I sat in my quiet house on one of the first sunny Sunday afternoons we’ve had all year. I finally got a minute to curl up on the couch with a book and the cat.
It had been an absolutely full-to-the-brim weekend of nonstop activity. There was family in town. Birthdays to celebrate. The older kiddo performed in her big school musical – a culmination of hours of rehearsal put in since New Year’s. On top of it all, there was shopping and laundry and dishes to do.
But at 4 p.m., it was me on the couch and the toddler asleep in her car seat at my feet. She’d felt the effects of the weekend’s activities, too.
My weekends weren’t like this before I had kids. I certainly wouldn’t have committed, as I’d done this day, to spending my perfect spring Sunday on a curb watching an hour-long parade. Not everyone loves a parade. But that’s where we found ourselves – my husband, 1-1/2-year-old Penelope and me – on a gorgeous afternoon.
It was the annual Loyalty Day parade in Brandon, South Dakota – a fanfare stemming from 1920s-era patriotism in the face of communism, an answer to May Day or International Workers Day celebrated in other parts of the world. The Loyalty Day parade is a 54-year tradition in Brandon, and it’s said to be one of the largest parades in South Dakota.
So we dressed sweet Penelope in the most adorable star-spangled dress – navy blue, white stars and red bows – and parked her stroller curbside. As the American Legion’s color guard marched the flags on by, and the horses and tractors and flatbed floats started to roll, Penelope tried to make sense of it all. Kids next to us pounced on tossed candy before she even knew what was raining down in brightly colored wrappers. After a few reminders from their mom, the neighboring kids took to leaving a piece or two for the baby to collect at her own pace – toddling over, steadying herself as she bent down to examine each Tootsie Roll and Dum-Dum. Next it became a chore to convince her to let go of her prize, fill up her candy bag and be ready to collect more. There was so. Much. More.
The city of Brandon goes all out for this parade. I saw one boy’s face light up like he won the lottery as he ran back to his camp with a full sized Twix bar raised triumphantly above his head.
Penelope eventually caught on. Parade walkers picked her out in her stars and bows and made sure she got her fill of sweets. By the end of it, she was waving and shouting “hi!” to every passing car – even as the final police cruiser pulled up the rear and the regular traffic resumed. She was a happy kid. Happy to participate, to take it all in. Happy to see the funny Shriners in their tiny cars, to watch the marching bands and to dance to the AC/DC blaring from the back of a pickup truck. Happy to be a kid.
And I was glad to give her that experience. As parents, we sign up for these things – endless lines on humid days at Disney World, dinging games and bad pizza at Chuck E. Cheese’s – things that seemed like hell on Earth to our single selves.
Watching Penelope dance and jump, wave and smile at the passing parade made it all make sense. Seeing her happy is worth it. We do this for the pure joy of it.
On this Mother’s Day weekend, thank you to all of you parents (and aunts, uncles, grandparents, stepparents, siblings, teachers and family friends), who put their kids’ happiness before their own. Those smiles are contagious. And the joy – it spreads. The world can use that right now.