It’s Veteran’s Day and my son has been drawing pictures of soldiers and military vehicles all morning. He says he wants to be an American soldier when he grows up. He’s only five, but he’s been saying that for awhile now. I am struck because he was born and raised in Italy with an Italian father and grandparents who don’t speak a word of English, but he identifies as an American. He’s visited the US six times and one of those he can’t possibly remember.
Last summer, he found a little American flag that a neighbor had given us on the 4th of July. He started taking it everywhere he went. One day, as we drove through town, he rolled down the window and hung the flag out the window, waving it and singing “I love America!”. I panicked. We were driving through a small Northern Italian town. Tiny cars and people all over the streets. As I try to navigate the street and convince him to pull in the flag, I struggle to find the right words to explain why I was asking him to pull in the flag and why it would be okay in the US, but not in other countries. He was being so open-hearted and true to himself. Part of me was sad and ashamed that I felt like I had to tell him to pull in the flag and keep his pride to himself, but the other part of me knew it was necessary. Yesterday, as we drove home on American roads, he asked out of the blue, “It would be okay to put the flag out the window now, right?”
What I realize now is that living in Italy, and my own limiting beliefs, have caused me to live “smaller” than I want for myself. Over the years, I was careful not to draw attention to myself in public places or in community. There were times when it was legitimately the safest choice, but living safely became a habit. The fear of miscommunication, judgement, rejection and harm often prevented me from connecting at a deeper level with people. So, by living in avoidance of what I did not want, I got the opposite of what I DID want: isolation and disconnect. Though, I say I don’t want to squash my son’s desire to “live out loud” (and he does loud pretty well), I know I am guilty of allowing my own fears to infiltrate my parenting.
We just finished watching the NYC Veteran’s Day Parade and I am reminded of what real courage is. It’s moving straight through the fear. It’s leaning in, being afraid, and doing it anyway because you have faith in your own incredible power, your purpose, and in the strength and humanity of others. It’s doing it because you must.
When I return to Italy, I will see with the same eyes, but a different heart. I still don’t think I’ll wave an American flag out of my window when I drive through town, but my fear of being seen is dwindling and my desire to connect is growing. When someone says, “So you’re American? [Sei americana?]” That’s when I lean in. “Yes, I am.”