On the Fourth of July, my neighborhood throws a star-spangled block party fit for Uncle Sam himself. I swear, a bald eagle could show up and sing the national anthem, and I’d just think, “Yeah. That tracks.”
When the sun goes down, the smell of grilled hot dogs lingers in the air, and sun-kissed kiddos start to wander sleepily into their moms’ arms, the real celebration begins.
A professional-level firework display lights the night sky, all set to the sounds of songs about the old U.S. of A. Every year, two of the men in our neighborhood take on this (expensive!) passion project, securing a safe location, and ensuring that we all get to celebrate without ever leaving home.
When the last fuse has been lit, and the last ember has fluttered back to earth and cooled, one by one, families pack up their heavy-eyed littles and head home. The speakers continue to play Lee Greenwood while we walk.
“God bless the USA…”
But it’s not Mr. Greenwood or “God Bless America” or even “The Star-Spangled Banner” that will bring that familiar lump to my throat this year. It’s “Wild Blue Yonder” — the official Air Force song — that will have me fighting back tears.
Because this year, while I watch the fireworks on our street with my three babies, their daddy will be watching from thousands of miles away with other airmen on a sandy, arid Air Force base, just about as far away as he could possibly be from home without starting to loop back around the other side of the earth.
He will make sure the people who work for him have a little barbecue. They’ll have a party at the base bar, and he will remind the young ones to call their mamas. He knows it’s hard on a mother to have a party at home when her heart is all alone in the desert.
I’ve already sent a box of red, white and blue tchotchkes for his office, and they will all be okay. I know that.
But I’ll be here, without the half of me that makes me feel whole. He chooses to live in service to our flawed nation, and that means sometimes, he misses things.
Birthdays. Graduations. Holidays.
This year, it means while everyone is celebrating the Land of the Free, our family will be acutely aware that the Brave aren’t all at home.
That’s why it’s important to me that I teach my kids to celebrate our country, even while we acknowledge how deeply imperfect it is.
My husband and I don’t vote red, we don’t own guns, we celebrate Pride, and we believe that Black Lives Matter. We embrace neurodiversity. We oppose anti-choice legislation. Our house is free of antiquated gender roles and toxic views on the concept of masculinity. Nothing about my husband’s service is motivated by a desire to maintain the status quo. His hope is always that defending the constitution will mean defending a living document that can be adapted to provide more equity to the American people. His heart lives in constant hope of Liberty and Justice for ALL.
For us, his military career is not about rabid patriotism or blind allegiance to any administration. He has served under three so far. His personal respect (or lack thereof) for whatever commander-in-chief sits in the Oval Office has no bearing on how he serves.
We respect every citizen’s right to opt out of celebrating Independence Day. My husband is happy to agree to stand for the anthem so that other people maintain their right to take a knee. He fully believes in the right to protest.
But we choose to teach our children that it’s good and right and acceptable to fly the flag and pledge allegiance. We tearfully raise our voices when we hear the familiar melody of “America the Beautiful” because to us, America is not just spacious skies, amber waves of grain, purple mountains majesty or fruited plains.
From sea to shining sea, this country is made up of individual people, and every one of them has a story worth knowing and a life worth defending.
When we teach our kids to celebrate America, we don’t mean the 3.8 million square miles of dirt within our borders. We mean the souls. The faces. The citizens whose rights their father holds in such esteem that he chooses to be away from us, sometimes for months on end, even though it breaks his heart.
Our family can acknowledge and fully believe that we have so far to go as a nation, and still appreciate the immense privilege we enjoy as a family mainly due to their dad’s military service. That’s what we do.
If you see my kids running around in red, white and blue clothing holding sparklers and flags wearing glow sticks on their necks, it doesn’t mean we are teaching them that everything in our country is right or equitable or fair.
By rejoicing about the same country that we openly critique at home, we are reinforcing the idea that you don’t have be perfect to be good. You can be a work in progress, and worthy of praise at the same time. I think that’s a lesson my children need to learn.
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