What do we do now?
It’s been a question that keeps presenting itself as our nation and our world grapples with crisis after crisis.
In the grand scheme of things, the canceling of a small city’s parade pales in comparison to the suffering and hardships of many of our citizens. I know this. But as someone who was raised outside our nation’s capital and who still lives near it, the daughter of an immigrant and the wife of a veteran, the 4th of July is very important to our family.
My memories of the holiday are special–my mom, who came to this country over 40 years ago, would pile us into our minivan every 4th of July morning to secure a good viewing spot on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. We would picnic on the lawn, play with other kids, eat way too much sugar, watch the fireworks wide-eyed with both awe and admiration and a little fear, and then collapse back in the car and fall asleep as my parents navigated traffic home.
As a mother now myself, I have created traditions for my own family: sitting on a crowded curb watching the hometown parade, the yearly BBQ with friends, the community pool with neighbors, grandparents giving my kids way too many popsicles, dressing in the ubiquitous red, white, and blue. And of course, the fireworks on the lawn of the local high school.
Now, none of that is happening this year. Current events have inevitably changed the climate of what celebrations—and what they mean to families across the country—for the summer. And like me, many may be left feeling conflicted emotions. There is some sadness, some acknowledgment of the importance of reflecting on freedom for all, and some confusion as we wonder: so, what do we do now?
The answer is, we make new traditions. Even in our family, with our love for the 4th of July and what it represents to us, we are embracing the opportunity to review, reflect, and renew the spirit of the holiday in a way that acknowledges all the nuances of what our country is facing this year.
Here are some of the changes our family is making this year:
We’re adapting. You won’t find us at the neighborhood pool this year. But my kids are having a blast in the inflatable swimming pools we bought. The new lawn we laid down last fall probably won’t make it, but it’s a small price to pay to keep my kids occupied and see their relationships grow with each other. And the upside? If I forgot to bring a towel or sunscreen or need an extra swim diaper? Well, it’s only a few short steps inside my house.
We’re changing. We’ll still wear our red, white, and blue and fly our flag, but it won’t be at the parade. Instead, we will have a low-key celebration at home. We’ll wave to neighbors on our walks and Facetime relatives. We’ll make my mom’s traditional “American flag” cake complete with white frosting, blueberries, and strawberry stripes. We’ll give our kids way too many popsicles. At night, we’ll watch fireworks inside of our air-conditioned house without the threat of mosquitos.
We’re learning. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that we must really learn from our history if we want to shape the future. I used to think my kids were too little to talk about our nation’s sordid history of slavery and its repercussions. I was wrong. So, this year, along with learning about the Declaration of Independence, we will read a portion of noted orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ “The Meaning of July Fourth” speech with my 6 and 4-year-old.
His oratory contains passages with powerful statements such as:
“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
Will this be uncomfortable? Yes. Will it raise more than answer questions from my children? Definitely. Is this needed? Absolutely.
This Fourth of July will look different than any we’ve celebrated before. But by adapting what we have, changing what we can, and confronting our past in order to create a better future for all our children, July 4, 2020, can still be a day to remember.
And I can’t think of anything more American than that.