One of my absolute favorite things to do on the 4th of July is go down to the National Mall for the National Symphony Orchestra concert and fireworks. It has special significance since the KingofHearts and I actually met on Independence Day at the National Mall. (Well, we lived next door to one another before that but we didn't actually speak until that Fourth of July on the Mall. Long story. Actually, not a long story - he wasn't that impressed with me. End of story.)

The Fourth is one of my preferred holidays and every year, that's my preferred activity to celebrate. That's what I want to do when asked. There's just something so cool about being in the nation's capitol during the Independence Day celebration.

Since September 11, the Mall experience has gotten a lot more difficult. There are now restrictions from where you may enter the Mall to what you may pack in your picnic lunch and what you may carry in your pockets. And I'm all for new experiences, so for the past few years, we've tried a few different things.

One year, we saw the fireworks in the Inner Harbor at Baltimore, (near Fort McHenry) from the landing of the National Aquarium. That was awesome. So was the food they'd provided and the entertainment for the kids. But the most awesome was just showing up with the clothes on our backs and being led to actual chairs and serv
ed actual food that I did not have to lug in.

In other years we've been invited to big, extravagant parties at rich people's homes where I sat on a bale of hay next to a Supreme Court Justice while eating my fried chicken out of my lap, watching my daughter ride a pony and then planning for a dip in the pool if it got too hot. That was pretty cool too. It pays to know people who know people who know people - all of the fun without any of the responsibility to meet, greet or act respectable over and above not causing a riot. Heaven for me.

We've done quite a few other fun things on the Fourth but no matter what we end up doing, I miss the National Mall.

Last year we went to Philadelphia to visit a friend who w
as living there at the time. We were torn between seeing the big Philly firework show that had been talked up to us and going to Valley Forge. I, the fake historian of the family, opted for Valley Forge because it would be more "authentic" or some such nonsense. Do you know what they do in Valley Forge for Independence Day? Nothing. No. Thing. I guess it's authentic in that that's probably what Washington's soldiers did while there too.

When we got there, I understood why they might not do a fireworks show - there is waist-high grass as far as the eye could see, just waiting to burst into flame when a stray spark glances in its direction. But there was nothing else either. No parade. No reading of the Declaration of Independence. No fife and drum corps. Not even a str
ay reenactor dressed up in his own makeshift redcoat costume. It was weird. The closest thing to a celebration was deer as tame as cows and a local parade in a neighboring hamlet that promised "blocks of entertainment."

So, we packed up the car and drove back to Philly that night for their show. What Valley Forge lacked in planning, Philadelphia scored an A plus. On the program was: a big band, some kid who won a song contest, some other performer I don't remember, Fantasia from American Idol, some other performer I don't remember, and Lionel Richie... plus "fireworks at dusk." Looking at that lineup now, I don't know why my first thought wasn't "How on earth will they fit all that in and still have time for fireworks around 9:00ish like I'm used to in D.C.?" We just thought it'd be awesome, sitting in front of the steps Rocky climbed, watching a firework show that was supposedly bigger than the District's happen out over the river. Plus, I'm a child of the 80s and Lionel Richie was no chopped liver to the still teen aged portion of my brain.

So about 4:00, we staked out our claim and settled down to wait for the show.
At 10:45 when Lionel Richie still had not come near the stage, we gave up. The Dormouse was exhausted from a day of walking all over but too over-stimulated to sleep, we had had our fill of the mentally ill dude who was preaching to the crowd about how the government was watching him because of their concern that he'd steal all the women, and we couldn't justify anymore time spent waiting for the promised fireworks that never came. We finally left before seeing even one pretty explosion in the sky or hearing one note of Dancin' on the Ceiling. On the interstate on our way out of Philadelphia, we saw a few stray fireworks - this was around a quarter to midnight. I'm glad we didn't stay.

So this year, I wanted things to be different. And like every year, I really wanted to go to the Mall, despite the fact that Tony Danza, the cheerleader from Heroes and yet another American Idol reject were not a big selling point for me.
But then events conspired and before I knew it we'd changed all those plans and were now going to watch a firework show in a local park. Which... it's not the National Mall, but... mmmkay whatever, I have a three year old who just wants to see fireworks and I'm pregnant. Sometimes you ask for champagne and you just get water.

So we packed our pic-a-nic basket with all things good to The Dormouse (i.e., bananas and jellybeans) and headed down to the park. We sat there for about ten minutes, eating sandwiches and waiting for the city band to set up when the police started driving around the park announcing over the loudspeaker that there was a tornado watch and they were evacuating the park.

Tornado + picnic in the park = poor July 4th experience.

So we left. We got home, turned on the television and watched newscasters and police complain about how they couldn't get 500,000 people on the Mall to
go into buildings (have you ever BEEN to the Mall? There are no buildings except museums and ALL the museums close at 5:30. And since I didn't hear a thing about any of the museums reopening to allow people in, I'm guessing that probably wasn't an option for most people.) We kept trying to find information on what local or city shows were still happening, but there was none.

By 8:00 The Dormouse was exhausted, so we put her to bed, promising to see one of the firework shows in the next few days that had been rescheduled. Which apparently, also isn't an option because they appear to all have gone off as scheduled once the tornado and thunderstorm watches had expired around 8:00.
As I was drifting off to sleep, I heard the familiar boom boom boom of the firework show a few miles down the road and promised myself next year will be different. Next year we will definitely see fireworks and go downtown. Next year.... when I will have a four year old and a nine-month-old to keep worry about losing in the throng of 500,000 people.

Or maybe we'll just plan to watch it on TV now.

Fourth of July photo - as taken by The Dormouse