We had a fantastic 4th of July this year. The fact that my husband wasn’t working for the first time since 2007 made a big difference. More than that, the activities we participated in were completely new to us, and so I had little choice but to just…go with it. Typically, peeling the grease-stained To-Do list from my angsty claw sends me into a low-grade panic. Every once in a blessed while, however, I’m able to take the hand of my calm-and-steadfast partner and just FLOW. This may sound weird, but for me, that’s where God likes to hang out: in the calm blue water between Plan and Expectation. I guess maybe that’s what un-crazy people mean when they talk about “being present.” Whatever, I haven’t been to yoga in awhile. I just know that it was freaking awesome.
Am I alone in feeling like there’s an inverse relationship between the level of joy and the level of expectation about what “should be,” in life in general really, but most notably on holidays? I am at my happiest between Thanksgiving and December 23rd, because I have the better part of a month to flit among the twinkle-light-bejeweled trees and buy shit for people I love and anticipate how AMAZING IT’S ALL GONNA BE. I spend Christmas Eve in an hell-tornado of frenzied preparation and then Christmas Day walking among my hungover family members in oversized flannel pajamas thinking, “well this is…fine.”
With apologies to my more devout compatriots who celebrate the holiday for the actual reasons it was intended, I have never gone to bed on Christmas night thinking, “wow, that was better than I anticipated.” It’s not that Christmas with my family sucks. It’s that an embarrassingly large part of my psyche still believes that I’m going to awaken on December 25th to find that Santa has come. Except that instead of leaving dolls with realistic bodily functions, he’s rearranged my DNA to render me calm and grateful and “like a bowl full o’ jelly” or whatever. I have big expectations about what Christmas is supposed to look and feel like. And expectations are the scummy rainwater-filled potholes in the Road of Life.
There’s not so much pressure on the 4th of July. It falls smack-dab in the middle of a season known for being too hot to do much but languish on porches and schvitz until someone offers air conditioning and/or smoked pork products. Daylight Savings means there’s literally more time in the day, and even the most suit-and-tie grown-ups among us have enough inner child leftover to feel, at least sometimes, like “it’s just summer reading. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
Independence Day is incredibly meaningful, but we’re not talking about anyone’s God being born or dying and unlike most other patriotic holidays, we’re not remembering loss and sacrifice specifically. It’s about freedom and new beginnings, pride and community, but in a mildly lazy, spontaneity-and-bomb-pop-woven way, one unintimidating and filled with possibility. Not weighty “have i appropriately atoned for all my defective behavior” or “will I receive a Red Ryder B-B gun” possibility, but “it’s only been 20 minutes since lunch but i’m going swimming anyway,” or “can i get all these bottle rocket fuses lit and run away before I lose an ear” kind of possibility. Child-like possibility. ChildHOOD possibility.
I think a big part of what helped with flow this year is that I have children. Children who are old enough to engage and experience some of the things that make 4th of July such a laid-back and whimsical holiday, but too young to handle a hot summer day filled with wall-to-wall activity. Old enough to be able to skip nap without dissolving into a puddle of snot and hysteria, but too young to possess the motor skills to set combustibles on fire. The tiny flags, the red-white-and-blue dollar-bin sunglasses, the past-bedtime popsicles dripping on filthy bare feet—experiencing this holiday with my children was as close as it gets to being a child myself again. And what I miss the most about being a kid in summer is that perfect mix of so much wonder and so little responsibility. All fun, all day long.
Also, I cannot overstate that when you’ve gotten used to spending many holidays alone in your house with squalling babies waiting on your husband to return from work and he’s suddenly THERE with you, cold BBQ and a grass-filled kiddie pool may as well be a catered yacht-trip through the Caribbean.
Expectations, y’all. Without them, all things are possible.