Life with a smile:I bravely purchase (and ignite) fireworks

Published 6:18 am Saturday, July 7, 2018


Contributing writer

Fireworks scare me. Not the big booming displays, mind you. Those are fine and I enjoy them very much. It’s the close-range explosives that make me wildly nervous.

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I think I was a teenager before I willingly handled a sparkler. Those things are terrifying. Lucky for me, I grew up in Illinois where virtually all fireworks are still, mercifully, illegal. I can remember feeling quite daring while igniting colored smoke bombs in the driveway as a child.

My children, of course, are obsessed with the idea of festive holiday pyrotechnics. They wheedled and cajoled and begged me to pick up some goodies for the Fourth of July this year and I ultimately caved. There was just one problem. I am also afraid of fireworks vendors.

OK, OK  — “afraid” might be too strong of a word. However, the big white tents with exuberant TNT signs make me nervous simply because they are unfamiliar. I thrive in environments where I fully understand the expectations, rules and local customs. Pop-up shops dedicated to the sale of fireworks do not meet that criteria. What, exactly, is inside? How expensive is the stuff? Do I need cash or can I pay by card? Will my utter ignorance of the finer points of incendiary craftsmanship make me the object of patronizing mansplaining??

Pull yourself together, Kate. It’s for the children.

I undertook a solo mission, operating under the (almost certainly accurate) assumption that my children would lose their collective minds if allowed to give input into my selections. Parking my stately minivan, I sidled nervously up to the tent only to be greeted by a friendly guy with kind eyes wearing multiple articles of camouflage clothing. I threw myself on his mercy, explaining that I wanted to find a few fun items that were unlikely to permanently maim any of my children.

He nodded knowingly and ushered me into the tent. Oh. My. Goodness. Who knew such wonders existed? The basic metal sparklers and glow snakes of my youth have been joined by countless other explosive marvels. Rockets and airplanes and glowing fountains. Three-foot-long sparklers and swords that shoot fire. And those were just the kid-friendly ones.

I made a few modest selections, handed over my Discover card and headed home in triumph.

The kids were scheduled to spend the Fourth of July holiday with their dad, so we tried out our stash a few days before, expertly dodging several thunderstorms. The ominous wind gusts made ignition a bit tricky, but we prevailed.

The kids were delirious with joy as they frolicked in the driveway with their sparklers. I bordered on hysterical hyperventilation as the sparks flew, calculating in my mind how long it would take me to race to their side and roll them in a blanket when their hair caught fire. Wait — did I even have a blanket? Maybe I should use the garden hose. Do they teach “stop, drop and roll” in the schools anymore?

When it came time to light the more enthusiastic (though still mild) items, I forced the kids to stand in the garage while I ventured forth alone to light the fuses. As parents, we take great risks for our children. It is our noble calling.

I’m pleased to report that no children caught fire that night, although one child stepped on a used-up-but-still-hot sparkler with her bare feet, prompting a serious conversation about the importance of appropriate footwear when burning things.

They loved the smoke and the lights and the sizzles and, as always, I loved seeing them happy. Maybe next year, I’ll let them come with me to the magical tent of wonders.