Homeschooling Offers Families a Great Option. (My column in today’s Greenville News.)

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/06/13/ed-leap-homeschooling-offers-families-great-option/71132414/

I have, in my house, a rising Tiger. Our second-born, Seth, begins his college career at Clemson this fall. He has always been, and remains, an amazing young man. He is filled with both passion and compassion, he loves learning, reads voraciously, is strong as a bear and is an outstanding musician. He makes our parental hearts swell with love and pride. Oh, and for the record, he looks like me and is thus incredibly handsome. What? His mother tells us that all the time so it has to be true!

Like a growing number of college students, Seth comes to the university from the home-school world. From the time he was in 4th grade, he was educated by his awesome mother (with a little help from me), and over time by wonderful teachers in several co-op groups, culminating in a few semesters at Tri-County Tech, receiving college credit as a ‘dual-enrollment’ student.

It appears to have been a good experience for him. His college acceptance letters came without a glitch, giving him several choices for his university education. And despite the constant protests to the contrary (by those outside the home-school world), Seth does just fine in the mystical ‘socialization’ arena.

I have always said that education can be accomplished with great success in any of several ways. Public school, private school and home-school all work just fine. But they only succeed to the extent that parents care and are involved in the educational process. All can fail miserably if parents are dismissive and believe ‘that’s someone else’s job,’ and particularly if moms and dads suggest that learning is drudgery, unnecessary, boring or somehow a form of oppression.

However, for anyone considering home-schooling, I would say that it is a fantastic way to spend time with, and really know, your children. Jan and I have emphasized learning from the beginning. But home-schooling allowed us to tailor the learning to the child. More than that, it allowed us that precious, ever dwindling commodity, time.

You see, our schedule was our own. Yes, the state mandates 180 days of school per year. But we could accomplish that in any way we desired. If we had a schedule conflict, learning could take place in the afternoon and evening. If we had the opportunity to take a trip during the ‘school year,’ we took it and learned in the car, in the hotel or at the National Monument. If I was working evenings, we could play and visit during the day and they could finish up later; or I could help with school during the day while Jan took a welcome break for lunch with friends.

Furthermore, we could design curricula for the interests of the children, whether it was learning Biblical Greek or taking bagpipe lessons. BB-gun team was a credit towards PE. Jan once applied for, and received, a grant of beautiful copies of art from the National Endowment for the Arts. The entire process was, in a word, flexible.

The reason this matters to me, as a parent, is that the world grabs our kids so quickly these days. They have school, of course, but culture tells us that if we want our kids to succeed, they have to engage in a vast array of activities. Beyond academics, clubs, teams and the ubiquitous Internet conspire with parental work and home responsibilities and seem to drive us ever further apart.

This endless motion sometimes robs us of the simple joy of being together; of eating and laughing, telling stories and just sitting quietly, basking in the presence of those we love most. My schedule has always been pretty malleable. But I feel deeply for the loving mothers and fathers who work second and third shift, and for whom any time with their children is rare and precious. For them, in particular, online or home-schooling could offer unimagined opportunities to enjoy their children while they can.

I wouldn’t trade a day of it. And Jan and I would do it all over again; and hopefully do it even better. But as Seth goes off to Clemson, and my remaining two children likely transition to public school this fall, I just hope that parents keep their options open. Even a year or two of home-schooling, strategically placed, can offer opportunities, memories, and bonding that they’ll never regret.

And never forget.

 

Marriage is a work of art and a labor of love.

This column is dedicated to my lovely wife Jan, as tomorrow is our 25th Anniversary!

 

When we look at beautiful houses, or breathtaking historical structures like the Pyramids or the Mt. Rushmore, we are in awe of the craftsmanship, the beauty. Sometimes it seems that they simply fell from the sky, magnificent as they are, and suddenly occupied the spaces before us. It is inconceivable that the field, the mountain, the lot was once empty, once the domain of small creatures and weeds. It is unimaginable that the thing that rises before our eyes was once stone sleeping in the arms of the mountain, wrenched free by untold thousands; or that the lovely shapes of a beautiful home are made by wood that grew in the forest and was assembled in noise, and dust and sweat by builders.

Just so, when I look at older couples, I am in awe. I meet them all the time. ‘We’ve been married 55 years doctor! It has been a great life so far!’ They touch their hands together, smile and dote. The movements of their eyes, the laughter, the instant grasp of communication, it all seems so natural. As if, from the moment they met, the connection was made. The carousel switched on and springing to life in the darkness, full of music and color.

We forget that there were times when those charming people struggled. When he thought she was crazy, and she thought he was lazy and all of their parents wrung their hands in worry and folded them in prayer for the young couple. There were times when they had no money and others when they had no time. And there was sickness and struggle and exhaustion as surely as there was health and joy and adventure. A marriage is an edifice that rises up with great, and endless, effort. The construction of one entity from two is no small thing, and while the words are said as covenant, the building process may last a lifetime, even if it looks perfect to the casual passerby.

This week is our anniversary, Jan’s and mine together. On May 26, 1990, we were young and in love, we were nervous and excited and we walked down the church aisle. She was one year out of graduate school and I was one week out of medical school. We were a little crazy and a little thrilled. Before us lay a move to a new city, and the beginning of new jobs for both. We were, to use the above analogy, an empty field, full of building materials. It was for God, and our own love and effort, to make the structure; to make a family, a temple of good things, a unity to care for one another and survive and thrive in the world.

Anyone who knew us well during those early days would say that the construction was, at times, a messy business. There was romance and argument, conflict and communion. There were days and nights apart due to work and there were amazing trips together which united us. Like a house rising from the dust, we took shape. Later, in time, the house was ‘in the dry,’ and it was a matter of decorating and beautifying the marriage; the comfortable, well furnished rooms with trust and comfort and hope and laughter, and then to bring children and turn them loose inside it.

Our marriage has lasted this quarter century and grown better and more beautiful every single day. I would not trade it for anything, nor her for anyone. We belong together. We have become, in every way, our perfect match. (A thing, young couples, that is seldom discovered but usually made.) Oh, we still have work to do. A room to add, a wall to paint, a rough edge to sand. But all in all, the whole thing is simply magnificent. Time and effort, God and devotion will do that.

And to anyone out there wondering why they don’t have it yet, I say this: don’t put down the tools until you’re satisfied. Keep learning and growing and adding and building. And before you know it, you’ll step back and realize that the marriage you built looks perfect to everyone else. And you can smile at each other because you know that there are secret flaws. But that they don’t matter a bit because even they help hold the thing together, stick and stone, heart and soul.

So happy anniversary to my Wild Irish Rose! Thank you working with me all these years to get it right.

When the children return home, it’s a blessing

My column in this weeks’ Greenville News.  Enjoy the kids when they’re home!  And Merry Christmas!

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2014/12/05/ed-leap-children-return-home-blessing/19972293/

My children, about whom you have read for nearly 20 years now, are growing up. The oldest will turn 20 this month; the youngest will turn 14 next month. And there’s those other two, in the middle, how old are they? Oh yeah, 15 and nearly 18. (The curse of the middle child.)

Our firstborn is in college nearby, living with friends. The others are so busy with coursework that even though they live at home, as autumn passes I seem to see them less and less. They are forever consumed with papers and tests, reading assignments and other projects.

And yet, despite their advancing ages and exploding maturity, they love home. They love home because they love familiarity and comfort. Because they love to eat and sleep and relax without being in charge of everything. They love sitting by the fire and playing games; times when they can slip comfortably into sweat-pants, t-shirts…and childhood.

During these times of rest and relaxation, they occupy themselves in many ways, from staring at the many screens in their possession to simply and joyously tormenting one another. A favorite game? ‘Tiny Punches,’ wherein three corner the fourth and hit him, or her, repeatedly with very short punches. I have received this treatment; and when I find myself in a corner with three of the children around me looking at one another, I know what’s coming.

In years past, there were others. Avalanche involved building a huge wall of pillows and blankets and collapsing it on one another. Another game required that they jump from the landing onto a pile of pillows; beneath which one might find a concealed dumbbell for an extra soft landing. And there was the static torture. Wrap a sibling, or parent, in a fluffy blanket, in the dry air of the basement, then rub it as hard as possible. I swear, I wish I knew how much charge that generates. I recall the pain and the sparks. (Works well on a trampoline also.) I’m just glad I didn’t have a pacemaker.

I am not suggesting you play these games; unless you’re feeling bold. (Like one-legged kick-fight, it can end badly.) I am suggesting that our children, even as young adults, are still children. As we should all be, I believe. It’s at Christmas that we recover those simple joys and simpler times.

Modern culture likes to pretend that high school and college kids are the end all, be all of worldly wisdom and education. To which I say ‘nuts.’ They’re bright and articulate and culturally aware. But they’re still, in so many ways, immature. To us, their parents, they’re still children. And they always will be. It’s why we constantly ask them if they need anything, it’s why we load them up with everything from food to toilet paper when they leave. And why we hug them out of the blue. (A thing they secretly love.)

Granted, at 18 they can vote and go to war. And they can, at 21, drink alcohol. (An odd and probably inappropriate dichotomy in my opinion, but that’s another column.) But they don’t know enough yet. Nowhere near enough. Because a huge part of successful learning is simply born of living through a lot of things. Thus, sadder-but-wiser parents share wisdom with enthusiastic-but-vulnerable offspring.

This Christmas, as the kids come home, as they unwind from exams, as they look for the comfort of friends and laughter and as they seem to sleep like the dead, remember that they are also seeking the wonderful joy of the familiar and the safe. They want to let their guards down and know the simplicity of childhood once more. Best of all, in the process, they are giving us a gift as parents. They are saying, without so many words, ‘I still need you and I’m glad I’m yours.’

So if you find yourself in a house suddenly bereft of chips and soda, if you find the television occupied by video games, and notice that you are being ambushed by large kids who look vaguely like the little ones who lived there not so long ago, take it for what it is.

It’s a blessing of the first order, to have children who still need you. Please proceed to enjoy every second. Because if you do, they’ll just keep coming back. And eventually, they’ll bring more with them.

 

Thanksgiving: mission accomplished. Check!

Thanksgiving week checklist:

Time spent with wife and four amazing children.  Check.

Fed 28 family members and friends.  Check.

Gave injured dog his medicine; sometimes, when he agreed and wasn’t a big baby.  Check.

Played X-Box…with wife and children. Check.

Ate more than reasonable, but maintained weight.  Check.

Standard Southern relaxation of shooting in backyard.  Grass littered with shell casings.  Now ammo poor.  Check.

Cousin sleepover with kids. Check.

Watched Elf.  Check.

Put up Christmas tree and decorations, according to wife’s excellent aesthetic sense.  Check.

Ate various incarnations of turkey and dressing, including chili.  Check.

Took out trash.  Check.

Long hike today, now exhausted. Check.

Best of all, thankful to God above for his grace and mercies.

Check, check, check.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Edwin

 

Image Credit

 

The Best Way to Learn Tolerance? Raise a Teenager.

Here’s my latest at the Huffington Post!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/edwin-leap-md/the-best-way-to-learn-tolerance-raise-a-teenager_b_6149546.html

 

If you want to understand tolerance, it’s helpful to have teenagers. I have four of them. Four wonderful, brilliant, engaging creatures brought to this earth by their mother and me. They are entertaining, they are well-read, they are courteous and insightful. And they are each, at times, surly, self-centered, lazy and stubborn. (You know; like every human ever born on this earth.)

I would give my life for any one of my children if they needed. I would stop a bullet, stand in front of a train or give them a kidney. I believe I’ve already demonstrated my love by watching ‘ironic’ sit-comes with them for hours on end.

But sometimes, well sometimes, they drive me absolutely crazy. And never more than when they think they know everything. Which is pretty much every, single day. It’s a huge conflict because their mother and I, in fact, know everything.

Not a week goes by that they do not remind their parents about another social injustice in the treatment of women or minorities, another philosophical quandary (are chickens sentient and if so, what about factory farming?) or the latest research suggesting video games are good for mind, body and soul (and give you a shiny coat as well). They quote statistics on global climate change, they argue with one another about licensing parenthood. And they seem to go out of their way to pick ‘hot-button’ topics to challenge the apparently irrelevant education and moral authority of their parents. In our house, ‘because I said so’ is a long lost trump-card.

This is particularly interesting because my wife and I are what you might call ‘conservative.’ Or what others would no doubt call ‘right-wing, Bible-thumping, Southern nut-jobs.’ In the colloquial, that is. And it’s even more interesting because our children were home-schooled. (I know! Can you believe it?)

Our children were raised in the Baptist church, in the sultry, Confederate Flag waving ‘Buckle of the Bible Belt’ (where damned progressives would go for eternal torment if they believed in such things). Our four kids, stewed for years in all things Southern, are each deeply concerned about their pet causes, among which are included social justice, renewable energy, global climate change, animal rights, fairness, equality, racism and feminism.

So as you might guess, we disagree on certain issues from time to time. But here’s the remarkable thing. Their mother and I may not always share their opinions, but we don’t love them one iota less. Nor do they love us less! Dinner conversations are always fascinating. We all learn from one another. They lift their Baby Boomer parents to new ways of viewing old problems. And hopefully (can you hear me Lord?) we anchor them in traditions and truths that have remained relevant for thousands of years and hundreds of generations of their ancestors.

I am so proud of them. I see in their eyes, and hear in their passionate words, the fire I first saw in their mother when we met in college. Their mother, who still has a t-shirt from the first Earth Day, and who was aggrieved to be born too late for Woodstock. Their mother who learned to tolerate a staid, gun-loving, tradition following Republican, who became their father. I became more like her and she became more like me. We ‘tolerated’ each other so well we ended up with four children in about seven years. And they’re like both of us. We all tolerate one another in abject, breathless, unquestioning love.

This is how it works. We can banter about the word ‘tolerance’ if we want. But it’s too easily a weapon of suppression. Tolerance is the word we now use to say ‘you have to agree with my views.’ However, as one sees with teenagers, tolerance in truth means to disagree, but to respect. And in it’s highest, most beautiful incarnation, to disagree and yet love.

We all change over time. I don’t know exactly how my kids will end up; where they will lie in the political, moral and spiritual spectrum of the future. But I know that even when we disagree, I’m proud of the people they have become through this wonderful mixture of reading, listening, arguing and discussing. (And no small amount of parental prayer.)

The thing is, if a bunch of rural home-schooled kids can grow into the kind of people who can endure the views of their parents without screaming, and if those parents can face the emotional and intellectual wanderings and pilgrimages of their children without shipping them off to boarding school, then there’s hope for a world of tolerance. As long as we understand that tolerance doesn’t have to mean agreement. But it does have to mean love.

The most important thing in life (hint…it’s not medicine)

Every year, in May, we take a beach vacation. Because we home-school, our schedule is a little bit more flexible, so we can enjoy the coast before the masses descend. This year, however, was special. I worked a lot of extra shifts over the winter. Furthermore, now that I do locums I write my own schedule in whatever way I like. We had long wanted to stay on vacation for more than a week, and this year our wish came true. We planted our winter-weary, school-sick, work-fatigued selves at the beach for three glorious weeks.

Frankly, we didn’t quite know what to do. In past years we rushed to fill our time, and we watched the weather to be sure we could enjoy every second in the sun. We ate out more and we sat still less. We vacationed frantically, you might say.

While our time together was finite this year, we did not feel it press so close upon us. And so we slept late and cooked our meals in our rented house. We played games until late in the evening and we biked as much as we could to as many places as possible (only coming close to heat exhaustion once).

It being May, and the Atlantic, the water was cool but not cold. The sand was a hot blanket and the pool was heated and our bodies began to come alive with warmth and plenty of Vitamin D. We were tanned and lean from exercise; not fatter as our evening ice-cream should have made us. And we were happy, together, as all families are meant to be. In fact, that trip was a little like my image of heaven, in which the good things go on and on but never become mundane or boring; a place where love precludes any annoyance or frustration, and the same delightful cycle of rest and play is forever untarnished. Time stopped a while at Hilton Head this Spring, and it felt as if our lives floated in a magical suspension of one reality, replaced with a higher reality of life at its very best.

However, one of the best things about the trip, one of the most powerful gifts and realizations, came when Jan sagely reminded me of a fascinating fact. Since I started residency and we were newlyweds, this trip was the first time we had slept together in the same bed all night, for three continuous weeks, in 24 years. Between night shifts and travel and shifts ending at one or two or three in the morning, we had often missed the intimate comfort that comes from sleeping together through the night.

It is the price of a career in our specialty. Despite the assertions of specialists who always seem surprised at late night and early morning consults, we know that people are sick and people die at all hours. And the consequence of that fact is that someone always has to be up and available. And as noble as it is, that reality extracts much from our lives as flesh and blood humans, who crave sleep and touch. Humans who can endure loneliness but do not enjoy it for long.

All of us are proud of our work and our dedication. Proud that we can wake from a nap on a dime and make obscure diagnoses, or intubate at 4 am after sewing a lip back together. Proud that we can go for hours on Pop-Tarts and coffee, or whatever other heinous concoction does the trick. And our spouses are proud of us, as we are of their courage and fortitude when we are away.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. And from my own perspective, I have a very real sense that none of it is the way it was meant to be. Death and sickness are as wrong as sleeping apart from my wife. It’s a thing to ponder. And if you, dear reader, can find a way to never leave the side of your love in the watches of the night, I encourage you to think long and hard. It would be a precious gift. Alas, for most of us it is almost impossible. But we can dream.

When we left the beach, it was not really with sadness. (There was, admittedly, some brief anger as we tried to close the luggage carrier in the pouring rain.) Rather, we left with the joy and rested hearts that always come when we rediscover love and simplicity; when we rediscover one another. We were ready to leave, I suppose. The children (rather, the teens) were filled with joy when we returned to our hillside home, nestled in a jungle of Blue Ridge foliage, overgrown from weeks without resistance from humans and our machines. And they were very clear: they missed their mountains, for all that the beach was grand. When you’re born from two West Virginians, you have a gene for mountain grandeur, to be sure.

Returning home we petted the dogs and cats and sifted through long neglected mail. The kids reconnected with friends and summer began in earnest. And for two more nights, before I was off again, my wife and I slept side-by side in the last remaining days of vacation; listening to one another breath in the wee hours and holding hands.

I think we should all pause, now and then, to spend lavish amounts of time together. And if that means making less, owning less, or signing up for one less committee, one less project, it’s probably worth it. Because our life is far more wonderful, far more precious than shifts and payrolls, schedules and papers.

So if you want to glimpse heaven, leave it all behind for longer than normal. Lie on the sand or climb the mountains or do whatever you and yours find best. But be careful. It might change your life forever, as you rediscover the fact that for all its wonder, medicine is not the most important thing in your life.

Not even close.

Orbit little worlds. A poem about my children.

Here’s a poem of mine from many years ago, resurrected today on Throw Back Thursday at the ACEP Medical Humanities Section website.

I hope you enjoy!  All my little planets are much older now, but still they stay in orbit one around the other as kids who, rather than disdaining their siblings, treasure them.  I remain their archivist and astronomer…and always will be.

https://www.facebook.com/ACEPMedicalHumanitiesSection/posts/793826510648122

 

Orbit little worlds

Spin around and spin around

and hold each other tight,

spin in giggling circles

with your smiles starry bright;

hold your hands together

and fall upon the floor

laughing little brothers

I am watching from the door.

Up you go and spin some more

in orbits sure and strong,

your gravity grows tighter

though you won’t be little long.

So little planets, orbit on,

through your starry space,

and save a place for sister

for you soon will see her face.

A little moon I think she’ll be,

fair in sparkling skies,

and I will be a star-gazer,

with wonder in his eyes.

For never have the worlds aligned

so perfect, true and bright

that I could watch the worlds I love

then touch and hold them tight.

To sleep, perchance to dream: of CHF, OD’s and PE

This is my column in the July edition of Emergency Medicine News.  It’s my way of trying to put to words what we all feel during our night shifts, when morning seems an eternity away.  Rest well, my friends, whenever you can!

http://journals.lww.com/em-news/Fulltext/2014/07000/Second_Opinion__To_Sleep,_Perchance_to_Dream__of.9.aspx

Tonight I will sleep in bed, all night, with my wife. The hours will pass in pleasant dreams, wrapped in a blanket, warm beside my darling. We are on vacation, and our teenage children will be sleeping in their beds as well; after they have watched enough bizarre videos on YouTube and eaten all the chips in the house.

But as I sleep, many of you, my dear colleagues, will be wading through the morass of the night. I still work nights, here and there. And once upon a time, I worked nights full time. But those days are thankfully gone. Nevertheless, I remember. I remember what it means to work at night. And I remember that sometimes, it seems that the night will never end. It’s hard to explain it to anyone who hasn’t lived the experience. But I know. And maybe you can share this with them, so that they will also understand.

I remember hot summer nights when I came to work and walked through a parking lot that looked more like field of tail-gaters before the Clemson-Carolina game. Sitting on the beds of trucks, smoking in open car-doors with music playing as toddlers in only diapers climbed around the seats eating french-fries, the unwashed masses seemed to find solace in the red glow of the ER sign. Their assorted illnesses mere pretext for the grand social event of the evening.

‘Hey doc, get in there and hurry things along, will ya?’ I’d smile and cringe.

Once inside the door, someone, a registration clerk or triage nurse would always say the lines I hated most. ‘If I were you, I’d leave.’

‘If I could don’t you think I would?’ I would respond. And inside, filling rooms and lining the hallways, would be the contents of my night. Typically, my cross-covering partner would be up to his or her gluteus in large reptiles, and spend the next two or three hours trying to clean up messes. So I would wade right in and begin.

There was always some chest pain, young and old; high risk and low. And some that began with ‘I was really upset and had this pain after my wife and me got into a fight.’ There was also the young woman who passed out, and the old man with CHF. Most nights would include the screaming girlfriend of the loser of some fight, his chest slashed open, or his face caved in by someone’s fist.

Some patient would have a hip fracture and one would have an overdose and one would just want to die but be angry about being held, and in the midst of it all would lurk a very nice, very tolerant patient with something horrible; a subarachnoid hemorrhage or a pulmonary embolus.

And to cap it off, several would just need their chronic illnesses evaluated, whether weakness or numbness, or strange bump under the skin. (Mayo clinic having failed miserably to elucidate the cause.) And without fail, there would be a multi-layer closure to be performed because Jim Bob or Mary Sue became so drunk that they fell and split open their scalp or lip.

All of this would build and build until about 3 am, when things would seem to slow down. However, the next four hours would be devoted to the sorting out and disposing of the night’s dramas and traumas. Although peace was not a certainty, and the waning shift was sometimes punctuated with mundane requests for narcotics, or with those terribly injured in a roll-over accident, their swimsuits still sparkling from the Mica in the creek where they had been swimming.

Even before the advent of EMR, charts needed to be completed, by hand or by dictation. And since I was usually alone after 1 am, I would be the one to close that complex lip, reeking of Jim Beam. Between all of the disparate complaints, it was imperative that I not fail to read a c-spine or collate the results of all of the CT heads, CT abdomens, CT angio’s, EKG’s and serial troponin levels.

As night crawled on, there were annoyed consultants to query, transfers to arrange, admissions to sell and family members to contact. There were police officers who needed their ‘clientele’ cleared and sadly, sometimes, there were coroners to contact and death certificates to sign.

But the remarkable and reproducible aspect of it all was the way that time lurched to a stop. Once, when we went off of Daylight Savings, we kept moving the clock back to 2 am to torture a young nurse. ‘This night is never going to end!’ she said, as we laughed. But how right she was!

Nights always lingered, and as my mind slowed, and the paperwork piled up, I wanted nothing so much as another pair of hands, or eyes; another person to help chart, or just to see the 5 am ectopic work-up, or the 6 am wrist laceration.

I recall looking outside, past the ambulance bay doors, wondering if dawn would ever come, and thinking that if it didn’t, I must surely have died and gone to eternal punishment. When that fatigue arrived, no caffeine, no snack, no nurse MacDonald’s run, nothing helped. When your mind is a fog, when it’s an absolute effort of will to see the patient, do the procedure and then document all of it. When nothing, nothing in all the world, is better than ten minutes, face down on the desk with eyes closed and sleep instantaneous; sheer joy until the next nurse question, x-ray tech call, or ‘chest pain in room 9.’

I don’t miss those full-time nights. And even though I still do one here and there, I hope to do them less and less. And more than that, I hope that one day medicine will evolve in such a way that we don’t have to risk our patients, and ourselves, with the very real danger of pure exhaustion in the never-ending misery of the night, where fatigue meets necessity, where human limits meet unlimited human need.

Because as I go off to bed, I can say that nights are meant to be enjoyed, not merely endured. Sweet dreams..

Modeling sexuality for your kids. My post at the dadmatters blog, Focus on the Family

I’m honored to be featured at the dadmatters blog!  Here’s my post on modeling sexuality for your kids in their teenage years.

http://dadmatters.focusonthefamily.com/how-to-model-light-hearted-sexuality-for-your-kids/

My wife and I have tried to be very intentional in discussing sexuality with our children. We’re homeschoolers, so of course every discussion is a mini-class. (Homeschooled kids recognize this phenomenon and come to expect it…even if they roll their eyes.)

But we ‘took it to the next level’ a few years ago, around the time that our church youth-group had a weekend retreat on sexuality, complete with college-aged counselors and videos, as well as STD photos supplied by Dr. Dad. Our boys were in the youth, scattered between middle and high school. Our daughter was in grade-school, but all ears at all times.

Thus it was that even she was involved in some discussions of sex. Jan is a very good educator, and also a trained counselor, so it was natural for her to include our little girl in the talks, albeit at an age-appropriate level.

So over the next few days, our little princess would often stop her brothers and ask the following question: ‘Are you going to have the sex? I think I’ll have the sex, because the sex sounds interesting.’ Brother one, red-faced, would run away. Next victim. ‘How about you? Will you have the sex?’ Repeat with second and third brothers, with varying responses, like hands over ears and yelling ‘lalalalala.’

They would plead with us: ‘mama, papa, PLEASE make her stop it!’ To princess it was just another day of inquiry. To her brothers it was sheer torture. Frankly, my wife and I had a great laugh about the sibling interaction on ‘the sex.’

But it illustrates the point that run as they may, children will confront sexuality. And as fathers and mothers who want to model Godly relationships, we have a duty to explain it and prepare them for their own futures as sexual beings.

So we have discussed it, in terms physiologic, relational and spiritual. Over the years, we have tried to explain to our children the boundaries within which their sexuality must function. If the world wants to teach us anything, it’s the propaganda that unhindered, unfettered sexuality is the only way it can be ‘true’ or ‘natural.’ We all know that for the lie it is; and research is quite clear on the issue. From staggering rates of STDs, to the very real fact that sexual satisfaction is greater in marriage than outside of it, science shows us the falsehood of ‘popular wisdom.’

So the kids have heard all of it, in one way or another. All are now teenagers, from 13 to 19. They know what the Bible says about sex and they know, from numerous ‘lectures,’ about issues like disease and infidelity, and even the importance and joy of having children. That we have been successful is evidenced by their discussions: ‘my kids will be way smarter than your loser kids!’ And it’s confirmed by the way they recognize bad relationships and inappropriate sexuality on television and in movies.

However, we aren’t done. The older guys may be weary of lectures, but we can still influence them. Good, loving parents never stop teaching…or at least advising, since we are always trail-blazers for the futures of our children. So in my opinion, the best thing we can do is model affection for our children.

We’ve always done it. My wife and I hold hands. We embrace frequently, we kiss in front of the children. They see the way our emotional love, and our verbal expressions, are modeled in our physical behavior. To use theological terms, our love is incarnate in our embrace, and in the smiles that we exhibit when we are together.

Teenagers are cynical by nature, and even Christian teens can become jaded by diabtribes, and by the endless chain of sappy pamphlets and poorly executed videos on abstinence. We have to be careful. But they pay attention to the examples we set. They watch closely for hypocrisy; if I said I loved their mother but was distant and cold, they would take note. And if we told them that they should wait because marital sex was the best sex, but then we never exhibited any connection or romance as a couple, they would get the message.

So here’s my Dad advice: if we want our children to believe in waiting, to believe in sex within marriage as the right way to express their sexuality, to look forward to that time, then we have to model affection, touch and passion. We have to laugh and play with one another, to make the marriage relationship look like a delightful, wonderful thing to be emulated. We have to flirt, and speak to one another in a way that suggests our attraction. I commonly say (and mean it), ‘You look beautiful honey!’ Or my wife might say, ‘there’s my fine-looking man!’ Then, the children see that the boundaries we teach about sex will enclose a promised land of green pastures, rather than a barren land of boredom.

Oh, and one more thing. To have a little fun, and keep them off guard, don’t neglect to joke. Sexuality, like faith, has to have a light-hearted side. Here was one I recently tried. I had been playing Wii with the kids, after their mother was in bed. I turned to them and said: ‘You know, sometimes when you aren’t here, your mom and I play strip bowling.’ The look on their faces was AWESOME!

Due to the behaviors Jan and I model, and the words we share, I believe our children have learned that sexuality in marriage is an inestimable gift, a thing which welds a couple together. And a thing that makes waiting worthwhile.

Even if is their ‘gross’ parents teaching them the lesson.

Let’s not devalue mothers this Mother’s Day.

This was my column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of the wonderful mothers out there!

Let’s not devalue mothers this Mother’s Day.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2014/05/10/devalue-mothers/8919973/

Women today have choices about their future careers.  There’s hardly a field where women aren’t prominent, and that’s a wonderful testament to the diversity of our culture. But often, when a young woman states that her goal is to be a mother, there’s a kind of disappointment leveled by others.  ‘Do you mean after you go to school and have a career?  I mean, don’t you want to accomplish something?  For you?’

I understand.  Everyone has dreams and goals, plans for greatness.  And the friends and family of these future mothers have their best interests in mind.  They don’t want their loved ones to subvert themselves and give all of their efforts and talents, all of their youth to someone else.  And yet…

Who among us does not?  In a very real way, most of us are ‘ancillary.’  I think about myself and my fellow physicians.  We are not the end purpose of medicine.  We’re here to allow everyone else to stay healthy and navigate illness and injury, in order to go back to their families, friends and jobs.  We succeed to the extent that they need us less and less as they grow stronger and more robust.

The same is true in business.  If our young woman, with dreams of motherhood, should climb the corporate ladder first, well good for her!  But for whom is she climbing? First of all for her supervisors, maybe later for the board of directors (all of it financially rewarding, we hope) and in the end, even if she is CEO, she works for whom?  Her customers and clients.

Do teachers accomplish their great works for themselves?  They may find their work rewarding, but they teach so that children can move off into the world and find their own work, their own families and lives, can support themselves…usually by working for others.

Women in the military serve the nation.  Women in higher academia serve the future of the institutions, their academic disciplines and their students.  Hard working women in small businesses or large serve the ‘customer,’ who is always right.  And in public service, police, fire, EMS or others, heroic women serve the good of the public at large.

As artists, whether in music, visual arts or literature, women may be very independent, but they still hope to please critics and buyers, and hope to advance the quality and expression of their particular art media.

So I wonder, if a woman says that she wants to stay home and raise children, why is that somehow a lower path in so many minds?  That woman, who may or may not have worked for any of the industries or groups I’ve listed (a small sample of the whole) will turn her attention to caring for, serving the children she bears or adopts.  They will be her customers (although not always right), her public, her industry, her small nation, her medium of expression.

The markers of her success will be theirs. Their health and happiness, their ability to care for themselves as adults, their entry into the world and into their own families. Those will be the metrics by which she will judge success or failure.  And in some cases, when children are very ill or disabled, their comfort will be the product she produces for years…or for a lifetime.  This isn’t just emotion.  The intact family is a very clear and validated predictor of future health and success for children.

I’m not in any way suggesting that women who work are failing their children; not at all.  I’m saying that motherhood is more than cribs, cuddles and laundry, diapers, mini-vans and soccer practice.  It’s too easy to reduce it to a set of visual cliches, so commonly attributed to motherhood in our society.  What I mean is that motherhood is not a lesser path, or a mere supporting role.  There are no mere supporting roles, for we almost all support someone, work for someone, help someone or produce for someone.  Even the President is a servant of the people.

But the role of mother, in developing the children of the nation, is foundational.  And her work, for work it is, is essential to the future of the nation and the well-being of our citizens.

So when young women choose that path, at reasonable ages, with husbands and sufficient financial resources, we ought to encourage them.  Motherhood, you see, is a choice the world cannot afford to devalue.

Happy Mother’s Day!