In a classroom of two dozen 9-year-olds, the one who doesn't stand for the Pledge of Allegiance is bound to cause a fuss. Why did she sit? Why didn't she say a word? What kind crazy stuff were her parents filling her head with? I remember feeling put-out on our nation's behalf.
These were all the typically naive and overtly judgmental wonderings of tween Karen, I admit. Every classroom, every friend grouping, every social situation has an outsider, the one who doesn't conform, doesn't fit in. Usually I was that girl, but not this time.
I don't remember her name, if we worked together on that Native American clay project, or if she beat me out as Calamity Jane. But I remember her shoulder-length blond bob, the quietness of her head as she sat still and humble in her chair. I remember riding my bike past her house, quickly and silently as I could, thinking to myself, "I'm so glad I'm not as weird as her."
I mean, I was pretty weird. But not that weird.
* * *
My children don't know the American national anthem. They didn't learn it in music class, didn't grow up singing it during choir auditions, haven't even been to all that many baseball games to ever hear it. When we watch the Olympics or the World Cup, they'll pay a cursory glance towards the television, maybe they'll even remark, "Oh! I think I remember that one," but for the most part they are untouched.
It wasn't intentional, not teaching it to them. But without school and sports, 4th of July fireworks and Memorial Day church services, there's not much of a reason for them to know it.
Instead, they hum the Irish national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann, to themselves. They sound out the still-foreign words, still learning, still new. When Ireland plays in the Euros or the World Cup, they flock to the TV, tell me how they're learning that song in school. They can recite the beginning of the Easter Rising proclamation, know the counties and the provinces, point out the bullet holes at the GPO.
They are Irish, but not.
They are American, but not.
* * *
We listen to NPR, probably more than we should. Today a man screams, "Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!" and another talks of immigration bans and religious tests. My 13-year-old sighs, "When are we getting Irish citizenship again?" and our hearts break just a little. The only news he knows of America (outside of frequent skypes with relatives, geography class, visitors with peanut butter M&Ms, framed pictures of years' past) is fear. He quotes Harry Potter as he leaves the kitchen.
"Fear makes people do terrible things."
* * *
The wake-up call of five police officers taken by a sniper's bullet prompts me to send a tearful text to my dad. I'm thankful for his service, thankful he's still alive, knowing that at any time during my childhood, it could've been him. He was a cop for the first 15 years of my life, and a good one, I like to think.
But I'm stopped cold by one thought: this is how mothers of black boys feel every day as they send them out into the world. This is how the refugee feels as she hands her child into strange hands on a boat in turbulent waters. This is how I feel when my own son takes the dog by the lead, confidently headed out the door. My children are safer than most, yet a single glimpse away, a letting go of the hand, feels like a risk.
No child is safe, it seems. Were they ever? Anywhere?
* * *
I don't know how to react this time of year. Presidential elections make my head spin and my heart sink. Independence Day makes me feel fuzzy, homesick for a place that may only exist in my head. I long for simple parades down dusty roads, old men in old convertibles. I remember fireworks and friends, running away from boys with bottle rockets and water balloons. I miss slushies and splashpads and fireflies.
I miss knowing it was good, that we were all good. And I really, really miss Target.
But all the things I never knew growing up - a white girl in a Kansas suburb in a safe school and a good church - I am learning now, at a distance. For all the ways living overseas has expanded my worldview, altering my perceptions and growing my love for God and the world, it has also dimmed the wonder of home, unhinged the security of nationalism.
Maybe I'm less American than I was, learning from my children how to hold two nations loosely. Maybe I'm more pilgrim than I thought, that I'm meant to take up a cross and not a flag.
But the former... Oh, it is so much heavier than the latter. And my shoulders feel weak with the weight of it all.
* * *
My friend and I meet up on the walk to school. Spring has sprung and it's a rare rainless morning. The news has her rankled a bit. Terror in Europe, disturbing political rumblings in the US, refugee babies drowning at sea... and she is Iraqi.
"My heart... it just breaks," she says as we send our children into school together.
But then she smiles and grabs my arm, "But we have a good life here, don't we?"