The 4th July is one of my favorite American holidays.
For all that it stands for, but also for the way it is celebrated.
I love the theme of red, white and blue ... these have become the colors of my summer. I love the flags flying from front porches ... the fireworks and barbeques and parades. The official beginning of summer, it is a holiday best celebrated with sandy feet and a slice of watermelon in one hand, dripping sticky sweetness. A drink in the other.
Usually we spend the day at a pool with friends. We swim and laze in the sun and eat too much. We drink a few drinks and after sunset we wander around slowly in the dusk as the grass cools against our feet, sun-kissed and limbs heavy, gathering our belongings in the growing darkness. Then we drag our chairs out onto the road at the edge of the harbor - children hanging over the railing above the water's edge or drifting on boats tied to their moorings or up on the rooftop of an SUV or two, for the best view. We sit impatiently and wait for the night sky to light up.
This year was a little different. It's been a long few months of feeling up and down inside - before I went back to South Africa even (more on that later) and after, when I got back. I often battle on the holidays, knowing so many around me have their families with them, their friends they grew up with ... I often feel noticeably alone, just the four of us. It happens when I drive through our town and see cars piled into driveways and imagine the family gatherings taking place inside. I picture smiles and conversations and cousins running outside, the familiarity of people who are comfortable enough to snap at each other occasionally, not to have to be polite. Who disagree and stomp out of the room only later to make up and sip a drink together outside, oblivious to the screams and mad running of the children around them. Finally catching up on gossip and family news now that the spat is over. It happens at school functions when grandparents line the seats around me. At birthday parties.
Sometimes when we have spent a week up the coast I have walked past houses in the early morning to see families gathering on the deck outside, eating breakfast together, tossing a frisbee to the dog, taking a long walk on the beach before the day begins ... generations walking together. Later i see them again, blankets spread out across the sand. More chairs than I can count. Cooler boxes and snacks for the children. And i think back to my own childhood days on the beach, aunts and uncles and my parents ... communal meals and heading back to the house for lunch and rests in the afternoon heat. Everyone together.
Always a stab to the heart on days like that, no matter how I try to shake it off.
So i expect it. This feeling of being slightly out of place. No matter how lovely the day.
On this particular holiday though, it's usually not too bad - in all the happiness of summer outsideness, the cherries and glasses of wine and skin browning in the sun. A holiday I never observed until we moved here, so it has no associations with home or family, really.
But today I felt like the child left standing after everyone has chosen their teams. The one no one wants to have to pick. The one who wants to grab her bag and run through the gate before anyone notices the tears building.
And then late this afternoon the sun broke through after a day of rain and the world looked brighter. I reminded myself that life teaches me this lesson over and over again : I can choose to allow sadness and regret to take over, or to shake it off and focus on everything I have to be grateful for. I have to actively decide to lighten my mood and to focus on what is in front of me, instead of what is not. With my children watching, my mood is shaping their memories. Do I want them to remember their Mama silent and pensive with sadness, or giving in to laughter and making the day a special one for them.
And so we headed out to our local historical homestead and ate gelato on an old park bench and watched the little one riding a pony.
We came home and pulled our blankets out onto the freshly mown lawn in the late afternoon sun and watched cloud shapes drifting past. I played with our neighbor's dog and the youngest drew pictures of a Tiki bar we could build in our backyard. One day. (Yep. No idea. We just nod and play along.)
We ate our bbq as the light faded and the air grew cool and we celebrated in our own way, just the four of us.
Tonight there were no fireworks and I missed the sun on my skin and the company of friends and I thought of family far away. But tonight we still laughed and ate and looked at the beauty around us. And tonight, finally, it was enough.
(My ten year old British-born son would like the records to show that he is not entirely in support of celebrating this holiday anyway. If it were up to him, England should still be in charge. He seems to struggle with giving into the celebratory mood of the day and always reminds me how it's really not his holiday as actually for him it is a day of mourning, not a cause to celebrate. Each to their own. We hide our smiles as he tells us this. Each 4th of July. Each of us carries a different passport in this house. An international family to be sure.)