The Life Cycle of Truth

dandelion_life_cycle_greeting_card-r917a25e735d04a3d81d6f384a09faea3_xvuak_8byvr_324 - Version 2Nothing makes me smile wider than when I hear a perspective or idea I once offered to someone — a friend, a family member, a reader, a client, a child — offered back to me with both confidence and no recognition of where or when they first considered it. The moment the pilot light ignited is a clear and happy memory for me. For them, the energy of it is so internalized that they only know it to be true. The moment they learned it or, perhaps more accurately, recognized it is long forgotten.

I hope those who first introduced certain truths to me, the many teachers whose offerings I don’t recall, also smile when they see things I now know in the space in the center of my head, in the movement of my cells, in the pulsing of my heart. The things I’d forgotten or rejected until I watched them lived with conviction or heard them said using the words I could hear in the right moment with the right amount of clarity.

They are mine now because they were once given freely and with love. They are yours because you are open to seeing and, like me, hungry for truth.

The cycle continues as long as one being is willing to share with another.

And so it goes.

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Figuring out authority

A beautiful blue and green Seattle day requires a long trip to the park. With a four-year-old, that translates into some time at the playground, and with Henry that means somewhere with a sidewalk suitable for speedy and spirited tricycle laps. There are always lessons to be learned at the playground. Not long ago, a big one — green, with hypocritical eyes — looked me square in the face. Here’s how I got there.

During a recent visit, my husband Larry and I were enjoying the sun on a bench and getting dizzy watching our son go round and round when we realized a meeting was starting on the grass behind us. We turned around and about eight little girls and their camera-toting mothers sat in a circle. It was the kind of meeting where you wear vests with badges. Ooh, entertainment, we thought as we adjusted our heads to the best eavesdropping angle.

Question AuthorityThe troop leader welcomed everyone to their final meeting and started discussing that meeting’s topic and an opportunity to earn their final badge. What are we earning our badges in today? asked the troop leader. Respect authority, they all said. The kind troop leader reviewed what they discussed the previous meeting, the authority figures in our lives who we should respect – parents, police officers, teachers, troop leaders, coaches, etc. Red flags began to go up in my head, but nothing was really that bad yet. I kept listening.

Why should we respect them? she asked the troop of girls who appeared to be about six years old. With the mothers hovering and the troop leader waiting, the girls began responding as they’d been taught the week before:

Because they protect us.

They take care of us.

Because they know best.

Because they make the rules.

It’s what we’re supposed to do.

The kind troop leader’s response: That’s great, ladies.

I hoped no one in their little blanket circle could see the goose bumps on my arms.

We continued to listen as the girls one by one presented the pictures they’d drawn of an authority figure in their life. Most of them were pretty typical: Mom, Dad, school principal. When talking about their parents, “love” was mentioned a lot, but there was just as much talk about making and following rules. One little girl quietly explained that she’d drawn a picture of President Obama because “he knows what’s best for us and has a lot of power.”

Yes, I know they do amazing things too.

I never participated in any troop-like activities when I was a girl, but I have a generally positive impression of any organization that empowers young women and men. For the girls, a couple of Google searches showed me all the great lessons and badges in addition to “respect authority” – all about community, compassion, self respect, honesty, individual responsibility, supporting other girls, doing good in the world and more. I don’t mean to diminish their work nor the positive influence they have had over countless girls and women.

Shouldn’t ignore the boys either. Despite their homosexuality-challenged policies and other issues, they continue to offer positive opportunities and adventures to those seeking this kind of guidance. (However, they have a similar law about “obedience” and even the right way to go about changing rules…as long as you never disobey them.)

With all of my genuine “they do a lot of great things” disclaimers said, this meeting had the misfortune that day to represent the perfect example of exactly the kind of authority programming we shouldn’t be teaching our children. In fact, we should be teaching them the opposite.

They’re powerful and they know it.

Corporations, governments, politicians, large religious organizations, educational systems, healthcare providers, banks and more. They market their own special brand of authority and quid pro quo. Most of them have a lot of power, and most of them aren’t afraid to use it to get what they need to thrive – your compliance.

If you adhere to my laws, I will protect you and your family.

If you buy my goods and services and don’t question how we do business too much, I will make your life more comfortable and improve the economy.

If you do what I say and take your medicine, I can make you feel better.

If you sit quietly and work hard, you will be successful.

If you pray the right way or believe what I believe, you will go to heaven. Or, better yet, you won’t burn in hell.

This is the messaging we allow to manipulate us, consciously or not. We have become accustomed to giving up a measure of (sometimes imperceptible) control to someone or an institution in exchange for whatever we believe they offer us or, in many cases, out of fear of what will happen if we don’t.

In our current world, questioning authority is critical.

Throughout history, questioning authority has always been necessary for any kind of meaningful change. America was founded on a group of citizens questioning those in power, after all. Our time is no different.

Currently Edward Snowden is somewhere running from the U.S. government after revealing that its anti-terror electronic surveillance techniques are much broader than any ordinary citizens previously knew. Whether you believe he’s a hero or a traitor or something in between, Snowden questioned his authority figures, breaking the rules of his government and his contractor employer, to reveal what he believes to be an unjust overreach. Without Mr. Snowden, would we have ever had anything other than lots of conspiracy theories and Person of Interest to provoke an exploration into this issue?

More importantly, when we don’t question it, there are consequences: Dependence. Willful ignorance. A resistance to change. A willingness to conform or even deny our own beliefs out of apathy or fear. An agreement – spoken or unspoken – to give up our own power to those who would have us believe they are our authorities because that’s what we’re expected to do.

And this belief and resulting behavior is what we often unconsciously, and usually motivated by great love, pass along to our children.

The mirror doesn’t lie.

As I listened to the troop leader, I ran through all my long-held beliefs and societal frustrations detailed above and began writing this blog in my head and heart. I wanted to be sure to make note of the organizational line she was leading from and all the ways it is different from my own intentions etc. etc. etc.

If I’m to look at the whole truth, I also have to point my eye squarely back on myself. It didn’t take long to spot a programmer no farther away than my own nose.

At four years old, Henry is all about his independence. Often it manifests as saying a strong ‘no’ just so he’s refusing to do what I want or at least refusing to do it my way or on my timeline. I’ve built up a strong tolerance for this, and often quietly cheer him on out of respect. I was similarly strong-willed as a young person, much to my parents’ dismay.

Reminder to self: Our son isn’t a horse that needs to be broken.

As a family we’ve developed strategies to give Henry back some choice or control in any given situation. Or at minimum an explanation he can understand as to why we’re asking him to flush the toilet. Our intention is to support his independent spirit and nurture a belief in his own power. That’s our intention.

But some days, I just need him to put his ever-loving shoes on so we can get to preschool or give up the bag of cookies he found in the back of the cupboard and now has a vice grip on or stop chucking rocks at the kitchen window or for god’s sake for the last time hold my hand while crossing the street.

In these situations, more often than I’m comfortable with I’ve offered some version of this response to my child when he questioned me as his authority figure:

Why do I have to listen to you?
Because I’m your mother.

Why should I comply with that rule?
Because I love you and I’m protecting you from danger.

Why shouldn’t I throw rocks at the window?
Because that’s the rule.

Why do I have to go to school today?
Because it’s what’s best for you.

That’s how it starts, right? Follow me because I have power over you. Why, Mommy? Because it’s easier for both of us, but really only for me.

Authority is given and can be taken away.

I want my child to believe that authority is earned through trust and given only by choice. That it should always be questioned. That authority can be taken away when it is abused or even if he decides he doesn’t want or need that authority figure any more. There’s always a careful balance to strike, but I want him to be empowered and strong in his convictions, enough so that he doesn’t hesitate to follow his own heart even when it doesn’t comply with anyone else’s rules.

I want Henry to respect me because I am true to myself and my beliefs and because I likewise offer him the respect he deserves, not because I have any measure of power over him. But first I have to admit that though I so easily talk about these convictions I don’t always walk them. I’m grateful to the group of sweet little girls, their loving mothers and their well-intentioned troop leader for reminding me so pointedly how important this lesson is, and that I’m still learning it.

Nuggets

Many of the most influential and moving books I’ve found on parenting, especially conscious parenting, I have found by chance. Most aren’t best-sellers. They are little nuggets of gold in a sea of stones.

I’m sure there are others I will love and discover over time, and I’m sure you have your own list. (Feel free to share your own online or print nuggets in a comment.) But as I found yet another gem by chance only a week or so ago, I decided to share my short list of the most significant to me in this blog in the hopes that you might find a resource you didn’t already know about that speaks to you and/or helps with your own conscious parenting. There are a myriad of Web sites, too, but since those are more easily found via Google I’m focusing on books.

Note that the links I’m including are only one place where these books are currently available. I use a Kindle, so I included the Amazon links to some, but if you have a Nook you can probably find them there too. Happy reading!

Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative by Ken Robinson — Best known for his famous TED talks about creativity and the imperative evolution of education, Sir Robinson last year released a full updated edition of this book originally published in 2001. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the AERO Conference in Portland earlier this month and I was truly inspired by his wisdom, clarity and wit. So, of course I bought his book and have found it similarly inspiring, funny and full of great perspective on development in general, how to nurture creativity and happy people.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a beautiful teacher and writer, has several books intended for children or for parents. A Pebble for Your Pocket is a simple book that breaks down basic Buddhist teachings and practices — mindfulness, walking meditation, staying present, diffusing anger — into short stories so they are easy for children (and adults) to understand and make part of their lives. Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children is more for me and Larry than it is for my three-year-old son Henry, but once he is old enough there is a CD with great songs and some more advanced mindfulness practices we can do together.

Muddling Through: Perspectives on Parenting by Bil Lepp — Bil is an award-winning storyteller, a great dad and one of my childhood friends. He tells what he admits are slightly tall tales about his own experiences as a parent and child, then offers advice separately to parents and kids — e.g., parents relax the rules and the need to keep the kitchen tidy and you’ll have more fun, kids try to understand why your parents get uptight about things sometimes. His book is hilarious, honest and, despite its brevity (almost 80 pages on my Kindle), chock full of great stories and parenting wisdom.

Free the Children by Bruce Scott — I met Bruce at a conscious parenting/education conference in LA a few years ago and was inspired to buy his book that was available there. It is a beautiful fable about his journey of discovery as a parent: learning to see our children as whole people and our role as merely allowing and supporting their personal and spiritual journey; accepting we have as much, if not more, to learn from them as they do from us. It’s poetic at times, rich with provoking lessons and a wonderful read.

The Happy Child: Changing the Heart of Education by Steven Harrison — I bought this book at the AERO Conference based on a recommendation from the woman standing next to me at the sale table. It simply and easily makes the case for holistic, democratic, heart-centered education and child raising. If you’re new to these ideas, this is a great book to start with.

Free to Be…You and Me by Marlo Thomas & Friends — It’s a book, a CD and a DVD and Henry adores them all. I was raised on the book and record back in the ’70s when it came out and I’m thrilled it’s still available, and being updated every few years. It focuses primarily on gender identity, emotional expression and freedom of choice — very progressive topics back in the day. But with Mel Brooks and a great cast to voice the stories and songs, it’s also a lot of fun to watch, listen to and spark conversation.

Update… As expected, I’ve found more golden nuggets!

Waiting for Weston: A Mother’s Story About Raising A Multidimensional Child is a beautifully written and honest memoir by Marilu Schmier. Her son Weston does not speak verbally, but gives seminars, teaches and sends messages to thousands of followers all over the world. He speaks telepathically and through noted healers and clairvoyants and has touched hundreds of thousands of lives and spirits. Marilu’s experiences as Weston’s mother are astounding, hilarious and inspirational. She models extraordinary patience, openness (to literally anything) and unconditional love. Her book is a must read.

Meg Blackburn Losey has worked with Weston for many years and refers to him in a couple of her books from her Children of Now series. My favorite from the series I’m finishing now, Parenting the Children of Now: Practicing Health, Spirit, and Awareness to Trascend Generations. As many books on conscious parenting do, it focuses on us as parents much of the time, understanding that if we change our energy, perceptions and actions, we will interact with our children more openly and with greater awareness. However, it also gives some fabulous practical advice for dealing with the extraordinary gifts all of our children are born with — but that may make interactions with those outside the safety of the family nucleus more challenging.

Let’s talk about the schools for a minute

Our son Henry attends preschool. Based on my unscientific research – i.e., conversing in-person and online with a wide variety of parents – about two-thirds of you are shrugging and saying “Okay, and…” and the rest of you are wondering why. This post is not meant to answer that question. I have so many questions of my own, I’m instead using this space to help navigate the process and welcome you into it.

The community of alternative educators, homeschoolers and unschoolers is growing by leaps and bounds. They all have immeasurable love for children and robust beliefs about their development. And I still consider myself one of them – or at least a passionate supporter of these ideals who is still considering her child’s options.

I believe mainstream educational institutions no longer address the needs of our evolving children and communities. A hierarchical structure designed to train young people to be compliant and effective factory workers or, if you’re from a wealthier community, corporate managers, doesn’t work for our children or our society any longer. I think there is a lot of merit to the myriad of alternative options growing in accessibility and acceptability, including home schooling and/or unschooling. I will have a lot more to say about this over time, especially after I return from the AERO conference in Portland in August, but that’s the gist of my thoughts on education.

Here’s the rub. Our son is a truly social being. He loves people – being around them, playing with them, entertaining them, laughing with them, showing affection, enjoying the reciprocation. He runs up to the newest kid or parent on the playground to say hi and invite them to play. Everyone at his school knows him because he welcomes them all as they arrive, usually with a huge smile and a hug. He’s the first to console a crying classmate or defend them when he believes they are mistreated. He is a genuinely friendly child who enjoys the energy and security of a community. He was raised in a group setting – a wonderful nursery in Taiwan – for the first 11 months of his life, and perhaps something stuck. When he’s not with Mama and Daddy, and sometimes when he is, he wants a strong community around him. Preferably one made up of two- to four-year-olds.

When we needed to look for a daytime care situation about a year ago, we were lucky to stumble upon a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool in our community. The short answer to the “What the…?” I just heard you all utter is that this school is one of surprisingly many around the world that uses a community-based approach, developing lesson plans based on what the class collectively is interested in. Then they explore this subject in a very organic, natural way, all while taking the needs of the entire class into account. It builds community, a sense of belonging, a strong sense of responsibility to their fellow human beings, open minds, open hearts, open imaginations, as well as mutual respect among a very diverse group of kids.

Henry thrives in this environment. He’s joyful. He’s challenged. He has strong friendships with his classmates and teachers. He loves going to school because he can express himself, make mistakes and be authentically Henry while he’s there. Like at home, he is loved and accepted unconditionally.

But what’s next? There are few options for Henry to continue with a similar program once he is five or six. Well, unless we want to move to Italy… (Hmmm.) In an ideal world, we would be able to keep him in an inexpensive or free variation on this program for the rest of his schooling, because even public schools would be designed around a similarly progressive philosophy. But alas the educational times aren’t a-changin’ as fast as the rest of the world seems to be and that likely won’t be an option in a couple of years. So, we’ve been looking at our non-mainstream choices and getting dizzier by the month. Homeschooling, unschooling, radical unschooling, expensive private schools, start or join a joint parent-run school, online education, democratic schools, and on and on.

Like every child, Henry is a peg of a unique shape. He doesn’t fit perfectly into any institutional hole. But as an outgoing child without siblings he doesn’t fit neatly into a homeschool hole either. So, our exploration continues. We are confused, concerned, even a little frightened. We want to trust that a path will reveal itself in some quiet moment, and I do believe it will, probably by Henry himself. I guess we’ll just breathe, keep listening and the knowing will come.

I’ll write more about this journey as it unfolds. There’s nothing terribly profound about our story just yet, but there is something profound that happens when stories like these are shared. Just like so many of you, we are parents making tough choices in an ever-changing world. The more we are willing to honestly and openly talk about our fears and ideas, without judging or fearing being judged, the more we all benefit. I guess I’m simply adding our story to all of yours and welcoming you into the conversation. Happy parenting.