The smoke still smells the same; an acrid odor of burnt tires and excitement billows out with every burst. The strobe flashes still pop with the staccato of a giant stamping bubble wrap. The lingering hiss of the fountains still sounds like the quenching of stars. And despite the growing number of regulations (I miss sparklers,) a sense of adolescent rebellion lingers.
Last night, my youngest child cuddled in my lap, sucking the thumb of one hand, clutching my earlobe with her other while her older siblings huddled together in the adjacent lawn chair chanting “Ooooh. Ahhhhh. Ohhhhh. Yaaayyy,” in a pod-people monotone. This chant was followed by the cynical giggles of co-conspirators. Less than an hour before, Caitlin had informed me that Aidan had no reason to exist. Her tune changed as darkness fell; apparently he’s warm.
“Look. When a parent or a teacher tells you to do something, you don’t get to ask why. You don’t get to say ‘no.’ Unless it’s something dangerous or something that makes you feel uncomfortable, the only proper response is to do as you’re told.” Hmmm… doesn’t exactly have a “we hold these truths to be self-evident” ring to it, does it? In my defense, when I uttered this proclamation, I was driving an extended (not club) cab F-150 containing my three kids and my mother-in-law. Aidan had challenged every statement I’d made that morning, and yes, I’d forgotten what day it was. Still, I was the one who had made a big deal the night before about the meaning of Independence Day, and freedom from tyranny. Oops.
Fireworks have become a major event in our family. In a family where everyone cooks, cleans, and sets the table without regard to gender, the 4th of July fireworks are archaically sexist. And, for the most part, we like it that way. My husband and future brother-in-law traditionally mount an expedition to buy out every fireworks stand along the road. They and my father elaborately prepare and present the display to the admiring women and children. This year, stogies were added “just to light the fireworks.” Rebellion? Nah. Of course not.
Bottle rockets shot over the house from a neighboring yard. Where does the boundary for freedom and justifiable rebellion lie? “No. You may not kick your brother. Ever.” “Don’t bite your sister’s leg.” “Do NOT toss the water bottle around in the truck.” “That is enough loud singing. I will stop the car.” Safety? Annoyance? Ideology? Our Founding Fathers declared treason against their lawful king. The Honduran military just deposed their elected president. Yet another member of our military has been discharged for the nature of his personal life. The night before last, after our 5 minute symposium on The Declaration of Independence, the kids and I sat down to a living room picnic and movie. (Burgers, corn, root beer floats.) As we watched National Treasure, Caitlin looked up and asked, “But, Mom? If they wrote all that stuff about ‘all men are created equal,’ where did the disrespect and bad treatment of African Americans come in?” Oh dear.
“Well, umm… You see, most of the men that signed it, and Thomas Jefferson, the man that wrote the Declaration of Independence, they owned slaves.”
“What! That’s stupid. That’s wrong.” Her outrage continued for several more paragraphs.
“Well, yes, of course it’s wrong. It takes a long time for people to change ideas. That’s why I always tell you guys that quote about how ‘the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to stand by and do nothing.’ If people don’t speak up for what they believe when they know something is wrong, nothing will ever change.”
“But, Moomm,” this one earned me an eyeroll. “Everyone thinks that what they believe is right.”
Thank God for action sequences.
As the fireworks popped and bloomed, and my husband puffed on his repulsive cigar, I found myself wondering again about the nature of independence and right. When is it justifiable rebellion against tyranny? When is it treason? What happens when our rights crash into the rights of others? What if the sparks from our rockets light the neighbors’ roof on fire? What do we do when “everyone thinks that what they believe is right?” Uncertainty, destruction, chaos, these are the prices we pay for disrupting the status quo. Stagnation, rigidity, intolerance, abuse of power, these are the risks of resting securely within the system.
I kind of like the explosions. Happy Independence Day!