Squaring the circle of Memorial Day

I have a confession to make:  Memorial Day throws me for a bit of an emotional loop.  Officially, it is a national holiday to remember those men and women who have fallen in service of their country.  Unofficially, it’s the start of the summer season.  All the excitement and happiness of parties and parades and the pool stand in direct contrast to the solemnity and gravity of the true occasion.  How to handle that juxtaposition?  And how to explain it to my kids?

On the one hand, my family’s all about the beginning of summer, with its barbecues and picnics.  The kids were thrilled when I suggested that we take our pale Irish-German-Polish selves down to the pool right as soon as it opened on Sunday.  C, in particular, has been asking me when it was going to open since February.  I slathered them in SPF50, found their goggles and pool passes, and toted all kinds of stuff like the summer sherpa I am.  The loudspeaker blared summer songs and the kids did handstands in the water and jumped from the high dive.  S and I sat on the beach chairs (mine was in the shade — I can get a sunburn despite all precautions) and marveled that it was already the end of May.  That was Sunday, and it was all about summer fun.

On the other hand, I’m overwhelmed by the enormity of the sacrifice that our servicemen and women make and have made for us — to say nothing of what their families endure. On Monday, we went to the Memorial Day parade and the route ended in the town’s cemetery.  This year, a special presentation was made for Army Spec. Samuel Watts, who died just a week ago from injuries sustained from a roadside bomb’s explosion in Afghanistan earlier this year.   I wondered how his family was bearing up, how his mother was doing.  In the heat of the sun beating down on the cemetery, I realized that from here on out, this holiday would mark the loss of their son/brother.  How do you say thank you to a family who has had to pay the ultimate price?  Words seem to be so insufficient.

We talked to the kids afterwards, trying to help them square the circle of this holiday weekend.  I’m not sure if they really understand the debt we owe to so many people to allow us to live here as we do.  Honestly, I know I didn’t really get it as a kid; Memorial Day meant summer was here.  As a mom, however, I keep thinking of all the other mothers and wives and families who have had to bear such a burden, and I feel such intense, conflicting emotions of sadness and gratitude, grief and pride — yet another juxtaposition of Memorial Day.

How was your weekend?

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About thethingaboutjoan

Mom of three who knits a little, bakes a lot, crafts a bit and blogs about it all.
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5 Responses to Squaring the circle of Memorial Day

  1. Its funny, I think that since becoming a mother, I’ve become exponentially more sensitive to these sorts of things. Hearing of anyone suffering, dying too young, getting sick, etc., I just can’t help but feel so sad thinking of their parents, wives, husbands, children. Cliche for sure, but life’s just not fair.

    I think its wonderful to try and help your children become more aware of life beyond their family and friend circle. Even if they don’t “get” things like Memorial Day–I know I didn’t as a kid–, I’d imagine that over the years seeing your sensitivity would open them up to contemplate the meaning behind the holiday.

    Thanks for your post Joan. Though my little one isn’t at the age yet for such talks, I like thinking about these things and considering how we’ll handle these situations as they arise a few years down the way.

    • (Trying this again) I know exactly what you mean. What they don’t tell you in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” is that you’re now never going to be able to read or watch sad or horrible stories about kids without feeling it in the pit of your stomach. And I’m finding that as my kids get older, I feel even more empathy for other parents. But parents and families of soldiers? They amaze me with their courage.

  2. Katie B says:

    It is definitely hard to explain to kids that it’s not national BBQ day. It’s even harder when you don’t know anyone in the military and there are no parades or ceremonies to mark the day.

    looking forward to reading more. Glad I found you.

    • Hey Katie! Thanks for coming by! I agree, it would be harder to explain without some sort of public remembrance. I think the kids understood more about the meaning of the day because of the focus on this one local soldier.

  3. Diane Hiller says:

    Hi School Chum, I lost your e-mail address. Are you going tomorrow? If you come this far we could ride together. Let me know!

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