Declaring My Independence
When I was young, July was one of my favorite months. It was a huge month for family trips and parties. My mom has eight brothers and sisters and I have some twenty-eight cousins – double that now, as they’re almost all married.
The Forth of July was my grandfather’s birthday, and celebrating the holiday with sparklers, cherry pie and a trip to a water park with my cousins was so exciting that it makes me smile with joy to this day.
I actually remember not being able to sleep the night before we’d leave on our big weekend trip to Cherry Hill – a park and water park about an hour away from my home. It was planned all year long, everyone had mobile homes or campers that we drove into the park and stationed them under the thousands of cherry trees that lined the grounds.
We would have cherry fights, eat cherries until our mouths were red, we’d play miniature golf, swim and go down water slides for house on end. And there was nothing like the smell of my Aunt Pat’s pancakes and bacon in the morning on the campgrounds. My older cousins would take the time to do our hair after a day in the pool, sometimes we’d even get to do our make up (that was always one of my favorite parts!).
But as the years went on, fewer of us went, until finally the holiday at Cherry Hill was no more. The older cousins started getting married and having kids of their own, and new extended family functions to attend. Our parents started to age and suddenly rigging up the camper and packing enough clothes, towels, sunblock, Pepto-Bismol and pancake mix for the whole family wasn’t something that was worth the energy.
Eventually, I moved 2,000 miles away from my hometown. Away from Cherry Hill, my twenty-eight cousins and these family traditions.
With that move, I also got away from over-eating, a strict religion, a certain amount of rigidity and I found my own stride.
This isn’t to say that I don’t love my family and that they aren’t very important to me. They are, and I miss them terribly during the summer. But, the move I made some fifteen years ago did me a lot of good as I learned that the way my family did things wasn’t the way every family did things.
I got to keep the good things, like declaring one night a week a night just for the family. We can go bowling, play board games or cook together. But there is not TV, no movies and no friends. It’s a fun tradition, and one I decided to keep. In addition, I got to leave behind the buckets of ice cream, the countless pies, the strict rules about right and wrong and the family gossip.
The other things I’ve left behind are small, like habits my mom had such as storing my paper shopping bags behind the fridge, starting my holiday shopping in June or making cookies with lard, (that makes me laugh…but I swear, I have one aunt who still won’t make cookies without it! Have you ever tried to wash that stuff off your hands? Yikes.) and judging other people by what they wear.
As this year’s Independence Day arrives, I’ll be thinking of my beautiful cousins, my well-intentioned and sometimes really funny grandmother, my mom and my wonderful aunts and uncles. And at the same time I will be celebrating my own courage and convictions to leave what didn’t serve me behind.
I was acutely reminded of this earlier today as I went running. I have kept the weight off after my second my child — though not without a struggle. But I will not be dieting in front of my daughter for her entire life, or shoving buckets of ice cream down my throat and wondering why the weight isn’t coming off.
I will take time to declare my Independence from all of the stereotypes of motherhood, marriage and what it means to family. I will break away from the examples I had of motherhood and take care of me: my body, my health and my needs.
While this is not quite the Independence that our forefathers declared over 200 years ago, it’s still a large feat in and of itself. It’s not always easy to question what we were raised with, and I hope my kids take the time to do it as well.
I’m really starting to feel like this life I’ve created belongs to me. I’m so proud of that.
So as I remember the wonderful weekends, parties, cherries and picnics that I got to enjoy as a kid, I’m so grateful that I’ve chosen my own path. That I was brave enough to leave behind what didn’t work for me and carry on with what did.
My goal as a mother is to make sure I provide enough freedom for my own kids do the same.
Happy Independence Day