Teaching Love of Country

I was torn about today’s blog. After all, today is Valentine’s Day. Happy Valentine’s Day to all! And tomorrow is President’s Day. And there’s lots to say about both. What to do? Decisions. Decisions.

Meshing Valentines Day and President’s Day

So here it is. I always think expansively about Valentine’s Day, not limiting myself to celebrating romantic love. I’ve made countless doilied valentines for parents, sisters, children, and romantic partners. In college, my roommate and I made dozens of homemade heart-shaped cookies and passed them out to friends and professors around campus. To my way of thinking, V Day is a celebration if love in the broadest sense.

Turning to President’s Day, we celebrate the leaders of our country. Why? Out of a desire to honor the leaders of this country that we love.

There’s the overlap. Love of country.

Trying Times

We are in trying times. A lot of Americans do not love the current condition of their country. For many, it’s harder and harder to make ends meet. Time with family is harder and harder to squeeze in. Retirement recedes further and further from our grasp. It’s a scary time where hatred is palpable. People are often suspicious of those who look different, talk different, worship different. Some of us wish desperately for the good old days. Others of us wish just as desperately for a future that has been an elusive promise since the days of our founding fathers.

What, then, is love of country in times such as ours? And how do we teach this love of country to our children?

Love of Country

This February, along with V Day and Prez Day we are immersed in election season. We flock to the polls to vote. To me, this is the ultimate act of love for our country. For many, voting is takes incredible determination. Bum legs or weak lungs can make the physical act of getting to the voting booth a Herculean challenge. Rounding up the identification required in some states can require wading through pools of red tape. Ill-equipped polling places and malfunctioning voting machines can cause lines around the block.

In the face of all this, stories abound of our American citizenry’s fierce will to vote. My mother tells the story of an old woman who stood for hours on swollen legs to cast her vote for Obama saying, “I have waited all my life for this. I can wait a little longer.” A young man once told me of how he was turned away from his polling place for not having the right ID; undeterred, he endured hours in the Office of Vital Records getting the proof he needed, then claimed his ballot and voted. Every election year, thousands of energetic volunteers zip around their cities and towns driving the handicapped to and from their polling places.

What do these stories say to me? They say that people will do almost anything to exercise their right to vote. Why? Because they are invested in democracy. And they love their country.

Teaching Love of Country

If we love our country, we want it to flourish now and in the future. We will not always be here. We must pass the torch to the next generation. How do we do that?

Actually celebrate President’s Day. What an opportunity! A day off to share with our kids, to read about, talk about, watch movies about our country’s leaders, past and current. In my youth, we had a recording of this comedian named David Frye who did impressions of President Nixon. I may not have understood all the references but some of the issues sunk in.

These stories might inspire your child to declare he or she will be president one day. Maybe explore your child’s Presidential agenda – sometimes an eye opener. Your child might rhapsodize about world peace. Or maybe about making school for kids optional.

Watch the debates, have an election day party with your kids. Every four years, we have the chance to engage our children around the issues most important to our country today. And, just as important, to give them a visceral sense of the democratic process that they will be a party of. I loved sitting in front of the TV with my parents, watching the election results roll in. It felt like one big party that included my little family and all of those many people in rooms across the country shown on my TV screen. And we got to eat bowls and bowls of popcorn!

Share symbols of our country with your children. My birthday is July 3 and when I was a kid we always had a 4th of July picnic which I thought was to celebrate me. It was a great opportunity for my parents to explain, “No. We are celebrating our country and our membership in this great community.” There were flags. I wore my red, white and blue outfit. Fireworks were my favorite.

Encourage your kids to get involved. The 1968 election. I was ten. My parents supported Kennedy, then Humphrey. I supported McGovern. After school, I’d march myself down to the local McGovern campaign office and stuff envelopes with the adults. And I got cool campaign buttons.

Enough reminiscing. It’s 2016. How do you teach love of country?

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