What an emotional roller coaster ride it’s been as we’ve been taking a closer look at our country, especially through the eyes of children who have lived much of their lives outside of the US and so have not spent much time in school learning about US history.
As we spent time immersed in the beginnings of our country through visits, books, movies, and talks with historians, I could almost feel the hope, the excitement, the boldness and courage that characterized the birth of our nation. It was a group of people trying to do something better than had been done before and carefully working through the details of making that happen. I felt a certain sense of pride and wonder at all they were able to accomplish. There are places in the world that do not have the rights and freedoms that we have here and my children were able to see that people fought for these important rights and they could understand that they are citizens protected by these rights.
However, we also needed to talk with our boys about the shameful parts of our country’s past – how terribly the Native people of this land were treated, not only when European settlers first arrived but as our country expanded. We had to talk with them about the many, many people that were brought to this country to be slaves, given no rights and treated in horrific ways. We needed to talk about how it could be that those important rights discussed above did not apply to so many in this country for a very long time. And we spent time learning about the Civil War — a war that just about tore this country in two, and resulted in wounds that I’m not so sure were ever fully healed, even as it forced us to come to terms with the past and make changes in the hopes of a better future.
Sticking with the roller coaster metaphor, there are some amazing things to see from the broad view at the apex of the US roller coaster ride – Inspiring people who have dared to dream big and worked hard to make their dreams reality, people who have risked all to defend the rights of others, an abundance of creativity, courage, and dedication, not to mention the amazing National Parks system that educates us about and preserves this diverse and magnificent land. Oh, that view is breathtaking. But, all the while that we’re on this ride, we hear the news about school shootings, holiday shopping, racial tensions, holiday shopping, politicians who aren’t working together, holiday shopping, the widening gap between the haves and have nots, and more holiday shopping. That part of the view…not so pretty. But, it’s important to see it all because as Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Once you know better, do better.”
And so sometimes I’m left with that feeling many people get after a roller coaster ride – excited and happy they went on the ride but also a little bit sick in the stomach. Am I glad that I am on this ride with our children? Absolutely, yes! This is their heritage, their home country and, like every country on this planet, it has its good sides and its bad sides and both are important to be aware of and informed about. I feel very lucky to be able to have this chance to explore this country with our boys. Not everything we see and hear will be pleasant to know. Some things may anger us, perplex us, frustrate us, and even make us feel a bit hopeless. On the other hand, I believe we will also be inspired and awed, proud and grateful, and the boys will have a better understanding of what being an American means.