June 30th, 2007



Here in Sweden, next Wednesday is just another work day. The majority of people with whom I spend my time every day don't know or care that the 4th of July has any special meaning. Considering that the Swedish national day is a latecomer and had nothing to do with winning independence from anyone, it's not really surprising that national feeling doesn't run particularly deep for a patriotic holiday. In fact, there are other countries nearby who actually celebrate THEIR national holidays on the day they gained independence from SWEDEN.

I don't know how it is for the rest of the Americans who belong to the expat community around the world, but while I love my country and its ideals, I also have a bag of very mixed emotions about it slung over my shoulder. I dislike the administration that is currently in charge. I think that a lot of the things that the country is doing in the name of business and the bottom line are morally and reprehensibly wrong, even when I recognize that there is a great deal of good coming out it as well.

Patriotism and propaganda go so closely hand-in-hand, entertwined like lovers that you can't tell to get a room. The traditions of the 4th of July are so deeply ingrained in my make-up, probably even deeper as a military brat, that I doubt I could shake them loose if I tried...or if I wanted to.

I miss the fireworks...the waiting for long hours after the picnic, while nothing happens and the adults sit on blankets quietly chatting, while the kids rampage in maniac boredom around them as the blue of the sky deepens and melts into black. I remember lying on blankets, head propped in my chin, watching tiny grasshoppers pop and disappear among the tall grasses at the edge of the park. I miss American style coleslaw and parades and pies with upper crusts instead of crumble, and the way everyone in earshot joined in if someone started singing America the Beautiful or Grand Old Flag until the whole crowd of picnic watchers was singing.

It's too light too long here to bother with fireworks. Looking out my window now, the sky is still lit up with a candled glow in the west, though the sun has long since sunk over the edge. It's nearly 11 at night but you can't tell by looking. A few years ago, we brought a giant roll of bubble wrap to our Independence Day Party. We unrolled it after the games and the grilling were done and lined the children up on either side of that silver strip. On the count of 3, we shouted, One Two THREE! All the kids jumped and stomped their little feet out on that bubble wrap. I shut my eyes: it sounded almost like firecrackers if you shut your eyes.

Tomorrow the AWC is holding their annual Independence Day Party at a field with a big barn, near a swimming pool. There will be grilling and games and adults sitting on blankets talking and laughing (assuming it doesn't rain, in which case we'll be IN the barn). I made cornbread muffins this morning and tomorrow I'm deviling the eggs I hardboiled tonight, and cutting up the rice krispie treats. Anders will be putting together chicken and shrimp and vegetable kebabs. We've got flats of sodas and bags of charcoal already loaded into the back of the station wagon. We're bringing hula hoops and 4-man skis for competing with.

There's been no lead up to what this party is about for our children, really. They know that the 4th of July is "America's Birthday" but they haven't heard the stories of what that means. They haven't learned in school about any of the history that goes along with the picnic they attend every year. I don't think they know who Paul Revere is, or what the Boston Tea Party was, or anything more about George Washington other than the fact that he was a President of the United States, a fact which is rather meaningless out of context, really. I don't think they know the name of the American National Anthem, though they know the Swedish one. They DO know the words to Yankee Doodle and Grand Old Flag mostly because I burst into song with them once in awhile.

Even though my children are both Swedish and American citizens, we are living in Sweden and they are being educated in the Swedish system, with Swedish culture, traditions and history all around them. We've been reading the Little House on the Prairie books recently, and watched the first season of the TV show on DVD as well. They've bombarded me with questions about pioneers and Indians and the American West. I think I need to rectify my neglect of the other side of their cultural inheritance and find some way of providing materials and information to them in a way that will be interesting and fun for them to learn about.

We had guest speakers at our last AWC meeting who came and spoke to us about the American Studies for Kids program they started last year in Copenhagen. Some of our members seemed interested in possibly trying to do something here, but I haven't heard about anything actually happening yet, and have a feeling that it might easily be dropped in the midst of the busyness of everyone's lives. I think that if I want this to happen, I will probably have to do it myself, which, honestly, makes me feel both resigned and aggravated. I know I am no teacher: I am well aware of the limits of my patience.

If reading to my children about the characters and history of the country that is both mine and theirs is the best way to go about this, I wonder what other books or materials I could get that would be good. Got any suggestions of your American History favorites for this expat and her kids?