I grew up in a culture that believed in the idea of “The American Dream.” It was the image of a house with a white picket fence, a dad playing catch with his son in the driveway, and a little girl running through the front-yard sprinkler being smiled at by her mother. That image included some cute old dog lying on the porch with the pesky kitten trying to chew on its ear. Somehow the idea of perseverance and success whiffed through the air like the smell of lemon blossoms in the spring. That family had done it; they had achieved “The American Dream.”
I grew up aspiring to partake in this dream and to claim it as my own. As I’ve grown, though, I’ve realized that there is a lot more behind that image than the simplicity it portrayed. Those white picket fences can be bought for a price, and they aren’t a badge earned for living a moral life. The original wood version required painting to keep up its beauty, but thanks to modern-day technology which affords us the ability to not worry about such mundane tasks, the plastic picket fence version is now available at any local hardware store and requires no further upkeep. In searching for a fence for an add on project at our home, the plastic version caught my eye and illuminated my heart with my desire for the American Dream, but my wallet quickly reminded me that the financial choices we’ve committed to don’t have a Dave Ramsey line item for that fencing choice.
When I reflect further on the American Dream house image, I notice that the aspect of the present mother and father is attainable for me and something I still aspire to. I remember noting them as present when I would reflect in my youth, but now I know the attention it takes to be present and the personal-time sacrifices it can evoke for parents to engage fully with their children. I also know the value that it carries in our children’s lives to have those parents present and engaged.
The dog and cat image still brings me comfort and joy, as we now our own furry family members. We have experienced the joy of bringing home the new kitten and the sadness of loss for my children as some of them have died. The chance to discuss life and death and to experience mourning together takes on such value in our home.
I grew up non-religious, so my American Dream house image had no aspect of religion. That’s a new element that has been gently folded into the creases of the image in my head. Underneath that house now lies the foundation of my faith. It’s interwoven in every piece of wood holding up my house. It’s expressed on the inside walls where crucifixes are hung and Our Lady resides with saint images and my children’s baptism pictures.
My American Dream image has changed over the years. It’s moved from the children’s vision which senses peace and security but doesn’t understand the cost it takes to provide that to the grown-up version which sees the blueprints and the need for a good foundation but also recognizes the design techniques that can transform those prints into a home. Maybe I’ve watched too much HGTV over the years!
Today I celebrate the ability to strive for a new version of the American Dream, and I think back over all my family members who paved the way for me to have this chance. For my great-grandfather who immigrated with $14 in his pocket. For my grandfather and my great uncle who served our military during WWII, and for their younger brother who lost his life fighting in that war. For my parents and the sacrifices they made over the years to show me their version of the American Dream and now for my husband and me, as we forge ahead with our new version. I am not blind to the fact that there is corruption and hatred and abuse and violence in this country, but today I will be grateful for the freedom I am still afforded here. I will be thankful to not live in a village which is regularly bombed. I will be thankful I can provide a safe home for my children and create memories of peace. I will pray for those do not have these luxuries and for those who take them for granted. I will await the unfolding of my children’s version of this dream and look forward to what is to come in mine.
Copyright 2019 Courtney Vallejo