Mama Madison: American traditions

How we celebrate the Fourth

I'm as "Proud To Be An American" as Lee Greenwood could ever hope to be. And thanks to a near-religious Saturday morning devotion to School House Rock growing up, I can still sing the preamble to the US Constitution and know how a bill becomes a law .

My first crush was none other than the author of the Declaration of Independence himself, Thomas Jefferson. The actor that played him in our local dinner theater's bicentennial production of 1776 was even cuter than Vinnie Barbarino and all the Bay City Rollers combined. Casting definitely counts.

But I am not a big fan of light-up-American-flag lapel pins, Miss America speeches or "Don't Tread on Me" bumper stickers. I think these may just be "the impostures of pretended patriotism" George Washington had in mind when he warned against them in his Farewell Address of 1796 [PDF] . I find this Hallmark-y take on nationalistic pride to be a bit of a turnoff. And at no time of year does it wave its flag more intensely than on the Fourth of July.

Growing up in DC, I always felt estranged from Independence Day. With hundreds and thousands of red, white and blue-clad visitors descending upon the Mall to take in the Army-Navy Band playing Sousa, I usually chose to stay home. The Fourth seemed to be a holiday for interlopers chomping at the bit to sing the Star Spangled Banner en masse while overlooking the Reflecting Pool. There was no room for a native, a townie. I was an alien in my own backyard on the "holiest" day of the year in the Nation's Capital.

I cannot remember a single July 4th from my young adulthood in Chicago. As a post-collegiate (maybe-not-so) swinging single, I should have been having the time of my life playing volleyball on North Avenue Beach or at least going to some swank urban barbecue to celebrate our country's birthday. But I don't think I even stayed up late enough to see fireworks. Maybe it was successive Reagan/Bush presidencies, or the fact that I hate loud noises--the holiday still wasn't speaking to me.

But moving to Wisconsin in the late 1990s gave me a sense of civic pride I had never before enjoyed. I could finally name my state senators. Heck, I could finally name my U.S. Senators, sad but true. I became interested in local ordinances and local history.

I even became interested in the Fourth of July.

This year the annual Virginia Terrace July 4th Parade and Block Party -- one of the oldest in Madison-- will be turning 84 years old. That's nearly 84 years (the 'hood took off four years in the late '50s/early '60s due to lack of kids on the block) of youth-engineered floats jockeying for "Most Patriotic" in the eyes of gentle-hearted judges. It is four-score years of adorably aggressive toddlers hunting down lollipops in a wading pool of cedar shavings. It's hard to believe that back in 1927--two years before the Great Depression, not quite two months after Lindbergh's transatlantic flight--families were lined up on both the east and west sides of the street anxiously awaiting the start of the water balloon toss.

While my address technically puts me "Off-Terrace," my family managed to jump the imaginary velvet rope governing invites to the Rockwell-esque celebration the very first summer we moved in. The neighborhood had been running low on little kids once again and decided to include families from adjacent Norwood Place.

I've been a loyal Virginia Terrace patriot every year since. I've made my children promise, that no matter what their addresses may be in the years to come, they will return each Fourth to the Terrace -- a kind of patriotic pilgrimage. While I know monarchy is frowned upon this time of year, I long to someday be the matriarch of one of the event's "Royal Families," holding court, sipping a root beer float and furiously rooting for one of my grandchildren to take first in the "Run to Daddy" contest.

While my neighborhood rocks each and every day, the Fourth is something special. And I know I am not alone in feeling this way. The popularity of community-oriented Independence Day festivities in and around Madison is extraordinary: parties all across town and in surrounding towns and villages. It's wonderful to see love of country played out at this most local of levels.

Yes, some recent events have definitely put some distance between cliched patriotism and me. I can't say I've been able to muster up my normal "Forward" pride this time of year, given what's be going on down at the Capitol.

But, as always, I plan to celebrate our country's independence from England by celebrating my dependence on my neighborhood, my community. And Virginia, sans Terrace, was one of the 13 original colonies, after all.

What's your family doing for the Fourth? Are you part of the Rhythm and Booms crowds, or more sparklers on the corner, like me?

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: What constitutes a keepsake?

As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.

Mama Madison: Young love

Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (Near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.

Mama Madison: What a mother fears most

All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.

Operation Fresh Start's Youth Conservation Corps helps kids, and kids help parks

Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.

Mama Madison: Summer stress solved by yoga

The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.

Mama Madison: The greatest fans of road repair

Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.

Mama Madison: The alarm sounds

As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.

Mama Madison: My summer book list

For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.

Make Music Madison gives young artists a chance to perform

The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.

Mama Madison: Watching talent grow

Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.

Mama Madison: Writing time at Olbrich

If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.

Mama Madison: When UW-Madison's semester is over, the kids want out too

There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.

Mama Madison: Another amazing talent show

My passion for the talent show clearly runs deep, but I'm more than just a fangirl. This year marked my second as one of the "Ziegfelds" of the Follies, Hamilton's annual showcase for singers, musicians, dancers and other varied forms of entertainment. Trust me, when you are part of the spectacle's "producing/directing" team you get a new-found appreciation for how hard the kids worked to get up on stage.

Mama Madison: Preserving children's stories

My daughter, who turned twelve just this past week, is not legally "of age" when it comes to social media. But I guess, in many respects, especially in those that involve screens, I am a permissive pushover. I've allowed her join some networks.

Tenting tonight? Not so fast -- take the time to prepare for the first family camping trip

What adults love about camping -- sleeping under the stars, getting away from it all, the sounds of nature -- can be scary for children. It's dark in a tent. Nothing is familiar. Of course, camping with kids is more work for adults, too. Stay cool, live in the moment. Forget about that lost fork. Making s'mores, spotting wildlife, that's what kids will remember.

Mama Madison: It's time for the college tour

I have just returned from a whirlwind, five-day, four-city college tour with my son. You know those "101 Things to Know Before Visiting Disney World" guidebooks that experienced theme park travelers have written to help the uninitiated? I think I am now officially seasoned enough in information sessions and campus tours to give some serious thought to penning a similar "insiders guide" for the junior-year parent.

Mama Madison: When mom gets a new roomie

This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition.

Mama Madison: Earth Day awareness

It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.

Mama Madison: Parents should know and understand school codes of conduct

I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.

Helping your kids stick with music lessons

Some clever-clogs is playing Rachmaninoff on the piano at a party, and there it is again, that oft-heard adult lament of lost opportunity from a dejected onlooker: "I wish I could play. I wish my parents hadn't let me quit music lessons. I was just a kid -- how was I to know?" It's a reasonable complaint.


Emails from Isthmus Parents feature event highlights, story links, site updates, and occasional special offers from trusted sources. Name and email address are required. Thanks!