Baby Steps to Independence by Heather Bowles

I haven’t been to a public fireworks display in years. They’re loud and crowded events full of drunk, uncouth people who can’t tell the accelerator from the brake when it’s time to get in the car and leave. All that aside, I was not going to allow an experience like Tabitha’s first July 4th go by without a little celebration, so at 3 in the afternoon, I decided we were going to go downtown that evening to watch the lights. It was well worth the hassle.

When we got within half a mile of the park where it was supposed to take place, we found the road blocked off, so we parked in the McDonald’s parking lot, loaded the baby in the stroller, and started walking. We stopped in front of a pedestrian bridge that spans the main street. It offered the perfect vantage point and was open enough to the air that even though we were elbow to elbow with total strangers, the smell of cheap beer and cigarettes wasn’t too strong.

I was concerned that she might cry once the noise from the fireworks started, but she’s more like me than I realized. This child has no fear. None. I watched her little head swivel back and forth looking from the fireworks to the streetlamps behind us and back again, over and over. By the end of the display half an hour later, she had worn herself out and was getting fussy. I missed the final salvo while packing the blankets back into her stroller for the trek back to the car. What I didn’t miss was every smile, every laugh, every surprised look as a new firework lit up the baby’s field of vision. She enjoyed it immensely, and I enjoyed watching her take her first look at a larger world outside our door.

Sure, we’ve taken her on outings to restaurants, the grocery, mundane things like that. But we had not yet taken her somewhere just for the sole reason of exposure to a larger part of American culture. She controlled the entire outing from the amount of stimulation she got to when it was time to pack up and go. Allowing her to control her own destiny to that degree was the most appropriate thing I can think of that we could offer her for the occasion. I’m glad we did it, and I looking forward to her reaction to the fireworks next year.

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