My oldest son turned 8 today. So, we decided about a week ago to pack up the van and head down to Washington from Canada to celebrate with the professional 4th of July party-goers. As I write this, I am sitting in our hotel, totally exhausted from the day of travel, and reflecting on the things we do as parents that, at the time of planning, seem like such great, even noble endeavours, but that rarely ever turn out the way we had envisioned them.
When I pictured celebrating my son's 8th birthday in the US, I imagined a cute little town (maybe like the one in Gilmore Girls) with picturesque neighbourhoods, strung with banners of red, white and blue and happy, well-dressed people out "promenading" through town, wishing each other a "Happy 4th of July"! My sons would be SO excited at the parade, and then we would go for a special supper out.
I've realized two important things:
1) Real life doesn't look like a TV show.
The town we ended up in (mostly due to ferry schedules and driving distances) is not picturesque. The streets were lined with beautiful flapping flags, and I saw one man dressed up like Abraham Lincoln. But he may dress like that every day...who knows? This town is suffering. You can see the economic strain. Closed antique shops. Run-down hotels. Driving through on our way to our hotel to check-in, I could see what this town was once like. Maybe it was like the cute little perfect town on the Gilmore Girls...but not anymore.
2) Kids don't care about the same things we do.
My son really didn't care where we ended up on his birthday, he just wanted to have a nice day with his family. Did we give him that? There were moments. But mostly it was a totally rushed, exhausting, crowded day of travelling. There were arguments about which direction to go, and what coffee shop to stop at. We yelled at the kids because they were whining about being hungry at the "wrong" time of day. Then there was the "went to the parade that started at 6pm, so didn't have supper until 7:30pm (and that "special supper out" ended up being Wendy's salads from the drive-thru), but still wanted to swim in the pool before bed (like we promised) meltdown, that resulted in one kid not being able to go swimming at all.
I could go on. I don't want to. I feel bad. But I also feel so proud of my oldest son. When we finally got to the swimming pool (at 8:30...I know, we are THOSE parents), he started out with his life jacket on like he always does. He decided he wanted to try without his life jacket, and amongst all the chaos, he looked up at me, and swam across the pool all by himself. He's never been able to get the hang of it, and it was starting to worry me. I could swim like a fish by the time I was 6. But he finally did it! I could have jumped for joy for him. He was so proud. I could have burst. I gave him a hi-five, and suddenly all of the mega...crap...of the day, fell away for the two of us.
But now, as I watch my babies sleep in this (really gross) hotel room, I feel so ashamed for missing the point of parenting, childhood, and life, yet again.
It's not about making life look like a movie for our children. They just want to be loved. They want peace. They want parents to notice them and be proud of them. They want us to get along. And they want us to play, have fun and laugh with them.
We have six more days of vacation. I plan on turning this ship around. I am listening to the fireworks and firecrackers outside my hotel, and have to smile. The economy has knocked these people down, but they are not out. They are finding a reason to celebrate, even when things aren't perfect...they may even be down-right awful. But they are still playing,laughing and having fun.
Happy 4th of July Everyone! Go play with your children!