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by Surat Lozowick

            I was raised by the wisdom of my parents — but not conventional wisdom. It was the wisdom of trading convention and tradition for respect and inclusiveness, trading harsh rigidity for the tenderness of authentic relationship.

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Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: “You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgments. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being molded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.”

-- Doris Lessing

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[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.

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            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.

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            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.

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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:

SAY YES or at least don't say “No.”          

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My husband and I love road trips. When we took off in the car before our daughter was born, we would buy our favorite two food groups (sugar and salt) at gas stations and be on our merry way. Once we had a child, wanting to be responsible parents, we decided we would buy healthy car food before leaving and not purchase snacks from gas stations. For two years we would buy healthy food (apples, grapes, nuts, seeds, rice crackers and like that) to eat in the car.

But the habit of snacking from gas stations was strong. We would still buy sugar and salty as we traveled and gobble those up. When we got home we would throw out the healthy stuff out because it had gone hard or soft or bad and was uneatable.

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One morning, I was in the office, working on some routine things, nothing pressing, just things that needed to get done. I had a little friend who was 5-years old. He had picked up the phone that morning and called me, in tears, asking me to come. I asked him a few questions and he told me that nothing had happened; he wasn't hurt or anything. He just wanted me to come.  

It was only a ten-minute drive or so for me to get to his house, maybe a little more if the traffic was bad. What I was doing in the office wasn't urgent at all, yet I convinced myself that if I “come” to him this time, it would set up a pattern and he would think that I would come any time he called. So, I told him that I couldn't come right now because I had work I had to do in the office, but that I would see him soon.   

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