July 4th

Way back, before we ever even had any kids I always had specific ideas as to how our holidays should look. One of the things I liked most about Mike during the early days was just how willing he was to help aid me in making these ideals a reality. Rewiring old smog machines and building cardboard coffins to house vampires at Halloween parties. Lining the backyard with a string of tiki torches or brown paper bags with glowing candles for birthday parties. Setting up tables and building props for anything else I came to request in the midst of so many excuses for celebrations there in our early 20s. When any reason we could figure for a house party being reason enough.

For the most part, he's always been a good sport. Managed time and time again to ensure these events look and feel the way I envisioned they might. And for that, 17 years down the line,  still something I try hard not to take for granted. But growing more grateful in considering how sweetly these special days are sure to color the memories that will carve out the lasting visions of our boy's childhood, for life.

If you're a long time reader here than you already know our Fourth of July tradition consists of setting up camp at San Onofre for a full day's worth of surf, snacks, music and friends. With my favorite 1948 hand sewn American flag hung from the highest point, Muddy Waters on the stereo and usually skies full of gray soaked clouds helping mask July's true weather potential. A blessing in disguise because right when we complain about the sun missing for too long, it reappears and it's brutal. We've come to accept that overcast hours are where it's at on days this, at their longest.

We start at the break of dawn when we roll out of our camp site around 4am to secure our place in line so when the beach opens at 6, we're able to snag one of our favorite spots. Boys sleep through the whole thing. Then wake early to help hang our decorations, unpack our gear and settle in to greet friends that are always arriving sporadically, at various phases throughout the day. By mid afternoon,every year, I am thoroughly exhausted. This year, especially so. But I forced myself to sneak in a quick nap to recharge before the end of day BBQ and firework festivities, which helped. The kids were relentless. And found thrills in the form of a giant beach ball half way buried in the sand they used as a launch pad for cliff side front flips and jumping contests. Arlo spent the other half the day in the water, with the kind of skills that make it look as if he's out there in the ocean on a regular basis. When really, his last solid session was probably close to a year ago. Rex went out too, for the very first time at five years old like a champ, sans wetsuit and stood up on his first try. Then again, and again and again. He lasted 30 minutes altogether but no doubt proved himself in that big blue exotic ocean. Reemerging with a new sense of pride in conquering something that previously belonged solely to that of his older brother. Whom he is forever trying to figure out how to become. This, being one more respectable step in that direction.

Hayes and Leon stuck closer to the RV. Hayes, evidence of a babe who met the scent of a camp site sometime shortly after his second week of life, hung easily wandering around the dirt the whole weekend. More around the rock piles on the beach. Leon stayed mostly indoors taking shady retreat while he waited out his tummy aches. Having been cursed with some kind of weird stomach bug just before we left, it wasn't easy for him to get comfortable. We made so many trips to so many public restrooms this time around I swear I was stuck seeing grim reflections of them all in my dreams in the days there after. But we made it through. Counting it as further proof to that "easy" should never be what's expected.

In the end though, the day played just as pretty as all the years before. Smoked salmon on the grill with friends in honor of a birthday late Friday night. Bon Fire before bed, coffee from the kettle early Saturday morning. Kids running freely around the sand and in the showers, naps in teepees after noon. Non stop surf, tables crowded with snacks, dads making hot dogs and drinking beer. Topped off with the end of the day highlight that comes in the shape of a long rambling ride around downtown with ten or so kids stuck out of the sunroof of our Dodge RV waving at streets overflowing with grips of joyfully drunken patriotic patrons cheering them from the sidewalks, the rooftops, convertibles and window sills. The baby with his face pressed in awe against the window pane watching a guy holding a cigar, in short shorts and an over sized flag clenched in one hand racing the RV to the stop light with our deliriously happy kids chanting "USA, USA, USA!" from the rooftops to the finish line is a sight I swear I won't soon forget. A few slow glorious miles of them feeling like the star of their own, one man parade. A ride they all talked about the whole next morning as if nothing in the day before it had ever mattered. Far more thrilling it seems than even the oceanside fireworks finale that exploded there above the waters we were sat sun spent and content on our sand scattered blankets until the very end. It was the ride in that big old run down motor home that meant the most. A ride that never would have happened had Mike not known a hundred creative ways to fix it there in those curbside tune ups he's notorious for to see to it that he gets it where it needs to be. To make the most of our weekend. Keep promise to our expectations. Possessing, sometimes I swear, just a small does of magic in each of these new proven successions he comes to fulfill on a whim every time. Captain of the holiday, steering us right where I planned and hoped we would be.