Although I’ve lived in the U.S. all but 2 of my many years on the planet, I still think of myself as an outsider. I always marvel at the things “Americans” do and make up stories about what it means to be American. I’m beginning to think it’s code for “good enough” in my head. I’m ready to get off that hamster wheel.
The things I choose as “American” are arbitrary. This year, for example, I decided that Americans take their kids on Caribbean vacations. So I did that. When I got back, I decided that Americans buy photo books from Shutterfly to commemorate said trips. Got one of those too, then propped it up on my coffee table with a special stand I bought for that express purpose. There it sits until I thrust it into the hands of unsuspecting visitors, staring intently at them, waiting for them to sign off on my worthiness.
This year, in preparation for my 4th of July party, I decided that something ALL good Americans MUST have is a giant apothecary jar full of red, white and blue gumballs. I’d seen it on a reality show somewhere. Okay, okay, not SOMEwhere, but on a Kardashian show in which Khloe Kardashian had a movie theater room with a candy room to the side. FILLED with giant apothecary jars FILLED with all kinds of candy. Since I couldn’t subject my kids to that much junk (and I don’t have a private movie theater), I figured one apothecary jar might do. I wouldn’t take my lead from the Kardashians on just about anything – not fashion, not lifestyle choices and certainly not men… but somehow I’ve got Kardashian apothecary jar envy.
As time goes on, I realize I simply label things I find a reach, an aspiration, as “American.” Then I sit with my nose pressed against the glass, wondering why I don’t get to have it. Except somehow I’ve missed the memo that now I do get to have just about anything I put my mind to having. It’s not even about material things, necessarily. It extends to experiences and states of mind. “Americans go play Frisbee at the park.” “Americans put bandannas on their dogs before walking them.” The list is laughably eclectic, nothing more than a jumble of scenes from movies and stories I’ve made up, then put in a box labeled, “Not for me.” While missing the point that one of the most delicious things about being American is not having to fit into any box or any hue, but being free to let your heart and soul be any color of the rainbow.
I threatened my children with loss of electronic equipment (the highest order of punishment) if they dared to touch the gumballs before the 4th of July. There sat the gumballs, pristine, showy, too much money spent on something no one should eat too often. My guests were all duly impressed. Then the kids tore into them the second the guests were gone. Now the apothecary jar sits half empty, the once-perfectly-aligned gumballs in a jumbled mess, lopsided, too many blue ones left, not enough red. It reminds me not that I checked off another qualification off the list, but that my list is silly. I haven’t even had a single gumball myself.
Maybe it’s time to let myself believe that there is nothing else I need to be American. Okay, except maybe one gumball.