A refuge for kids, and civility

Posted Aug. 09, 2009, at 8:50 p.m.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a column about my disappointment at the behavior of some people at this year’s Fourth of July concert by the Boston Pops in Boston.

A group of drunken college students, who were either unaware of or not deterred by the presence of my young children, mocked the patriotic songs, used profanity and laughed through everything else. One man beside us even threatened to beat up the woman in front of him.

My boys were mostly oblivious, but I found myself torn between keeping an eye on our surroundings and enjoying the concert myself. (Side note: The Boston Pops has invited our family back to see its holiday performance, which attracts a different, family-friendly crowd, this December. I hope to be able to write a more positive column about that experience later this year.)

After my column about the Fourth of July appeared, there was a letter to the editor suggesting that I should have stayed local if I wanted to expose my children to a wholesome event that they would always remember. It was already too late for the Fourth of July, but last Tuesday evening, Dustin and I took the boys to Cascade Park, just a stone’s throw from Eastern Maine Medical Center and the Ronald McDonald House, to see the Bangor Band perform.

I should pause here and mention that my boys — Ford, 8; Owen, 6; and Lindell, 2 — are difficult to take anywhere. Boys all the way through, they don’t take too kindly to sitting still. I worried that they would be a disruption to the night’s performance. I pictured rows of folding chairs and a hushed crowd. Happily, this wasn’t the case. The Bangor Band was set up on a hill that slopes toward the fountain of water, and listeners were scattered across the grass on blankets and lawn chairs. Some were even enjoying a picnic dinner. My boys would fit right in.

We found a park bench on the opposite side of the fountain where we could still hear the band and had a perfect view of the waterfall slipping down the stair-stepped hills and the night sky above the pine trees. Eventually, a burnt-orange full moon rose behind us, over the old Bangor Waterworks building.

The brick walkway that makes a circle around the water fountain was a perfect track for the boys. To the beat of classic, big band music, they chased each other, stopping only occasionally in front of us, a makeshift viewing stand, to do a little dance, or to fall in the freshly mowed grass and wrestle each other. The elderly woman sitting nearby who tapped her foot to the music and clearly delighted in my boys’ antics made me think of my grandmother Doris.

Our youngest son, Lindell, especially enjoyed himself as he ran in the fresh air. Dustin and I laughed at his sagging diaper, noticeable only as thick padding through his romper that moved quickly from side to side as he waddled around the fountain. The backside of his clothes and socks were covered in dirt. Purple and orange splotches on the front of his clothes were all that remained of his peanut butter and jelly picnic dinner. Lindell couldn’t have been happier.

An older, school-age girl was riding her scooter in circles around the fountain. Each time she passed by, Lindell fell in step behind her to play-chase. With his outstretched hand, he went round and round the sidewalk, giggling so much we thought he’d fall down trying to catch that scooter. The girl was nice enough to humor Lindell and even let him win a few times.

There are images in my life that I know I will never forget. One is the look on Ford’s face when I put him on the bus for the first day of kindergarten. Another is of Owen’s big brown eyes close to mine as we rubbed noses when he was a baby. I know that another one will be Lindell’s rosy cheeks, his eyes half-shut in uncontrollable laughter, and his hair blown straight up by the wind as he chased that scooter around the fountain.

But the best part of the night was when everyone in the audience stood with hands on their hearts for the national anthem. Dustin has been trying to teach our boys this tradition, and he mentioned how much easier it was with good role models all around them.

Some might say that Bangor is small and that “quaint” equals boring. Many of us travel to places like Boston, Portland and New York City to show our children a busier life. But if it’s true that it takes a village to raise a child, well, then, I choose this village.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. Her book “I’m Just Saying …” is available wherever books are sold. She may be reached at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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