“It’s a free country!” How many parents have heard this line at least once from a child who is trying to justify bad behavior? How many of you have used this line on your own parents, or heard a sibling that has? And usually it’s followed by, “So I can do whatever I want!” I’ll bet the founding fathers had no idea their groundbreaking document would be someday used and misused by sassy kids and teens from sea to shining sea, to defiantly explain away everything from cursing to coming home late to not doing homework, usually as a desperate, last resort explanation when every other explanation hasn’t worked. And we parents get the opportunity to give a quick history lesson:
“Nice try, but there are a lot of things you’re not “free” to do in this country, and disobeying your parents is one of them.” (Gee, Schoolhouse Rock, put that to music…)
“You’re not free to go kill someone, or burn down a building, OR disobey your parents.” (And if you really wanted to show them, some states have such strict parent-child laws on the books, they’d be sorry they even brought it up!)
So how can we teach kids about the real freedoms we celebrate on the 4th? As usual, I was thinking about “building a better holiday” this past weekend. We usually go to a neighborhood 4th of July parade and watch fireworks at a local park in the evening. Good American fun, but does “the point” really sink in? Does anyone, except maybe the war veterans who ride in the parade in vintage convertibles, feel grateful for what it means to be a free country?
Sometimes I think showing kids a movie like, “Not Without My Daughter”, about an American woman’s struggle to get her child (and herself) out of Iran, would be good. I sure felt grateful to be living in a free country after watching that true story. Maybe something lighter like “The Sound of Music” might illustrate the point for younger kids…
In a recent article printed in the Dallas Morning News’ Travel section, Ellen Creager of The Detroit Free Press writes that a great way to appreciate American freedom is to travel, especially to the National Parks. How great to drive into one of them and tell your kids, “You own this.” But she also says just traveling anywhere can do the trick. “Grab a suitcase, get in your car and drive,” she writes. “Stop for lunch in a small town. See a museum. See a lake. See a mountain. Just drive over to the next city. Why? To count your blessings. We have a vast country. A safe country. A free country. A beautiful country. A country where you don’t need permission to go someplace.”
Wow. For once, I think I’m celebrating a holiday in just the right way. This year, once the parade was over, my sister-in-law, Marti, and I took our two 11-year-olds and headed to the Texas lake and hill country north of Austin for two days of R and R. (My teenager is switching bedrooms with her younger sister this summer, and this is the weekend she and my husband are painting the walls of her new digs. That was one fireworks show I did not want to see—perfect time to head for the hills, eh? ) Last night we sat in rocking chairs on the back porch of our cabin , perched high above beautiful Lake Buchanan, and watched hawks soar over the water and the mesquite and live oak trees at sunset. As soon as the sun went down, fireworks shows began popping near and far, joining an already busy chorus of cicadas and tree frogs. An hour and a half later, I’d counted over 30 shows and some were still going in the distance. We all agreed it was one of the coolest things we’d ever seen. And when we looked up, the kids got another beautiful show—stars, something we hardly ever get to experience anymore in the big city.
As my nephew Ted screamed out last night to anyone that would listen, “Happy Fourth of July!”