictures with the sparks in the darkening sky.  (Well, my siblings and cousins played with sparklers.  I was always scared of them!)  We'd run around saying hello to teachers and school friends that we hadn't seen since school let out.  I love the sense of community that surrounds the local fireworks display!  And when the fireworks started, we'd cuddle on the blankets and OOH and AAH and vote on the best ones.  Then we'd drive home, sleepily comparing our favorites and commenting on which ones were missing this year, and what was brand new.

I know exactly when I stopped liking fireworks.  When I was a teenager, I went to see the fireworks with a bunch of friends.  We walked over to the park where the fireworks were to be displayed and scouted out a prime location on the grass.  Just as we were getting settled, some friends waved us over to where they were, just 15 feet away from us, so we moved over to sit with them.  The fireworks started and we settled back to watch.  A few minutes into the show, we heard the whoosh of the firework being set off, but nothing exploded.  Then suddenly the firework went off in the crowd, just feet from where we were.  Right where we would have been sitting, had we not moved to join our friends!  Smoke filled the air; people were screaming and crying; people were grabbing their children and running away.  It was horrible.  The family sitting right in the rocket's path was severely burned and injured, including a baby.  And just as terrifying was the fact that the fireworks were all set off at once when this happened--presumably to send everyone home.  It was all chaos, noise, blinding light, screams of pain and terror.

I didn't see another fireworks display for a long time after this.  And I lost all tolerance for do-it-yourself firework displays.  I usually spend my Independence Day evenings at home, safe inside my house--away from the windows, just in case the pyromaniac neighbors aim wrong and a firecracker hits my house!

My kids, now, they beg to see fireworks.  And I usually give in.  We go sit in the park, and watch the fireworks, and I try to enjoy it.  But we sit as far away from the ignition point as we possibly can!  And between the mosquitoes, the annoying neighbors with their fire crackers and sparklers, and the tense anticipation, I mostly just endure it.  I'm sad that my kids aren't getting the benefit of the excitement of the holiday that surrounded it for me as a child.  I've never allowed them to hold a sparkler or be around when someone sets off a firecracker.  When our pyro-friend set off a display at his house one year, I hid in the house and begged the kids to join me watching through the windows.  (I was overruled on this one--so I paced and cringed and yelled through the window for them to sit down and not get any closer throughout the whole thing!)  The crazy neighbors have been setting off fireworks for days already, keeping us all awake half of the night and causing me needless concerns about sparks landing on my house and starting a fire, or firecrackers blowing out a tire or a window on my car.

Really?  Birthday parties should not be sources of such stress and anxiety!  So we will celebrate the birth of our nation in other ways.  I'm proud to be an American citizen, to raise my children in this country, and to enjoy the freedoms that others have fought for.  But blowing things up does not fit into my celebration anymore.  We will not be going to see the display tonight.  That is, unless the kids beg and plead enough to wear me down that case, I will put my ear plugs in, find a spot far away from everyone else, coat myself in bug spray, and suffer through yet another fireworks display.  Maybe I'll even make popcorn.

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