Next week, you’ll probably be huddled on blankets at the Starlight Bowl, waiting for our annual viewing of fireworks to begin. It will be a grand affair, a fitting topper to a day of barbecues, star-spangled dinnerware and the occasional nod to the historical significance of July 4, 1776.
There will be a few attending Burbank’s Fourth of July festivities who will have a slightly different perspective on the revelry. You will likely hear them after the first “dud” firework sending its booming reverberation through the chests of all gathered.
A few kids will decide right then that fireworks are not for them. They may ask to go home, or at least wait out the remainder of the entertainment in the safe, steel enclosure of the family sedan.
They may do so with the measured, rational response of youth: They will scream their brains out.
Growing up, I knew this fear. It’s a form of pyrophobia or arsonphobia, and it usually hits young children or pets. In most cases, it’s considered an irrational fear, although a gripping desire to avoid burning things seems pretty rational to me.
It’s not uncommon in kids. Susan Park, a Burbank-based family psychologist, said the fear can be linked to hypersensitivity to loud noises or bright lights.
For those who have these specific fears without other sensitivities, Park said parents should have their children draw pictures of fireworks and focus on their positive aspects. Then they might try watching videos and gradually turning up the sound.
Usually it’s the loud noise that turns children off, so Park suggests making children focus on the colors or the people that are around if you’re going to a big event like the extravaganza at the Starlight Bowl. The night will feature performances by the Burbank Philharmonic and Stone Soul leading up to the light show.
“It just takes work for kids to know it’s just smoke afterward,” Park said. “Most of these events are pretty safe, but it’s the irrational fear part [they have to overcome].”
That advice probably would have helped me 20-odd years ago. Instead, I made a tradition of hiding in the car, or under it.
One year I was coaxed out to the blanket at the local park where my whole town went to view the fire-consumed sky. As the local orchestra’s “1812 Overture” came to its crescendo, a wind crept over the pit and across the pond. Thousands of families welcomed the nice breeze sweeping the pond. A shiver ran over me, and not from the wind.
Shots went up. The whimsy commenced. The wind grew.
I can’t speak to every child’s fireworks phobia, but I was less concerned with the noise and more concerned with Newton’s Law: what goes up inevitably comes down.
The fireworks slowly drifted over the crowd. With each new explosion came a looming face in color and sparkle, haughtily lording over the crowd like the ants we were.
A hissing grew from above. The lights now extinguished, a dark mass came hurtling toward us trailing a thin thread of smoke. With an unceremonious plop the expired firework landed 2 feet from my blanket.
The scream was choked somewhere down my throat. My defenses kicked in, and I responded to the threat with an offensive tactic: meet missile with missile. I brought my hand out from a potato chip bag and hurled the sour-cream-and-onion ammunition at the charred offender.
I expected the chip to become engulfed in hellfire, fueled with the passion of a thousand terrors. Instead it bounced weakly off into the grass. A neighbor gave a mildly annoyed look, thinking the projectile was meant for him.
No one else seemed to notice the spent firework was there. I noticed something else was missing. In the nonchalance of the huddled masses I discovered there is joy in the Fourth, in the beautiful dance of fire and light unbound from the earth that marks our collective freedom from tyranny and fear.
My own apprehension subsided.
Trial by fire and whatnot.