The loneliest family holiday

For years, the 4th of July was one of my favorite holidays.  My childhood 4ths were filled with memories of beach trips to the grandparents, boating with cousins, and running around open fields of blankets and coolers with new little friends. Teenage 4ths were about friends and flirting and sneaking Zimas.  And in my early 20’s it was backyard BBQs and grown boys launching street fireworks.  

But something changes when you’re new to a city, the first of your friends to have a baby, or the last of your friends to get married.  Suddenly this very social, universal day of sun and cheer becomes something else…it becomes kind of lonely. 

My first taste of this was the summer of 2008.  I’d recently moved out of my ex’s house and realized that one year into living in Chicago my only friends were from high school in KC and a couple of other Yalies scattered in the city.  I was waiting tables at the time, trying to build GiveForward, and I got the day off because I’d assumed I’d have plans…I’d never not had plans in my 26 years of 4th of Julys.  

That morning I called my mom, feeling sorry for myself.  I’d been putting all of my time and energy into rebuilding my life post breakup and trying to start a company with no money that I hadn’t invested in friendships.  She listened and then said, “You know what you should do?” (her most famous sentence :), “You should call that sweet girl Sharon from Yale and ask her what she’s doing!” I groaned back at her about how lame that would be, since we weren’t super close. 

But a couple of hours later, I did call Sharon  who was generous and caring and invited me to join her for an amazing day.  She brought me to multiple parties including my first roof deck fireworks, and ultimately she wing manned that night as I met my future husband.  

Fast forward four years, and I found myself in a similar situation.  Being married to a police officer in Chicago means you never get your husband on the 4th.  The fireworks apparently bring out the desire to shoot, handgun violence explodes in the city, and no one gets the night off. The previous years I’d worked.  But the 4th of July 2012 was my first as a mom. Griffin was just 7 months old and a very challenging sleeper.  I had no friends with kids, so I had no idea what to do that day except pray that the fireworks wouldn’t keep him up too late. 

The next years were better, sort of. We had people over during the day, and the year after my sister had a party.  But both times Finn was the only kid, and I was still alone at 8 o’clock listening to fireworks from the couch as he slept. 

Last year (aka year five of being a mom), we had our best 4th yet. I was in KC with my friend Lindsay and our kids, watching fireworks over the lake and adventuring through 11pm bedtimes.  I remember having a moment on the boat as my kids splashed and laughed thinking “this is what the 4th of July is supposed to be.”

This year, we’ll be in Chicago, and we have no plans.  A spark of panic hit me last weekend as I realized that this year wouldn’t compare to last.  I decided to put myself out there again and asked my most social friend Cindu what she’s doing, with the hopes of tagging along and at the risk of feeling like I was inviting my family to some intimate gathering.  Surprisingly, her family was in the same boat with no plans. 

What this tells me is this is two things.  First, there are some years when holidays just don’t live up to what we imagine (ahem Mother’s Day am I right?), and we just have to cherish the good ones that much more. 

But more importantly, I’m reminded that so many of us are alone for different reasons during holidays.  If we’re willing to be vulnerable and share that, people will gladly invite us to join them.  

And if we do have plans, we all have that new friend who just moved here, or just had a baby, or just got divorced who might be feeling a little lost this 4th.  I hope you’ll reach out to them and check in.

Because you never know what might happen…you might just meet your future partner or next best friend.