Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bikes, Elvis, and a Whole Lot of Flags (Babble)

I love my country, and I’m glad to be an American, but when I write things like this, and this, and this, I know there are people who would doubt my patriotism.  I don’t care.  Part of why I love this country is I am allowed to voice criticism of it and admit to discomfort with certain elements.  I don’t have to be anyone’s idea of a traditional American in order to be a real one.

But one of the ways I am almost ridiculously traditional is in my love of the 4th of July (even if I don’t own a flag).  It’s a terrific holiday.  A national event to commemorate the signing of a powerful document; not a date about war, or a specific person, or a religion, but of an idea.  About beginning something new and daring that has evolved and grown into something remarkable.  Plus it comes with ice cream and fireworks.  It’s awesome.

The wonderful thing about 4th of July in Milwaukee is that in our own local park within easy walking distance of our house there are events all day.  It begins with a parade and ends with fireworks, and in between there is a doughnut eating contest and dog dancing and buggy decorating and children’s races and clowns and a talent show and more things than we ever get to.  And the beauty of it is it’s all corny and done without a trace of irony.  It’s genuine and it’s fun and everything you ever pictured a traditional 4th of July celebration should be.
(List of park events)

We’ve lived in our neighborhood long enough that we’ve come to expect particular things from the parade.

Regular features include the antique cars:
Soldiers (some with noisy guns):
What my husband refers to as the lazy band:
And many baton twirlers of varying ages, politicians throwing candy, and of course the giant sausages.  (What, your town doesn’t have giant sausages of different ethnicities running around?  Huh.)  Usually we only get a few of the sausages (who run races in between innings at the baseball games at Miller Park) because I think they spread them out to other neighborhood parades, but this year we got them all.  Mona managed to high five the Mexican one and this Italian guy:
After the parade I managed to lose Quinn in the crowd for about a minute that felt like forever (although not as bad as losing Mona in Central Park a couple of years ago, or both the girls in Ikea, or Mona after the school pasta dinner fund raiser….  Dang, I need to start paying better attention apparently or get tracking chips put in their ears).  Then Quinn and I headed home so he could count his candy.  (He made an adorable chart on the dry erase board of how many Tootsie Rolls he got, versus lollipops and ‘Frooties’ that I didn’t get a picture of in time.)

I love that with Ian home we can accommodate the kids better by splitting up if we need to.  The girls wanted to see the clown show and run the kid races, so they stayed with their dad in the park while Quinn and I walked home.  4th of July is definitely something that is easier with two parents.

After lunch we all headed back to the park to register Aden and Quinn in the bike decorating contest.  (Mona didn’t participate because she uses a scooter, not a bike, and didn’t realize that no one would have cared if she’d entered that instead until it was too late.)  The good things about the bike and trike and buggy decorating contest are that it is adorable, every kid gets some kind of ribbon or certificate and a little prize, and they are excited about getting to be up on the big outdoor stage.  The bad things are that the winners are always kids who obviously had a LOT of help from their parents, and the older people who run the judging are often tired and cranky.  I could totally make the coolest patriotic holiday bike ever, but the contest is not for me, and I’m proud of my kids for doing everything themselves even if they never ever win because the four-year-old’s bike looks like a four-year-old decorated it (because a four-year-old DID).

Here are some of the bikes lined up for judging (with Aden’s front and center, and a mysteriously well-constructed float-like bike just behind hers in the next row):
Quinn looked so proud biking across the stage!  His bike was ranked last but he was pleased to get a ribbon:
Aden paid attention to details like making sure her blue streamers were decorated with exactly 50 stars done in crayon:
But here was the kicker about Aden’s moment to participate in the bike parade:  She was not one of the top three winners, so after those little awards were given out, the lady running things looked wearily at the remaining kids and said something like, “Well, I guess the rest of the girls should just come across the stage.  There’s some kind of consolation prize for you down there somewhere.”  I couldn’t believe it!  And everyone else I talked to who heard it said they couldn’t believe she was so dismissive of all the other kids either.  The event barely qualifies as a competition, it’s purely for fun, so why would you make anyone feel bad?  Good grief.  Luckily Aden was happy with her certificate and some of the little prizes in the consolation bag, but it got both my husband and my neighbor, Julie, saying they really should sign up with the neighborhood association so they can get in there and move some of the crankier people aside during the kids’ events.
After the bike parade we headed home and hung out with some friends and ate a bit of the red-white-and-blue-trifle I made the night before:
It came out pretty!  And it tasted good, but you can’t really mess up berries and whipped cream and cake, and I threw in some pudding somewhere in there too.  (I bought that trifle bowl years ago and I think this is the first time I’ve actually dragged it out to make a trifle in it.  But it was a hit so we’ll probably do it again before the summer is over.)

We had a nice cookout on the deck (that included grilled zucchini which might be my new favorite thing) and then relaxed a little before heading back out to the park to listen to a band on the stage, eat ice cream, then lie on a blanket and watch the fireworks.  In past years a random sampling of my kids at any given time has been sensitive to the noise (which has not always made fireworks a universally popular activity) but they all seem to be over it.  Frankly, I’m over it too.  I used to hate the noise and this year I noticed that it doesn’t bother me anymore.  Quinn sat in my lap and said things like, “That one looked like jewels!  And that one looked like sparkling rain!”

It was an excellent day.  The only thing that might have improved it would have been a nap in there somewhere.  (And not losing Quinn briefly.)  I keep trying to sell my extended family on how much fun 4th of July is in Milwaukee and that it would be the perfect time for a visit, but no takers yet.  I just hope they all had as much fun where they were.  (But I doubt it!)

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