The free and the brave

Moms of Stillwater
Moms of Stillwater

My husband and I would like to thank the naked sunbathers lounging on the river this Fourth of July. For different reasons, as you might expect.

For me, after answering the initial, “Does sunscreen sting there?” to “Are those mommies?” (to which I squint a little), or my favorite, “Are they from Minnesota?,” I get to enjoy my celebratory Bloody Mary uninterrupted as my kids stare in fascination. Thanks ladies, and I guess that one guy too.

It’s 11 in the morning and I’ve reached my capacity for patience already. Holidays will do that to you. Especially holidays that encourage pyrotechnics and neon food. Neon food never ends well.

When the day starts with an early round of firecrackers lit off in the neighbor’s hydrangeas, you know what version of “free and the brave” you are going to get today. The “Lord of the Flies” version. And even after the lighters are confiscated, I can tell I haven’t extinguished the craving for mischief. I make note of where I hid the last batch of emergency matches.

But the promise of unmonitored sugar consumption can distract even the youngest pyromaniac and despite the 98 percent humidity, we rush to the streets to stick to our neighbors at the local parade. Literally. I had to peel my tricep off of the woman next to me twice before I just gave in and accepted the idea of conjoined twins for the hour. I will say, there was an unspoken understanding to move together when the cheeky baton twirler got a little too ambitious rounding the corner.

Sirens begin, and while I can translate this into candy from an approaching fire truck, my 5-year-old hits the street like a bag of bricks. “Tornado,” she squeals from her safety tuck and I’m forced to sever my brief sisterhood with my sticky neighbor and retrieve her ruffled body from the street.

Unspoken parenting rule No. 102: If you are the parent to retrieve a hurt or behavior-challenged child in public, you have claim to the “good seat.” Sometimes this is the seat on the aisle. Or by the door. Today, it is the folding chair in the shade.

My sundress is stuck to my thighs like a bad rash, so I resort to waddling through the melting spectators. As my daughter is still preparing for the twister in mild hysteria, I plunge quickly into my seat, only to see my red sandals against the backdrop of the blazing sky. Ass over tea kettle, I am now suffocating my full-on hysterical child between my swoobs (sweaty boobs) and bare thighs in some stranger’s front yard. Nothing like a little parade spectacle for the kiddies.

A juice box and wilting Rice Krispie bar coax my child out of shock but I might need something a little stronger. I silently wish those campaign stickers were drink tickets.

As always, there is a young boy who refuses to sit down and is almost nabbed by the Rotary cars. A man with the beard of Moses yells at him to take a seat. Little did I know it was out of competition. Apparently, adults collect parade treats, or so I learned, as a lime Icee was launched in our direction.

It might as well have been a steak and a caged lion.

I believe there were actual grunts of victory.

And green foam.

I’d be lying if I told you I kept my feet tucked nicely to the curb when the next truck came by with frozen treats. Just a friendly reminder that sometimes you have to sit one out. Let the underdogs have their chance.

“Even adults need reminders sometimes,” my 3-year-old daughter says.

Don’t we ever?

Thankfully, our memories of this day will have little to do with parade pageantry. No, the real magic is in that intangible energy that comes from being connected in celebration with one another. As a family. A community. A country.
Well, that and access to explosives.

As a mother of four, I have learned to be thankful for the simple gifts that come my way; they are rarely the ones I expect. So as my kids stare at the patriotic nudists on the houseboat today in quiet contemplation, I can say with all earnestness, God bless America.

And who ate all my olives?

Marny Stebbins lives in Stillwater with her husband and four children. She is a stout believer in early bedtimes, caffeine enhancement and humor therapy. She never takes the last slice of pie and makes a mean brandy slush. Visit Chronicles of a CaveMom ( ) to read more of Marny’s work.