DEAR grassroots volunteers, you may be wondering why the Singapore flag kindly given to my family recently is not flying proudly from our balcony, windows or corridor parapet.
It is because my two-year-old son Julian has insisted that we hang it inside. It is now prominently and proudly displayed on our living-room wall. There, it fights for our attention with our new television set every night.
In a way, our little guy's got it right. We may not be flying the red-white-crescent-and-stars for the world to see, but it's there in our lives.
Celebrating his third National Day, Julian is noticing the signs of celebrations all around him - from the giant flag strung up high between two blocks in our housing estate, to the crested bunting lining the streets.
This Friday, his pre-school will mark the country's independence with a celebration, with kids in their ethnic costumes or red-and-white ensembles.
As sociologist Michael Billig wrote: "It seems strange to suppose that occasional events, bracketed off from ordinary life, are sufficient to sustain a constantly- remembered national identity."
Nationalism, he adds, is in the little everyday things, "not a flag consciously waved with fervent passion" but "the flag hanging unnoticed on the public building".
Like many Singaporeans, I tend to complain incessantly in private about what I dislike about life here. Yet, despite my occasional ranting, I do want my son to grow up with a strong sense of what it means to be Singaporean.
Patriotism is a little like believing in tooth fairies, angels and Santa Claus: Kids will grow up and make up their own minds about these things. But while they are young, parents can give them the gift of believing in something wondrous with all their hearts.
Without a sense of pride and an understanding of where one hails from, a person can be psychologically adrift.
Research by the University of Surrey has shown that children are able to identify with a national group by five years of age. National identities, however, are nebulous things. Two months ago, the British government launched its Who Do We Think We Are? initiative, to find out how British its children felt on the topic.
So, what more for countries still grappling with the task of building its own culture, like ours?
After all, we are new enough to see the scaffolding in the constructs that hold up our sense of collective self.
The question I ask myself is how to teach my child what it takes to be a citizen. As his understanding of nationality develops over childhood, I hope he won't be a parrot, spouting the Pledge and National Anthem by rote, but become a patriot who loves his country without being afraid to face its flaws.
Children's literature has been cited by psychologists as a key to creating national identity, so perhaps I'll start there.
It's a pity that major bookstores here seem to have stopped stocking those nostalgic stories with local settings by home-grown authors I remember so well from my 1980s childhood. I'll be hunting down copies of Jessie Wee's The Adventures Of Mooty Mouse series. Its South-east Asian-inspired, cute-animal scenarios subtly reinforce the ideal of a harmonious multi-cultural kampung - something our country was built on.
And come Aug 9, you can be sure we'll be tuning in to the National Day Parade on our new television set - right next to our flag.
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