"Mommy, why are there red, white, and blue flags hanging everywhere?" my 5-year-old daughter asked a few days before the Fourth of July last year.
"Because July 4th is coming up, sweetie, and it's a special holiday," I answered.
"What's so special about it?" she asked. "Do we get presents?"
"No, you don't get presents. It's special because it's the celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence," I explained.
"Well, that doesn't sound very special to me," she said.
For the rest of the afternoon, I thought about how much my daughter enjoys celebrating most holidays. She loves to decorate, make up holiday games, and anticipate the festivities. And her enthusiasm is contagious. One year she was so excited over Easter that she laboriously planned and executed extravagant daily Easter egg hunts for her little brother. Before long, he was doing the same.
But patriotic holidays are a different story. She's never been very interested in celebrating them. And I've never been very good at educating her about their significance.
Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day come and go without a hint of excitement or desire to celebrate, other than it means Daddy gets to stay home and play, rather than go to work.
Later that evening, I pored over the language of the Declaration of Independence. I tried hard to think of ways to translate the words into a dialogue that would be appropriate for me to have with a 5-year-old.
Then it came to me - role play.
The following day, my husband and I pretended to be the king and queen of the household (a role we enjoyed immensely). The kids chose which two of the original 13 Colonies they wanted to be.
Then we carried out our usual morning activities with one major change. The king and queen dictated the clothes they wore, the food they ate, and the activities in which they participated.
We didn't give them any choices, and we taxed them on their breakfast.
Within a few hours, they tired of the game and began to rebel.
Over lunch, we talked about the rights of individuals, equality among people, and respect as it related to the Colonies and their separation from England. We also drew the parallel to self-respect and respecting one another as it relates to our family and daily life.
By the time lunch was over, they eagerly agreed it was time to declare their freedom. We spent the afternoon helping them prepare for their independence celebration. That evening, we had a parade complete with flags they had made and pictures of fireworks.
This year, I'm hoping that if my 3-year-old son asks why flags are hanging everywhere, he'll remember our role play. If not, I'm certain his older sister will play her own holiday games with him to remind him of the significance of July 4.