May is packed! My monthly calendar had several lines for each day, but there were never quite enough lines in May. Writing small, I squeezed the time for the end-of-year concerts between the soccer practices, lax games, the May Day celebration, piano recitals, soccer tournaments, track meets, ballet recitals, end-of-year banquets, teacher appreciation days, First Communions, honor society inductions, Memorial Day parades, graduations, and the picnics, parties and evenings out with friends. May was a ridiculously over-scheduled month, yet it felt right. Many of the events were often the culmination of being a teammate, a classmate, or belonging to the community. May’s happenings celebrated being a part of something bigger than ourselves and participating fully in it. This was a value I embraced whole-heartedly and wanted to pass on to my children.
During our New Jersey years, the month began with Toll Gate Grammar’s May Day celebration. That first year, Patrick and Meg both danced around the Maypole. It was also my first May Day celebration. I had grown up thinking May Day was a Soviet holiday, a pagan holiday co-opted by the communists and focused on demonstrating their military might with parades of soldiers, tanks, and missiles. On that May 1stin 2001, I was enchanted watching my kids and their classmates dressed for springtime weaving colorful ribbons into intricate patterns as music wafted across the school yard. It was joyful. And after a school year of making new friends, joining new teams and adjusting to a new area, the festive environment felt as if we had at last weaved our way into the community.
That feeling of belonging was central to our happiness in each community we lived. We needed participation in community activities to get know others, to learn the values of the new locale, and understand the local issues. We volunteered as coaches and managers of teams, helped at soup kitchens, joined our neighborhood parish, worked at community festivals and voted in local elections. As a result, the month of May was filled with games, gatherings and get-togethers. We had purpose beyond our family.
Birth gave us United States citizenship and buying a house gave us ownership in our new state and town, but mere residency was not enough. Since our Ohio days when the kids were little I often stated my goal was to rear tax-paying citizens. For me, if they were tax-paying citizens, it meant the kids were responsible, educated, employed and fulfilling their civic duties of voting, jury duty and staying informed on public issues. These were my minimum requirements for good citizenship, especially voting.
Mam, our beloved immigrant grandmother and great-grandmother, taught me the importance of voting. She came of age in Scotland before women had the right to vote, then immigrated to the US and it was more than a decade before she was a naturalized citizen. Once she took the Oath of Allegiance, she embraced voting and became a poll worker. For her, working the polls was the ultimate reward of being a citizen of the United States. She firmly believed she was helping keep our democratic elections orderly, safe and honest. Her example taught me to cherish the vote and stress its importance to my kids. When they were little, I loved taking them into the voting booth with me to show them the process, but I never let them pull the lever-that was a right and privilege for when they turned eighteen.
Citizenship and patriotism go hand in hand. Growing up in Upper Arlington, love of country was encapsulated in the civic pride of the Fourth of July. We enjoyed the holiday during the almost ten years we lived in Columbus and for the next ten years we returned to celebrate with friends. I have great memories of Mary Kate dressed in red, white and blue vigorously waving a flag while the parade marched along, decorating her bike with the neighborhood kids and watching the fireworks with her pals. It was wholesome; American pride in its goodness, purity and benevolence. She, along with all of us, were a part of something much bigger than ourselves.
In the years we lived in Waterloo, I saw the kids’ patriotism transformed from cheerleading-style flag flying to thoughtful study of American values of democracy and individual liberties. As expats during part of the Bush presidency and the ongoing Iraq War, Patrick and Meg were often besieged at school by classmates for the actions of the president and the US military. They quickly realized their words impacted how their classmates viewed the USA and worked to be articulate statesmen. Without resorting to jingoism, they learned to explain the United States’ position and ideals, whether they agreed with the President or not, all the while trying to respect their classmates’ opinions.
With Meg, these years of learning and defending the US role in world politics would leave a lasting desire for public service. As I write this letter, she is downstairs at the kitchen table studying for the foreign service exam. I am proud of her choice. Similarly, I am pleased to see Patrick proudly wear his country’s colors as a US federation sport scientist. He loved his years in Europe and England, but he is an American who wants to work to help American teams win at home and abroad. And it is with delight that I watched Mary Kate and John achieve the American dream of homeownership. I think your grandparents would be thrilled that they were able to take this step while in their twenties and that they are digging roots into the community. I see a May calendar full to the point of bursting in their future.
Ride May’s crescendo with gusto before you slid to the lazy days of summer.
much love each and every day,