Last year for the Fourth of July, we were experiencing a heat wave with temperatures hovering around a hundred degrees, so we ended up staying in and trying to stay cool rather than risk bringing a baby Lillian out into the heat. And the year before that, we were too busy moving in to our house to do much of anything else. So it’s been a while since we really did anything festive to celebrate Amerirca’s birthday.
This year, the day rolled around and we somehow hadn’t made concrete plans, so I spent some time in the morning frantically Googling around for events and/or fireworks displays we might want to check out. And that’s when I happened upon the Eyes To The Skies hot air balloon festival in Lisle, IL. After calling my mom and learning that she was already familiar with it, we decided to go check it out. Here’s a sneak peek of some of the hot air balloons we would see later in the day:
In addition to the hot air balloons, the festival had a fireworks display, so we figured we’d let Lillian take her usual afternoon nap and then head to the festival in the evening, and meet up with my mom there. It seemed like a sensible plan, except that by the time we arrived all of the closer parking lots were already full, so we ended up having to park in the parking lot for the Metra train station and then walk almost a mile to get to the festival.
To help visualize this, here is a map from Google Earth showing the path we walked, along with a hot air balloon icon downloaded from here and some super-realistic illustrations I drew in Photoshop:
Although about a block’s worth of that walk was spent waiting in a security line that seemed to stretch on forever… It’s been a while since I’ve been to a festival of any kind, so I’m not sure whether this sort of thing has become commonplace or if it’s more of a recent precaution in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. Here’s a view showing how long the line was when we arrived:
The only thing is, that they weren’t using metal detectors, and “checked thoroughly” turned out to mean “open bag and let us peek inside in a really cursory manner.” If we’d had a weapon or some other nefarious thing concealed at the bottom of the diaper bag, I can’t imagine how they would have found it, and overall it seemed like the whole thing was more about enforcing the “no outside food or beverages” policy (so people would have no choice but to buy the ridiculously-overpriced festival food) than about ensuring anyone’s safety.
But anyway, once we made it inside everything was good. We went past lots of food vendors and kiosks selling various handcrafted items, including this one selling all kind of hot air balloon themed souvenirs:
And despite getting there later in the evening, at around 6:30, we were able to stake out a pretty good spot right along the fence looking into the hot air balloon field — although at first it was looking like it would be too windy for any hot air balloon action at all.
Here’s a sequence of photos showing the first hot air balloon that got inflated (the “tethered” one that visitors could actually pay to take a ride in) and what would happen when it tried to lift a few feet off the ground:
While they promised that the “balloon glow” would still go on as planned, the actual launch of hot air balloons was cancelled due to the winds, and this was about the highest we would see balloons fly throughout the festival:
For a while it was just that one balloon, so while we were waiting for more stuff to happen, we bought some ridiculously over-priced festival food ($16 for a corn dog, fries, and lemonade, yay!) and generally hung around in the nice weather. Lillian had brought along this stuffed bunny which seems to be shaping up as one of her favorites, and had a good time playing games such as balance bunny on the head:
I also let her play with my big fancy-pants digital camera for a while — she really enjoyed clicking the button, and looking at pictures on the display. And for a while we played a game where I would stand up and take a picture of something, and then show it to her, and she would point the picture on the camera and then at the “real” version of that thing, and then hand me the camera to take another one. (As an obsessive shutterbug, you can probably imagine how much I enjoyed this game.)
Although one small revelation: I don’t think Lillian quite understands what I’m doing when I hold the camera up to my face. In fairness I guess it’s a little tricky to line up the camera just right and close one eye to actually see meaningfully through the viewfinder. Lillian’s interpretation seems to be something more like “mash nose against back of camera while making funny squinty face,” which must be loads of fun since that’s what mommy’s always doing:
Meanwhile, out on the balloon field, more hot air balloons were starting to take shape. Like this yellow one with checker patterns:
And the red, white, and blue RE/MAX balloon:
And one that looked like an elephant, complete with protruding ears:
And a really nifty round one printed with satellite imagery of the earth, although sadly it was wedged in so tight between two other balloons that it was difficult to ever see it from all sides:
And even an intricately-shaped one that looked like a giant green pirate parrot:
I think all of these photos kind of flatten everything, and don’t really do justice to how big these things are. From our vantage point, it really felt like the balloons were towering over us — they weren’t just out there on the field, we had to look up at them. Here’s a photo of Lillian looking up at the pirate balloon:
As the sky began to grow darker, they moved into the “balloon glow” phase of the hot air balloon festival, where they would blast the flame thingies on the hot air balloons in order to light them up spectacularly from the inside:
Around this time they opened up the gates so that visitors could actually walk around amongst the hot air balloons, which sounded awesome. Joe was off buying funnel cakes at the time (yummy! but ridiculously overpriced!) and my mom wanted to stay with the chairs and rest, so it was just me and Lillian heading back there at first. I left the stroller behind, and just picked up Lillian and the camera and headed off.
This next thing makes me feel like I’m living on another planet, but… I have to marvel at how, more often than not, “patient” and “reasonable” seem like fitting words to describe this child at 20 months. Almost as soon as I picked her up, Lillian started squirming to get down and walk on her own, since by then she’d been riding and sitting in the stroller for quite a while. But we were in a dense crowd in a maze of folding chairs and picnic tables, where a person as small as Lillian could easily be tripped on or stepped on, and it didn’t seem like a very good idea at all. So I said, “Lillian, I have to carry you right now. It’s too crowded for you to walk here. Once we get through the gates, there’ll be more room, and you can get down and walk then.”
And I swear she understood exactly what I was saying and why. She stopped squirming to get down, and put one arm around my shoulder, and patted me gently on the back while riding contentedly in my arms and looking around. And within a few minutes we were through the gates and out on the hot air balloon field, and as expected there was a lot more room, so she got down as promised. And then we walked around the field holding hands, with one of us also taking pictures of stuff.
It was really neat being out there among the hot air balloons. They were so big, and there were so many of them, and they came in so many colorful and whimsical designs. Quite a few were advertising for businesses or various other commercial things, though even most of those weren’t so bad. Like this one balloon advertising Wicked the musical (which is excellent by the way), which looked really cool when lit up from inside with fire:
Or even this one emblazoned with an ad for some kind of resort:
At some point during our walk around the field, Lillian wanted to be picked up and ride in my arms again — possibly due to all these bright flames blasting off with a loud “hiss” in relatively close proximity.
She didn’t seem scared though, and kept looking around with a mixture of wide-eyed wonder (or squinty-eyed wonder in the case of the bright flames) and entertained smiles as we walked around the field.
I think my favorite balloon was the planet earth balloon, which looked amazing when lit up from inside with the sunset in the background:
We eventually met up with Joe on the field. It was funny trying to find each other out there — he called my cell phone, and asked where I was on the field, and I said “I’m by the balloon with the diamond pattern on it,” and there were so many balloons that he couldn’t even see the one I was talking about from his vantage point. I had better luck walking toward the ones he was talking about, though, so it all worked out.
Joe managed to get this picture of me and Lillian in front of one glowing balloon while illuminated by the flamey glow of another balloon:
As you can probably tell from the pictures above, it was getting pretty dark by then. And that big fancy-pants digital camera of mine sadly isn’t so good at taking pictures in low-light situations (or at least not in any way that I’ve figured out), so that’s where the pictures leave off.
We made our way back off the field, and headed back to the chairs to rejoin my mom and enjoy some funnel cakes. And then we hung out for another half hour or so until the fireworks.
It would be Lillian’s first fireworks display, and we weren’t sure what to expect. Being out at a time of night when she’s usually fast asleep, seeing these alien light things different from anything she’d ever seen before, hearing the blasts as they explode in the sky… were we just asking for trouble?
Earlier in the day, I tried to give Lillian a “preview” of what we’d be seeing later, and show her some fireworks videos on YouTube. She actually seemed to really enjoy the videos:
But as you can probably guess, a video of a fireworks display is no comparison at all to being there for the real thing.
When the fireworks started, Lillian covered her face with the stuffed bunny and curled against my chest. I don’t think she was crying at any point (though I’m not sure I would have heard it over the booming fireworks and the music they had playing in the background if she was) and at first I thought she was peeking around the bunny with one eye… but as the display went on it became pretty clear that she was just hiding her face as completely as she could.
When the fireworks were over, Lillian remained still with her eyes closed, and I almost made the mistake of thinking she’d (somehow, in spite of all the noise) fallen asleep… but then my mom tried to move her arm, and found that it was too stiff and tense for her to be asleep. “She’s frightened,” Mom said.
Uh oh. I got up and carried her off to a quieter spot, away from the speakers, and gave her lots of assurances that everything was okay. It was just some pretty fireworks, they make loud booms but they can’t hurt you. Within a minute Lillian had perked back up into her happy bright-eyed self — no epic meltdowns, no lasting trauma. (At least as far as we can tell — here’s hoping she doesn’t go on to develop a lifelong phobia of fireworks down the road.)
By now it was after 10:00, and we still had to walk all the way back to where we parked. Lillian insisted on walking on her own rather than being carried or riding in the stroller, so for good chunks of that she walked while holding my hand. Another dad with an older kid slumped over asleep on his shoulder said with amusement, “I’m surprised she’s still walking!” We were surprised too — despite being more than two hours past her usual bedtime, she was awake and energetic and happy, practically running along while saying whee!** and holding her stuffed bunny by one ear. What she was probably thinking: “Yay, I’m awake past bedtime! Now I’m gonna stay up forever!”
** This may or may not have been because I said it first.
But we made it back to the parking lot without incident, packed the stroller and all our other stuff back into the car, and headed home. Unlike on our trip to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, when Lillian fell asleep in about a minute, this time she stayed awake for at least half the ride back home — probably winding down from all the excitement. We finally pulled into our garage at around 11:30, got her straight into bed, and crashed soon after ourselves.
Anyway, that concludes another excessively photo-filled post about our adventures this Fourth of July! We’re already looking forward to visiting the hot air balloon festival again next year, when we will most likely plan it out better and arrive earlier (and hopefully claim a closer parking spot.)
How was your Fourth of July? Any funny stories about bringing your kids / toddlers / babies to a fireworks display for the first time? Feel free to share in the comments!