Sunday, July 3, 2011

What it really means to live in America

Published for Motherhood Matters on KSL.com (click HERE for the link)
Published for Allen Publishing (click HERE for the link)

Once my kids were out of school for the summer, it didn’t take long for their teasing and arguing to escalate to ridiculous extremes.

Enough already.

So I announced a new rule this morning at breakfast: Whoever teases or argues gets to scrub a toilet. My 13-year-old asked if they got to choose which toilet.

“Of course not.”

“But I thought this was a free country!”

“In our house, not so much. End of discussion.”

But what it means to live in a free country is most definitely worth discussing with my children.

My husband was a typical 13-year-old kid growing up in Salt Lake when his parents temporarily disrupted his care-free life by sponsoring a Vietnamese refugee family who lived with them for six months.

The two small children had never seen a toilet and had to be taught the art of sitting instead of squatting. Other new experiences for the family were things like sitting in chairs at a table to eat, almost every food offered them, driving and riding in cars and speaking English.

In short, virtually everything in America was new and strange and foreign — but exactly what they had hazarded their lives for.

What the family had experienced before arriving at my husband’s doorstep was something he did not fully comprehend until years later.

The UK’s history learning site, (http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/vietnam_boat_people.htm), reports that approximately 1.5 million Vietnamese people took to the sea — risking drowning or tortuous deaths at the hands of pirates — in the desperate hope that their children would be raised in a country where basic human rights are protected and freedom is expected rather than longed for.

My husband’s refugee family was among the fortunate. An untold number of Vietnamese boat people — some estimate as high as 200,000 — died before arriving on safe shores.

My husband watched his mother carry around a dog-eared English/Vietnamese dictionary. My father-in-law spent the necessary time and resources to help the parents secure employment in their respective trades as welder and cook.

Driver’s licenses became a necessity, so my mother-in-law took on the task of teaching them how to drive. Seeing as traffic lights and paved streets were a brand-new concept, this was no small undertaking.

And here I thought driving with my teenager and her newly acquired learner’s permit was stressful.

My husband’s family kept in touch with their Vietnamese friends over the years and watched as home ownership and college educations became realities for them, realities that would have formerly been inconceivable.

According to Freedomhouse.org (http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=15), 20 countries are on a list of the world’s most repressive societies. These societies “are defined as exerting pervasive state control over daily life, banning free speech, independent organizations and political opposition and practicing severe human rights violations.”

The total population of these 20 countries is a staggering 3,227,021,426. The United States, in contrast, has a population of 307,006,550.

It would do my children good to take a careful look at these numbers and be given age-appropriate glimpses into the lives of those who simply cannot conceive of enjoying the basic freedoms and rights that we take so much for granted.

So while I’m grilling hamburgers and swimming and watching fireworks with my family over this 4th of July weekend, I am keenly aware of those in this world who have little reason for such festivities.

At least 3,227,021,426 of them have no freedoms worth celebrating.

Like most people today, I’m worried about the direction our country and society seem to be headed and how this will impact my children’s futures. There is certainly much to be concerned about.

But I’m not convinced that these concerns outweigh everything good and great this country has to offer. I am raising my children in a country where they can live and work and worship and learn and take advantage of endless opportunities. I live in a country where freedom is expected rather than longed for.

For this I am deeply grateful.

And because I am free to raise my children as I see fit, I am also grateful for clean toilets. If today is any indication, my toilet-scrubbing days are over.

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