The Last Mile: To My Son on His 17th

heidi-2016Originally I posted this at “A Mother on the Road Less Traveled.” But since we are in the middle of #40Day Challenge: Mother Teresa Edition, I decided to move this tribute here.

Because of the pictures I post most often on my blog, it would be reasonable to assume that we have only one child: my incandescent fifteen-year-old who never met a camera lens she doesn’t like.

But today we celebrate the birthday of another child who, though allergic to getting his picture taken (ahem), is also my pride and joy.

He turns seventeen today. Yes, on Ash Wednesday. Father says he can still have birthday cake – though he can offer it up if he wants to. (Which he probably would, so long as I give him the same weight in frozen blueberries.) We have one more year together until he finishes high school and officially launches himself into adulthood. Christopher, in honor of your birthday today I want you to know 17 reasons I’m so grateful God brought you into our lives.

  1. You’re my “homeboy.” Unlike Sarah, who can’t wait to launch herself into the big, wide world, you are happiest here (well, here with your girlfriend). And though you spend most of your waking hours in the toxic zone of your room, because it is your birthday I won’t go there!
  2. You are funny. Your classmates and teachers, your friends, and your family all delight in your wicked, playful, Christopher-ish sense of humor. Yes, you sometimes use it to get out of trouble (who wouldn’t?). But you are one funny guy.
  3. Your smile. The sight of that roguish grin makes me all warm inside. Like sunshine on a cloudy day. You long for braces … and you will get them. But I love your smile just the way it is.
  4. Your art. You love your colored pencils, and have killed whole trees in your drive to capture the perfect animae character. You have an artist’s soul.
  5. You are kind and loyal. Two of the qualities I most admire about your dad, you have in spades as well. Despite all the changes in your life, you hold your friends fast.
  6. You love fiercely. It takes my breath away — and frankly makes me a little scared for you — to see how you give yourself to your friends without holding anything back. I pray that they will always return the favor.
  7. You believe, no matter what. When your schoolmates challenge and tease you, you don’t back down. You know what you believe, and stick to it in good times and bad.
  8. You can see your future, and know what you want. That house in Michigan, a good job, and a family. In an age when marriage is a shaky institution, you aspire to be a good husband and father. That makes me prouder than I can say.
  9. Your compassion. Even when your sister annoys the snot out of you, at the first tear you are visibly moved to reach out to her.
  10. Your eyes. They dance when you are happy, they cloud over when life gets hard. Those clear blue orbs really are a window to your soul.
  11. You are easy to make happy. A large bowl of ice cream (with blueberries, if possible) with your girlfriend and an animae cartoon … Or an afternoon with Jacob on his farm. These are the things that light you up.
  12. You try. When you mess up, you do your best to fix it. Over and over again, you start over and keep trying. That’s a hard skill … and you have it.
  13. You take to heart my advice. You don’t always look like you are listening … but I see you taking up the challenge.
  14. Your balancing act. Part boy, part man … all heart.
  15. Your quest for goodness. You sometimes mess up (we all do). But I have no doubt that, in your heart, you want to be a good person and make the right choices.
  16. You trust people. Despite all the difficult hand life has tossed your way, you keep reaching out.
  17. You call me mom. You are the only boy in the world with that particular challenge. Because of you, my heart lives outside my body — and I have the privilege of helping you achieve your dreams. I’m so proud to call you my son.

Happy Birthday, Christopher!

“The Pregnancy Pact” — a Lifetime Movie

Tonight I watched “The Pregnancy Pact” on Lifetime Television. With one in six teenage girls becoming pregnant before age 20, the main premise of the movie — that the expectations of pregnant teenagers seldom turn out the way they thought, and that teens need more information from their parents in order to make informed choices — is a solid one.

This fictitious account, which has elements of a true story that TIME magazine covered in 2008, “The Pregnancy Pact” is difficult, but necessary, viewing for families with teenagers — especially those whose teens are dating.

I started watching the movie just waiting for the current wisdom: “They’re gonna do it no matter what, so give ‘em condoms so they don’t ruin their lives.” And for the first hour, that did seem to be the way the movie was going.

Fortunately, the Lorraine Dougan character (Nancy Davis), offered a sympathetic — and credible — middle road, a woman who passionately believed in abstinence before marriage, and the danger of offering contraception, and finds herself on the horns of a dilemma when her own daughter becomes pregnant. And the reporter — whose own pregnancy has clearly had lifelong affects on her own journey — provides a point of view that provides additional conversation points. (The outcome of that pregnancy isn’t revealed until the last five minutes, and I don’t want to address that here and spoil the movie….)

What I liked about this movie is that it reminds families of the importance of talking — really talking — with their teens, long before the proverbial crap hits the fan. Most parents I know hold themselves (and their children) to high moral standards. In truth, we often expect our children’s moral boundaries to exceed what we observed at their age because NOW we see the dangers of youthful impulses. And yet, wishing doesn’t make those impulses go away. Our kids need to know how to cope with those impulses in a real, adult way — with a full appreciation of how short-term actions can have long-term consequences.

Our job as parents is to help our kids form long-term plans for their future, and to understand how their present actions can help or dash those plans. Our daughters and sons, both. They need to understand how our own dreams were helped or hindered because of the choices we made early in life.

Our daughters need to understand the difference between infatuation (based on strong feelings that pass with time) and true love (based on a lifetime of sacrifice) — in order to understand WHY sex is a gift that is best expressed within marriage. They must understand that the gift of sex, misused, makes it difficult or impossible to think clearly about whether the young man they are dating is the best choice for a lifetime partner. (I thought the children’s book “The Princess and the Kiss” was a wonderful introduction to this message.)

The idea that these messages should be impressed on our daughters in a unique way will raise some eyebrows. Shouldn’t the message be stressed equally with boys and girls? Although boys are responsible for their sexual choices, the lion’s share of the consequences of misused sexuality usually falls squarely on young women. Therefore, the girl must set the pace of the relationship, knowing that their ability to bring life into the world carries a singular responsibility. Only she can choose — a choice that begins not with whether to become a parent, but whether to become sexually active.

And it is up to us, their mothers, to give them ALL the information they need so they have a full understanding of why these choices are so critical. Simply saying, “Don’t” isn’t enough. The challenges of engaging our daughters in dialogue are real. While God’s law is absolute, human nature is frail. Our daughters need to understand in concrete, practical terms the nature of both our hopes and our fears for their lives — based on our own experience. They need guidance, acceptance, and love. Above all, they need to be heard if we want them to listen.

If sex feels good, and makes you feel connected to the one you love … why does God want us to save it for marriage? Why not get closer to the one you love right now, and let that love grow INTO marriage? And if all I ever want to be is a mother, why not start now? And if he says he loves me, why shouldn’t I?

Let the conversation begin there.

Why Contraceptives Don’t Work

In her article “Excuse Me, Madam Speaker,” Dr. Jennifer Morse offers this eloquent explanation for why giving teenagers access to contraceptives will not prevent unwed pregnancies. She writes:

Having babies and raising them to responsible adulthood is a significant social investment. If the family around the child breaks down or never forms in the first place, the odds of the child being raised to responsible adulthood are greatly reduced. These young girls are having babies, not because their contraception has failed, not because they don’t know how to use contraception. They are having babies because they want to be loved. If Nancy Pelosi wants to save the taxpayer some money in the long run, she needs to stop investing in irresponsible sex, and start investing in responsible adult supervision and guidance of the young.

Special NCFA Report Recommends Teaching Adoption in Schools

With the rate of teenage pregnancy going up again for the first time in fifteen years, the recent release of this special report from the National Council for Adoption is especially timely. This NCFA report identifies a critical improvement needed in public school health and sex-ed classes: Educating teens about adoption as a positive outcome for crisis pregnancies.

Right now, just four states — Virginia, Utah, Michigan, and Louisiana — have legislation that mandates adoption awareness for public school “reproductive health/sexual education” programs (either mandated or voluntary). However, NCFA reports that studies have shown “four years after the birth of their children, those who had made adoption placements had higher levels of educational attainment, higher rates of employment, and lower rates of subsequent pregnancy relative to those who chose to parent” (NCFA “The Adoption Option,” pg 2).

Another good reason for the change: Studies have shown that “children born to teens are twice as likely to suffer abuse and neglect than those born to older mothers.”

The subject of sex education in schools is a controversial one. Ultimately it is parents’ responsibility — not the school’s — to teach their children about sexuality. Sadly, too many parents — in a well-intentioned but ultimately misguided attempt to protect their children — abdicate this responsibility. The reality is that if we are not proactive in educating our children, we will lose an important opportunity — and run the risk of having our children get an education of a different (and far more painful) kind.

We need to be teaching our children more than “don’t.”  And I’m not talking about saying “Don’t, but if you do … be safe.” Contraception is not the answer; a woman’s fertility is not a disease to be treated but a gift to be embraced and respected. Rather, we need to be giving our youth — girls and boys — a vision for God’s plan for the family, and for their own bodies. We need to give them a sense of self-respect, empowerment, and confidence in themselves. We need to teach them that sex is not a game, but a gift … to be opened only in the context of marriage.

The NCFA report acknowledges that when teens do not embrace this message, they need information of a different kind. They need to be taught that if they are big enough to engage in sex, they must be willing to accept the consequences of their actions by putting their child’s needs ahead of their own desires. In many cases, this would include adoption, so that the child is not forced to pay for his parents’ mistakes, either with his life (through abortion) or abuse or neglect.

If you are looking for resources to help you give your teenager a spiritually sound perspective on human sexuality, I’d like to suggest “Theology of the Body for Teens” (Brian Butler, and Jason and Crystalina Evert, Ascension Press).

"Dusting" … a new reason for parents of teens to lie awake at night!

A friend of mine sent this to me … At first I thought it was one of those urban legends that sometimes makes the rounds. Sounded too bazaar to be true. A kid, dead from inhaling air in a can?

But I did a little checking, and it appears to be legit. (Note to husband: Skip the “air in a can” keyboard clearners. Dirty keyboards are WAY better than dead teenagers.)

NOTE TO PARENTS: If your kid complains that his tongue hurts, it might be frostbite from “dusting.”

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