[From the upcoming book, Your Child is Not Out to Get You, (working title)]
“How big is the moon?” four-year old Francis asks me. Resisting the impulse to give the “right” answer, I ask her, “What do you think?” “As big as the ocean, but rounder,” she replies. “Yes,” I concede. “You’re close. It’s very, very big.” My guess is that she is answering from her experience on a recent trip with her parents to the Pacific Ocean and has seen the vastness of that body of water. From her perspective, I want to support that “knowing” of interconnectedness, rather than offer her a linear response to that question. The Bauls of Bengal in India often express themselves in what they call “twilight language,” a speaking from the heart rather then the mind. I have experienced that young children, still innocent and connected to their heart/soul also talk that way when they trust the adults in their life won’t belittle them or correct their words.
I'm not talking about the big stuff here like stepping out into traffic. I'm talking about all the ways I thought I had to protect my young daughter from disappointment because of what I had learned. Stuff like if you eat all your Halloween candy in the first two days, you won't have any for the weekend or if spend all your money at the beginning of your holiday, you'll have nothing left if you see something you want to buy later, blah blah blah.
When Kid #3 was around seven, we gave her a roll of film to shoot in our camera. It was a delight to watch her fall into the photographer's stance and click away. And click and click and click. My own feeling of scarcity clicked in, too, and I decided that I had to save her from the disappointment of running out of film too quickly. I thought I should educate her on the matter of, “If you use up all of your film now, you won't have any to take pictures of the farm when we get there.” Yet, all I did was ruin her enjoyment of the moment and undermine her confidence as a budding photographer.
Life is a mixed bag of circumstances. It's hard to watch your child be disappointed and when Kid #3 was four-years old, I was ready to have my heart broken by her disappointment but instead I learned something valuable. When she was four, Kid #3 was “uninvited” to her best friend's birthday party because she had been exposed to the chicken pox. I was mad and upset. "Really!" I fumed to myself. "We don't even know if she has it and why not just expose everyone and get it over with while they are young?"
I told her that she wouldn't be going to the party because she had been in contact with someone who had chicken pox. By some wild stroke of luck that was all I said before I took a pause in my imminent rush to comfort her when I noticed that she wasn't upset. She heard the news, accepted it immediately and asked if she could watch a movie.
When I was a kid I couldn't believe how stupid adults were. I have never forgotten this. As an adult I listen to what children have to say to see if I can remember some of what I knew when I was young. Here is one tidbit: