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Fireworks, Barney, and Santa Claus: An Unholy Trio

"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. It 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.

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 fireworks show. 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 Here!"

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 of 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." In 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. She 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. So 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 picture."

I'd like to see were in the family album that pictures rests.

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 do."

Copyright © 2005 - 2019 Hal Levy and the above captioned author.