Selling my Daughter America
To write this one, I slid on my dad pants–which are high-waisted, loose-in-the-thighs, cuffed khakis. In case you needed a visual to enhance your reading experience.
The backyard smells of honeysuckle and Haley sits on the bench beside me, spinning dreams in her head, and I stare at her face– a field of freckles–as American cities, both near and far burn and groan and explode in violence.
Parenting, the last few weeks, has been hard.
Not to say parenting is ever easy, because it’s not, but when you compound a plague with homeschooling with national civil unrest–parenting in 2020 is a hazardous occupation.
I assume every generation believes they’re more misunderstood than the previous one. You don’t know what it’s like…a familiar claim made by the young, directed at the old.
But, on a warm June evening, as I attempt to count Haley’s freckles, I stop and conclude–I really don’t know what’s like to be a kid today.
Still a kid in some aspects of my own life– this place is confusing and scary as hell.
Social media, social distancing, civil unrest, remote learning and TikTok videos. I won’t pretend to understand.
But as a parent, despite popular belief, our job is not to wholly understand. Our job is be an honest, forthright salesparent.
And the sale of America begins at home.
Should American life be celebrated? Is life a series of red, white, and blue experiences and expressions to be appreciated, enjoyed? Do you risk voicing your opinion? Should you practice civil disobedience? Or should American life be feared? To ensure safety, should it be skirted and avoided at all costs? Should you stay quiet?
First, American children are citizens of us– then they learn about the Mayflower, the Amendments, the Liberty Bell, Abraham Lincoln, the Dread Scott case, Martin Luther King Jr., the Patriot Act and George Floyd and grow into morally-conscious citizens of the U.S..
And how we, the Parents of the United States of America, sell America to our children will determine the America they buy.
Is America a promise land of acceptance? And justice? And equal opportunity? Or a is it a broken land of fear and hatred and marginalization?
Cindy and I have been doing our best to teach and model to our kids how to be respectful, how to articulate frustrations, how to recognize ourselves in others, how to resolve differences, and how to listen. And by this we’re, attempting to sell them a future America that we believe in– an inclusive land of acceptance and peace and promise.
“What will it take to put you on a path of liberty and justice today?”
In the last few, bewildering American days I’ve sought refuge in the poem, Good Bones by Maggie Smith:
“Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.”
Haley’s blue eyes catch the last stream of the setting sun. She smiles. Freckles, a constellation of brown pinholes, swirl about her rising cheeks. The evening is soft and tender and on our little slice of American land , for the moment, things are right. Home of the brave.
And yet all l I can do is sell her an American life, provide her with my own homespun constitution, before she’s old enough to sign her own. But buyer beware. This place, the land of the free, has rivers of fire and fields of blood. This land is still tethered to the steely shackles of it’s original sin– it’s hammered history forever forged into it’s star-spangled heart.
Yet no matter what she sees or hears tonight on TV, I hope she knows she’s beautiful and this country–the one she’s buying, the one with good bones–is beautiful too.
Let’s face it–seriousness has not been a great response to life. Seriousness has gotten us and still gets us into trouble. Constant seriousness sprouts anxiety and fear and general unhappiness. Yet, in the interest of survival, we train ourselves to be serious. Because we believe if we’re not serious than we can not be taken seriously.
Jay Armstrong is a writer, blogger, speaker, and recipient of the Teacher of the Year award in his school district. Diagnosed with a rare neurological disease that resulted in a hole in his brain– Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:
4. Hearing his children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents and a beer with his friends)