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Have a Safe Fourth Celebration

America's annual celebration of our independence is seemingly inextricable with "safety." As with so much else, we have become hyper-focused on the safety of our children (while, sometimes it seems, forgetting to worry about adults -- who drive drunk and make all sorts of ill-advised choices -- every year setting houses on fire with fireworks and hot dog grills), often to the exclusion of fun. There is virtually no exhortation of hope for children's pleasurable entertainment without an equal or greater-than concern for their bodily wholeness. After all, explosions and fire and the zoomy use of fossil fuels are what this holiday's about.

Not that we don't let the kids have fun. Here in Portland, on a Fourth-of-July weekend in which the fireworks are saved (officially) for the very tail end of the holiday period and warm weather has finally come our way, anarchy reigns. By late Monday, the parks with picnic tables had been so heavily used that the garbage cans were not only full; extra garbage bags were stacked up seven deep next to the cans. Illegal fireworks are so rote in neighborhoods -- and so little enforced -- that kids know where the best ones usually are.

Riding through Portland's streets late in the night and winding in and out of parks with my little boys aboard may seem like riding through a war zone, with sulphurous smoke weaving through the rose bushes and cherry trees, explosions going off in every direction, gangs teenagers, wearing halter tops and graffiti-style tees, whooping and hollering and utterly without adult supervision, and garbage slung all over our parks -- but it doesn't. I feel safe in this anarchic place, safe and enveloped in community.

On NPR, there was a story about how a political scientist found that the key determinant in how well we survive disasters (not fireworks so much, but earthquakes and tsunamis and such) is how well we know our neighbors, and how connected we are to our community. I'm thankful that I know my immediate neighbors, and many others through my involvement with community organizations (like urbanMamas and Portland Green Parenting and volunteering with the high school cross country team) -- so that, when I ride around in this anarchic time of celebration, I figure that I must know some of those teenagers, and that we will look out for each other, and I -- and my kids -- belong in this place.


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