We have a new baby in our house this summer. Having a new baby does funny things to one’s sense of time; each 24-hour block is no longer divided into “day” and “night,” but instead becomes a series of 2-hour feed-burp-nap sessions. This makes it hard to leave the house – a challenge that’s been compounded this summer by the hot, humid, stormy, mosquito-y weather. Venturing outside these days carries with it a high likelihood of heatstroke, electrocution, and itchy red welts.
Staying housebound under a fan with three daughters who can’t play outside, and feeding a newborn every two hours poses certain threats to a mom’s sanity.
After ten years of marriage, my husband has learned that it’s in his best interest to keep me sane. So during the second week of our baby’s life, when we had grandparents staying with us, he took me out for ice cream several nights in a row.
Our ice cream dates followed the same pattern: We’d put our three older girls to bed, strap the baby into her carseat, and drive to Lu Lu in Bristol. (Lu Lu was our ice cream parlor of choice because it’s the most “adult” option: they make small-batch artisanal flavors that often sound bizarre – Curried Peanut?! – but always taste delicious). By this time of day, the heat was waning, the thunderstorms were taking a breather, and the sky was still light, so we’d eat our ice cream outside and then go for a stroll around town.
On our last ice cream date of the week, we were cutting across the Bristol town green when we stumbled upon a scene that struck me as uniquely, timelessly American. The Bristol Band, which has given free outdoor summer concerts since the Civil War era, was playing in the gazebo. A small crowd watched them from folding chairs and picnic blankets. Perhaps because it was the week before July 4th, the musical offerings had a patriotic theme. As the band launched into their finale – the National Anthem – the entire crowd rose to its feet.
Now, I’m part of Generation X. I don’t do patriotic, or nostalgic. I grew up in the era of MTV, “Greed is good,” and the Internet explosion. My generation had it easy, so we’re often (rightly) considered selfish, cynical, and apathetic. For most of my life, the U.S. government has done embarrassing things in public, which tends to discourage a sense of national pride. What was there to be proud of? That’s honestly how I felt, until we walked into that band concert. Right then, I began to understand patriotism for the first time.
It could have been a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting: the brass band playing in the white gazebo, the summer twilight, the plain and wholesome crowd standing in respect. Many of those present had likely fought in at least one war. Some wore scarves and shirts printed with the American flag. One young boy stood between his grandparents with his hand frozen in a salute.
But if you looked just a little bit closer, you’d realize that the scene was actually quite modern. Here are a few things you should know about that night: Under the pine trees, a cherubic blond toddler – about as Rockwellian as they come – frolicked with his friend, a beautiful African American girl. Earlier that day, the Supreme Court had voted not to uphold DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), thereby giving gay and lesbian couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. And I stood next to my Chinese American husband, pushing our interracial baby in a stroller, and nobody gave us a second look.
It was as if time had collapsed in on itself. Some things don’t change, like summer band concerts and small town communities and children playing under the trees. But some things DO change; the process may be slow and arduous, but our country has a history of granting people equal rights despite our differences. It’s one of those facts that we hear too often and take for granted, until one day we suddenly feel at our core what it means to live in a place that – despite its many faults -- hasn’t yet given up on freedom and equality.
That’s something I can feel proud, even patriotic, about.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone puppy — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.