"You know, kids don't like fireworks--grownups do.”
This little pearl of wisdom was imparted to me, at a 4th
of July fireworks display, by a four-year-old boy who was
looking with sympathy at my terrified two- year-old son.
was clear to me that he spoke from experience. Then as if
to give me a wink and a nudge he confided to me,
“They're too loud for kids." Instead of heeding
this kid’s advice and relieving my son of his terror by
taking him home, I was annoyed at this boy for stating the
obvious. I gave him a condescending smile, resolute in my
own stubbornness that we were going to survive this.
How many parents had I seen in similar circumstances,
dragging their kids kicking and screaming to something
they were afraid of? How many circuses and parades had I
been to as a kid just balling at the mere sight of a
clown? With this in mind I felt sure that I wasn’t going
to make the same mistake with my children. I was going to
be sensitive to their needs. I would not unduly frighten
them. But there I was, not only ignoring my son’s needs,
but determined to figure out how I could get him to enjoy
It happened a few years ago when my wife, son, and I were
at a friends house for an annual Fourth of July picnic and
The neighborhood volunteer fire department
put on a little fireworks display, and their front yard
happened to be the perfect venue. While everyone was out
front watching the fireworks my wife and I were in the
backyard trying to figure out what to do with our two-year-old shell-shocked son.
Seeing as how my son had endured thunder storms fairly
well up until then, I thought fireworks shouldn't be so
bad. The poor guy shook so violently that he couldn't even
cry, his voice just quivered. I'm not even sure what he
was trying to say, which of course didn't matter. The
message was clear, "Get Me the Hell Out of
My next move was to retreat to the far end of the yard
where there was a large wooden swing set, complete with
canopied deck. My wife followed me without question.
Before the fireworks started we couldn’t drag him away
from those swings so I figured it might provide him some
comfort. I decided to take him atop the deck under the
canopy where my wife and I huddled close by him, as we
tried to reassure him. He just kept looking back and forth
at each of us and quivered, "Mommy...? Daddy...?"
We must have looked like some suburban
refugee family escaping a missile attack from the local
volunteer fire department.
Finally the obvious solution came to us. "O.K. Do you
want to leave?" We said to him. Relieved at our
sudden attack of commonsense he said, "Yeah."
a tone that could only mean, "Now when did you rocket
scientists figure that one out?"
It had been a rough day for him. Earlier that day we had
been to another party. This one was for a daughter of a
friend of ours who was celebrating her third birthday.
There my son was terrorized by a six-foot purple dinosaur.
Apparently this girl had been to a birthday party a week
earlier and Barney was there. That meant Barney had to be
at her party. Even though her mother initially said no,
she was able to put the whammy on her when she said,
"Mommy, why isn't Barney my friend?" With that
her mother was on the phone to have him at the party.
Apparently he's listed.
So Barney arrived just as we did, and my son was simply
not happy about this at all. Throughout Barney's stay,
which was an interminable 45 minutes, my son kept at least
25 feet between him and the old purple biped. My wife and
I had nothing more intelligent to say than “Aren’t you
going to go up to him to say hi?” The poor guy just had
a lousy day, and all at our behest. To him it was like we
were urging him to walk in front of a firing squad saying,
“Go on it’ll be fun.”
It is comical to watch parents around children when they
are introducing them to our well established rituals, and
the kids don’t respond as we hope. I will never forget
the scene I witnessed one Christmas, before I was a
parent, while shopping at a mall. As I passed a long line
that led to Santa there was a young couple trying to coax
there young 4-year-old boy onto Santa's lap. Now he was
having nothing to do with this, but his mother was
determined to get the picture taken. She commandeered her
husband who seemed like a fairly clueless accomplice.
told him to grab one arm while she grabbed the other, and
they tried to drag him to Santa's lap. The kid was
screaming like James Cagney on his last walk to “the
chair” in Angels With Dirty Faces. As they dragged him
over to Santa the kid actually would not let his butt
touch Santa's knee. It was like there were magnets in his
pants and Santa's knee and both of them were negative.
there is this kid spread eagle in front of Santa's knee
screaming with his mother and father each holding an
outstretched hand. Finally the mother snaps at one of
Santa’s elfin assistants, "Just take the
I'd like to see where in the family album that pictures
I have more sympathy for those parents then I did when I
first saw that incident, now that I am a parent. As a
parent, I can imagine how that mother was probably worn
down by a day of constant nagging annoyances and the
threat of an nonrefundable visit to Santa. Before I was a
parent, I would have just thought how I could have handled
it better. I have since experienced how humbling
parenthood can be. How you sometimes find yourself in
situations you swore you’d never be in. I try to remain
vigilant of my own shortcomings as a parent, but reason
doesn’t always fit into the equation. Sometimes I’m
just a bonehead, and I end up taking my family along for
the ride. It is moments like these that I have to remind
myself of the sage advice that I received from a young
boy, "You know kids don't like fireworks--grownups