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About the Author

Little Refugee
(A true Story) By Lisa Suhay

As a children's author I meet hundreds of children at schools all over.
Some of the children look me up on the Internet, through my website, and
write to me.

More and more I am getting mail from children who pour out their
problems. Sometimes it's a school bully or a bratty sibling. More frequently it is
children of divorce.

My advice is, "Tell your parent/guardian how you feel. Tell the teacher
or school counselor." Most do and then write back to say all is well. But
not all find the help they need. I have contacted teachers and some parents
when the standard line does not serve. I am not a counselor or qualified to
help. But I don't want to turn a blind eye either. Tough tightrope.

But now, after months of contact with one little girl, and her school, I
am moved to write this open letter. It is not just to her parents, but to
any parent who might be in the process, or aftermath of a divorce, or is in
ongoing marital distress. Her problems are so much like so many others
who have written to me.

Dear Parents:

Your child is exhausted. Her mind and spirit have been devastated like
the dusty, mine-laden fields of Afghanistan.

There are things you need to know.

You cannot scream at a child on the phone and use that faceless void as
a landfill for your unhappiness with your own life. You cannot use her as
your counselor, crying towel and security blanket. She is your child and she
needs you to be those things for her.

Dads - she is not her mother.   Moms - she is not her father.

Your child is so bright and so grown-up that you might forget she is
still a child. You cannot expect her to participate in the repair of adults or
their lives. That isn't her job.

She is not her father or mother's keeper. Don't make her into the spy.

To this little girl and all the other children who have written to me:
It is not your fault. You are not responsible for anyone's behavior, growth
or fears but your own. You have the right to spend the day free from
contemplating where adults went wrong, who they have had adult
relationships with, how much money anyone makes or spends.

Who am I to say all this?

I was this child. I am where she could be if she survives the daily
rending of her mind and heart. At the same age as this little girl, faced with a
ringing phone that meant a screaming father, being expected to solve
adults' problems or account constantly for someone else's behavior, I wanted to
walk off of the Earth.

This is abuse. It is the destruction of a child's self-esteem and spirit.
People told my mother the same thing I was told about this little girl,
"Don't worry. She's one of the bright one's. She'll be O.K. It'll just roll
off her."

Well it doesn't roll off the bright ones. It runs them through and they
limp around as the walking wounded for the rest of their lives. Because she's
so bright she thinks she can go it alone and will tell very few people.
People have told her she can fix adults so she figures she should be able to
fix herself. She will make a joke of it all. She's "fine." She's bright,
fine and she's in the most terrible pain.

She's alone on a dusty road in the middle of a war that is raging all
around her. She puts one foot in front of the other and holds her head up, but
she shakes like a leaf and cringes at every little sound.

If she were a child in Afghanistan everyone would be rushing to help.
But she is an American child in a fine family with a nice home and good
grades - a spiritual refugee in our midst. She is not the only one on this road.
Her parents are not the only ones too busy dodging their own bullets to
notice how far away their wounded child has wandered. If she does not get help
they may soon wonder: "Why is she so distant? Why does she have an eating
disorder, or a drug problem? Why is she gone?"

All I can say to you is, look up. Take your eyes off the mirror and see
the danger. She isn't my child and I can't sleep anymore for the pain.

So I am asking you please, wake up.

I rarely choose to run my newspaper columns on this site. In this case however, I believe the subject matter is vital and needs a broader and longer lasting venue. Please feel free to copy this column and pass it on to people you know who is either divorced or in the process. -- Lisa Suhay