Three years ago, I had a total bummer Fourth of July. You know how they say if you fail to plan, you plan to fail? I guess I failed pretty solidly. I had no plans to watch the fireworks, no plans to get together with friends, and no plans of how I would comfort my disappointed children.(It hadn’t really occurred to me that they would care so much about fireworks, oops.) I ended up turning on fireworks on TV, and I think we got ice cream and tried to peek through the bananas trees at fireworks our neighbors were setting off and went to bed sad.

The very next day, I started planning for July 4, 2017. I asked my BFF in St. Louis about her traditions, and when she told me that every year, her whole family cooks out and then watches fireworks from a grocery store parking lot in the back of a pickup truck, I was sold. That was the picture-perfect slice of America I was looking for.

So we drove 10 hours for it – and it was seriously one of the worst trips ever. Georgia threw up repeatedly, both on the drive up and throughout the trip from some kind of weird digestive ailment (that blessedly I didn’t catch). I ended up at a barbecue with my ex-husband’s entire family – I loved his family, so much – on what would have been our 14th wedding anniversary, and they were all so kind to me that I started crying. (I can handle it when people are rude to me; I fall apart when they’re nice.) I got dragged to a potluck full of warm mayonnaise-based Midwestern “salads,” which is an actual nightmare tailor-made just for me. And Georgia spent the entire duration of the fireworks we’d traveled so far to see barfing beside some stranger’s minivan while I rubbed her back and apologized to everyone around us.

Last year, we finally got it right. My husband and I made a bunch of classic picnic-style dishes – fried chicken, corn and avocado salad, potato salad, baked beans – and we ate and then headed down to Crescent Park with the kids around dusk. It wasn’t perfect; it was crowded and traffic wasn’t great. But it was a 2,000 percent improvement over the previous two years.

This year, we have Milo to worry about, and I am not at all sure that he will be a fan of the fireworks our neighbors will be setting off, so we might need to tweak our plans somewhat.

But we have a plan, and we have a backup plan, and if all else fails, we have corn and avocado salad.

May all of your Fourths be as happy as ours – and none so miserable as mine two years ago!