*Reflections from Pam Henderson a few years ago.

The 4th of July and Summer Festival parades bring back many fond childhood memories for me.

We lived a block off the parade route in Michigan City and my Grandma lived on Lincolnway on La Porte’s route, so we would save our spots – the same ones every year – at the crack of dawn. In those days, the parades didn’t start until 1:00 pm, so we whittled the hours away along the curb watching people and playing backgammon. Our parades attracted Grand Marshalls like Peggy Lennon from the “Lawrence Welk Show” and Doug Plank from the Chicago Bears. I can’t help but laugh thinking about how my cousins and I hid behind our Grandma when the Sword Man approached. As soon as we could see the Shriners down the road, that was my sister’s cue to go to the bathroom. She was terrified of him. There was always a brave soul with a watermelon for him to slice to prove that his sword was real.

These traditions have continued on with my children, nieces and nephew. I remember my husband rushing down Franklin Street with our 2 year old daughter in his arms to greet Ronald McDonald. Our family posed every year with the Uncle Sam on stilts. The Sword Man continues to bring guarded enthusiasm to the little ones. We still love to catch a glimpse of someone we know marching with a band, dancing with Jazzercise, or walking with a scout troop. And, we always heckle the firemen into squirting water from one of the fire trucks. No matter how old we get, we all seem to become children again when it’s parade time.

This holiday weekend’s forecast calls for hot, hot weather, so extra precaution is needed so your family can enjoy the festivities safely. You might want to pack a bag ahead of time or create a checklist so that you don’t forget anything as you rush out the door on parade morning.

Sunscreen is a must. Apply it about 30 minutes before heading down to the parade, and reapply about every 2 hours. Be sure to cover noses, foreheads and ears, too. Wearing a brimmed hat that covers your face and neck can provide even more protection. My blonde-haired daughter got a sunburn on top of her head recently; if your child won’t wear a hat, maybe she’ll wear a bandana. Some spots along the parade route may have enough room for you to attach an umbrella to a chair or to rest on the ground. Be sure that the umbrella is secure so it doesn’t poke or fall on anyone.

To stay cool throughout the parade, use a squirt bottle filled with cold water to mist yourself and your children. Be sure to reapply sunscreen after getting wet. Water resistant sunscreens have limited protection after getting wet.

Fill a cooler or large jug with ice and plenty of water. Know that alcohol and caffeine drinks tend to dehydrate. Be sure your children have a good night’s sleep before the parade – but it’s hard because they’re so excited; and, encourage them to eat a healthy breakfast on parade morning. There is something about being at the parade that makes me want to eat every piece of junk food I can find. This year I’m talking myself into healthier snacks – and trading in chips and candy for roasted almonds and pretzels. We’ll see if I can resist the lure of M & M’s.

Be cognizant of your child’s fear of noise. Sirens, instruments and some vehicles can generate a lot of noise during the parade, and when the noise bounces off buildings it becomes even louder. The noise combined with discomforting heat and being over-tired is a meltdown waiting to happen. Our daughter wears noise reduction headphones during the military plane flyover and parade of emergency vehicles; ear plugs also do the trick and are relatively inexpensive. Sometimes, you might just need to go for a walk around the block to preserve the peace – a change of scenery can change the attitude of a cranky child or a cranky adult.

The 4th of July and fireworks go hand-in-hand. I will never forget the pain of stepping on a sparkler when I was 10 years old; and, it’s a pain I don’t wish on anyone. If you have sparklers, keep a bucket nearby filled with cool water so the spent sparklers can be safely disposed. The National Council on Fireworks Safety (NCFS) advises that sparklers should not be used by anyone younger than 12, and teenagers using fireworks need to be monitored by an adult. The NCFS also urges you to read all caution labels before lighting fireworks, and know what is legal where you live. Never try to re-light a “dud” or try to light homemade fireworks. These can cause serious injury – or worse.

It is heartwarming at the parades to see our County’s families and guests proudly waving their American flags and to salute and honor the veterans who pass by. No matter our differences, on Independence Day, we are united by a common thread that is a love for our nation. There is no better time than the 4th of July to share with your children how lucky we are to live in the United States, and why this date is so important.