Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Whose America?

WE'VE re-fitted the entire day around the fireworks. The kids usually go to bed around 8 p.m. or so (though Q has still been coming out routinely until 9:30 sometimes), and the various local displays supposedly launch at 9:15. The Boy has already promised to nap in exchange for staying up. Q says that she doesn't want to watch them--too scary--but we want to keep her up to give her the option just the same, and we let her sleep extra long in the afternoon just in case.

The Fourth means lots of different things to different people, and with kids the focus tends to drift toward the sensorial. Still, my Lovely Wife and I note that for breakfast we eat blueberry scones with what we call "cappuccinos" (kid-friendly frothed milk in tiny cups). For lunch the kids have lo mein with tofu (my wife and I eat leftover Indian food), and my wife makes enchiladas for dinner. Our babysitter is from Poland; most of those who work in our apartment building are either Irish or Eastern European. The playgrounds and parks host enough languages to make the U.N. blush. This city, in many ways like this country, is truly international in its nationality.

The Boy and Q do nap well, after a longer day outside under thunderheads menacing over the river. The rain finally starts when what passed for sunlight today starts to fade, but NY1, the local news channel, assures us that only a fierce electrical storm will squelch the festivities. About 9 p.m. or so, we head up to our building's roof deck. The really big show, the one conspicuously sponsored by Macy's and shown on NBC in high definition, gets thrown on the East Side, which means that we can't really see that much from where we sit this far west. Still, from 19 floors up looking over the Hudson, you can usually spot close to a dozen smaller displays up and down New Jersey, culminating in a reasonably big show over Liberty State Park a little upriver (towards us) from the Statue of Liberty.

In the soft rain, the first rockets go up to bloom like a half-dozen great ideas striking at once. Q, having practiced all day at being scared of the fireworks, buries her head in my neck. I pivot to give her a chance to see how harmless they are, probably a mile or so away across the wide river and nearly noiseless at this distance. She flips her head to my other shoulder like a squirrel keeping the tree between itself and what bothers it, so I don't press things. Eventually, she asks for mom and for inside. (Once inside, she won't even watch them on TV.)

I go over by The Boy so that he doesn't have to hold an umbrella while he watches. The river is a constellation of lights from small boats. He meets every explosion with one of his own: "It's a red one!" "That one looks like a flower!" "How do they make them in a heart shape?!?" He doesn't want me to answer; just listen. I'm happy to. He can stand and see over the roof deck railing this year. He manages to keep up his excitement for about forty minutes until the finale, made up of more explosions than I can keep track of. When the sky finally does go black, all the boats sound their horns in applause. I don't need any light to see The Boy's smile.

The Macy's spectacular is still discharging. We can see the ruby glow to the northeast and the southeast, so I suggest to The Boy that we go to the other side of the roof deck to take in what we can. The other spectators from our building return to their apartments and their drinks, and we're left more or less alone high up in the air. Through the gap in the skyline where the Twin Towers used to loom, we can glimpse the crowns of fireworks over on the East River by the Brooklyn Bridge, but the gap and the sounds and the colors remind me too much of new wars rather than the old one being represented above us. When The Boy says he'd rather go in and check on Q, I quickly agree.

It's late. Q is already in her pajamas when we arrive. The Boy talks a stream as we urge him into his sleep clothes--pajama bottoms and one of my wife's many black t-shirts. Before bed, we always sing a song. Often, we sing "Happy Birthday" to Snowman (it's a Q thing; don't ask). Tonight, we decide it's fitting to sing "Happy Birthday" to America. After we finish, as I turn out the light and turn to leave the kids to sleep, The Boy asks, "Who's America?" Good question.

Happy Fourth, everyone.

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