Response to Matt Walsh on Sex Ed

photo-18I have been a fan of yours for awhile, Matt Walsh; a big fan.  Before becoming a full-time stay at home parent I was a health educator in the public schools.  I wish I thought your perceptions of comprehensive sex education were accurate, but I respectfully do not.  I would like to believe that parents who are incapable of teaching their children healthy, universal lessons about human sexuality are an “aberration,” but research shows we have not yet evolved to that level of competence as a society.  Since your arguments are not actually based in research or evidence, allow me to speak from the heart as you do.  In my experience, and I know that you are speaking from your experience, I believe comprehensive sex education in schools saves/improves/protects lives.  This is what I have witnessed:  1) Human sexuality is a part of biological science, which is taught in schools.  We do not restrict information about other sciences based upon the cultural beliefs of students.  We give them the facts.  2) What we teach in schools does not restrict what parents can teach kids at home.  If they are capable, loving parents, lessons from home will be primary, not secondary, to lessons learned at school.  3) You suggest we have a case of parentphobia.  Please consider whether you have a case of teacherphobia.  Health educators are professionals, and “most of them are…capable.  Most [teachers] love their [students].  Most [teachers] would do anything for their [students]. Most [teachers] know what’s best for their [classrooms].”  Teachers aren’t the government…I encourage you to have a little faith in them.  In fact, perhaps you still have some things to learn from teachers that will help you navigate the parenting “minefield” of which you speak.  Sometimes we need expert guidance from people who are trained professionals.   4)  One of our biggest failures as a society is our tendency to trust our assertion that “I can look around me” and see everything that’s going on out there. We need to doubt our beliefs about “most of us” because that is usually biased by what we see.  When we make decisions about the needs of our society as a whole, we have to remember, respectfully, that “most of us” don’t interact daily with a representative sample of the population.  Matt, we need to doubt ourselves every time we use the phrase “most of us.”  Herein lies the intended and constructive purpose of statistics; science and research that can help us make decisions about what kids as a population need.  “Most” researchers are good, smart people that have the very best for young people at heart.  As parents, we cringe at the idea of our kids rendered to numbers, but these numbers have the ability to remove our blinders when all we can see is what is around us.  The evidence, in this case, suggests that comprehensive sex education in schools has reduced the rate of unintended pregnancy, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  As a health educator, I can tell you that everyday I had that job, I went home feeling like I improved the outcome of someone’s life that day.  As a citizen, when I send my kids to public school I choose to be willing to have my children educated in such a way that is best for the common good.  And as a parent, I welcome the challenge to teach my kids what I want them to know about their sexuality in the context of what they learn in school, on the playground, and in conversation with other kids and adults.  I encourage you to broaden your view, doubt your assertions, and then tell us all what you think is best for our children.  Here are some resources:

I am on the naughty list…

IMG_1737 IMG_1559 IMG_0001_3 IMG_9038 IMG_5603 IMG_2616 IMG_2202 Yesterday I was taking our food processor down from a high shelf when the blades careened to the ground on which my kids stood. I yelled “crap.” My five-year-old and nine-year-old looked up at me with cheeky grins and Tennyson responded, “now you’re on the naughty list.” So, I replied, “shit.” They covered their mouths and brightened their eyes and threw their heads back, shocked. We laughed our heads off, together. It was worth it.

I miss my dog. My mom is back in the hospital. And, miscellaneous. Arguments, let downs, fears. We’ve all had those weeks. Months. Years? Some weeks just kick us in the ass, right? I can write that because I’m already on the naughty list. I have learned an invaluable lesson in the worst of times; we don’t know each others’ pain. We care. We show up. But we can’t know the specific hues of what others go through, even if we love them. Understanding this gives us a greater capacity for community. I’m constantly mind-boggled by human endurance. With all the LIFE that keeps happening, how is it people smile again, laugh? When my son was crying for his dog the other night he asked me in his 9-year-old words, how do we do this? I told him the only way to get to the other side of pain is to go through, and we go through it together.

For those of you who are friends and family, I’m there. I will bring baked goods and hot dish and I will listen. I have amazing friends, family and neighbors, so I try to pass it on. For those of you who I don’t know, I will be here. I will never claim to truly understand your journey and tenacity. But I will put my heart out here as something you can cling to, attempting to find the 2 percent of life that might make you laugh, weep, ignite, and continue.

A couple winters ago I lost my favorite left mitten and kept its right counterpart. A few days ago I found the left, pink stain and all, laying on the ground beside the path where I walk most days. A little voice said, “be open to the gifts of this year.” Sometimes you need a little magic to feel brave enough to keep going.

I used to lead backpack trips, One of my 17-year-old campers once said to me at the end of a grueling 13-mile hike up and down cliffs, over waterfalls and across rivers, “I must store a tiny reserve of energy in the smallest part of my baby toe.” All life contains 2 percent magic. What’s your magic?

Sometimes I hear voices in my head

IMG_1211The best part of a hot week in September is that it makes me excited for jeans weather and tires me of swimwear. We need the full thaw, the torching heat, in 6-month mitten-land. A month ago, however, we awoke to 50 degrees across the mid-north. Crisp air calling for hoodies; not July. My kids slept in. My dog remained curled in a knot on my rug. The sitter was late. I didn’t mind. I got on my bike and headed to the coffee shop to write under gray skies. Sunday mornings usually beckon a long line. No one came until the sun came out. I ordered my favorite iced tea, hot. Then today, 30 days closer to equinox, I poured myself a hot cup of coffee to escort my kids to the bus stop and within seconds outside my face was uncomfortably sweaty. I swear the cream curdled by the time I sent them off. I felt confused; out of snyc. It takes me back to other unseasonal days this year.

April;

This morning we awoke to glistening snow-laden branches; undeniably and implausibly beautiful. Despite the frenzy of media predicting our wintery April weather patterns, the visual of the snow’s arrival keeps catching me off guard. Last night as I watched the flurries out the window, my brain perceived an irregularity well before I was conscious of it. Late evening light doesn’t usually bounce off snow; its supposed to be dark early when snow is on the ground. A nostalgic inkling takes me back to 8000 feet in Montana where sun hits snow at angles much sharper than it should here in Minnesota, unless something unusual happens. The feeling is eery.April freeze

Yesterday I drove home in flurries and stopped at a red light despite a nagging feeling I need not stop. I’ve felt compelled to stop at red anything since I was 6; its hegemony. Why not today? No other cars were around. The houses were dark. Then I realized the red light was a reflection off my headlights; the power was out. I had known before I knew. I sat there for awhile feeling vulnerable, like a firefly in the woods. Conspicuous. The scene felt hushed, and measurably more comfortable when I turned my lights out. An oncoming car entered the intersection. She turned her lights out. Hush. Hide. We both drove through. I forgot my lights were out as the snow and the moonlight were more than enough to see the road clearly. I met another car. Before I remembered to turn my lights on, sure enough, he turned off his as well. Weird.

Back to September:

I saw nearly 50 robins in one tree in my backyard last week. A duck keeps quacking from the apex of my roof. A squirrel climbed so high in our pine that the entire tree bowed to the ground this morning. Why? Because spring isn’t here yet. Because animals compensate for that which is untimely. We know without knowing, just like the robins on layover await clear and warmer passage to Canada.

A Reiki practitioner and friend of mine, Anne Murphy (www.athousandhands.com), once said to me, “We trust cell phones and wireless. Why do we doubt we can pass energy between us?” Interesting point. Even when we claim NOT to believe in silent communication, we count on it. We know so much more than we are aware. When my 15 year old dog doesn’t greet me at the door, I know his hips hurt. After he is gone, my brain will think its him when I hear scratchy sounds on the wood floors. My brain will deliver the message “Gebo” when something enters my peripheral vision at 2 feet off the floor for years. When I hear jingle bells I might even walk toward the back door to let him in. But he won’t be there. My senses know him better than I know him, and what my brain knows will both dismay and comfort me in my grief when he is gone.

I wake up most mornings at 7:00 to the minute. Some would call that intuition, some would call it intelligence. If you have an older sibling, you might understand when I say I would know if my brother’s finger was a 1/2 inch from the bridge of my nose even if my eyes were shut. I know when my best friend calls how her day has gone when she says “hi.” That’s all I need. My husband has predicted the gender of 12 babies accurately; he’s been wrong twice. How many times have you picked up the phone to call a friend and she rings at that second? We all know when rain is coming because of the smell of the wind. My mommy sense tells me when the baby is about to wake up from a nap even if I’m outside in the garden. And man, if you thought you knew when to leave the party, you certainly know now when its time to leave the playdate.

My father is a psychiatrist and has been for 40 years. He also has a tender, nonjudgmental heart. My cousin is an “intuitive” healer. Some people claim they hear the voice of God. Animals just know stuff. My dad uses his training, my cousin uses her heart, others consult Oracles and animals have instincts. Whatever we call it, more information is undeniably available to us than we give credit. When we quiet down, say on a day its cloudy and unseasonably cool, there are voices in all of our heads. We’re not so different than the robins, we’re not so distant from each other, and we’re not so intelligent we can live well without listening.

What’s in your heart today?

photo-18In a 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. asked his congregation, “what is in your heart today?”  He explained first “I am like all of you; I am a sinner. But I want to be a good man. So I ask myself, ‘what is in your heart today; what is in your heart?'” On Dr. King’s birthday I asked my kids the same question at dinner. Wilder, 4, quickly responded; “Wuv. And care. Mother Earth.” Tennyson said, “equality.” Although I recognized these noble answers from conversations they have been having at their schools, I wanted to know their own thoughts. I told them the question itself asks for honesty and self-reflection; “everyone has a different answer to this question. What is so important to you that you can feel it in your heart this very minute?” Tennyson found, “my family is in my heart.” “Being fair” was Wilder’s new answer. I loved watching their miniature processes of looking inward and hearing something; anything! Call it an inner voice, or intuition, Self or Ego, they listened to their hearts and no matter their answers today, honing that skill will add so much to their lives. I would have been happy to hear “pancakes” or “trains.”

At my oldest son’s prenatal ultrasound around 18 weeks gestation I found it spectacular to see him inside and out; the full reveal was awe-inspiring. I remember thinking at his last ultrasound at 36 weeks gestation that I was seeing more of his heart that day than I was likely to ever again; more of his brain, his femurs, his metatarsals. But as he’s grown and stamped out a place for himself on this earth, the core of his being is revealed to me in little ways I never anticipated. All of my sons, perhaps all of our collective young sons, are still so honest; so pure in thought in their appropriately youthful, boastful and egotistical ways. My boys are perfectly happy on most occasions to fully reveal themselves (and I do mean that in every sense of the phrase). I assume it won’t always be this easy. I wonder if I will know when our final ultrasound-like moment is happening again; when he is perfectly exposed to me for the last time before entering a new, more private stage in his life? Or will a teenager suddenly walk in that resembles my oldest son except for a sulky pallor on his lovely flawless face and a draped veil over his previously exposed heart? I think its smart to assume that this is it; this is my time with him with his heart exposed before me with high enough frequency for us to explore together its inner workings and rhythms in absolute comfort. This is my time with him to lay the groundwork for trust, safety, openness and honesty in our future, and their future relationships.

This is not where I had planned to go with our Dr. King conversation today. I thought we were going to talk about the man, the hero, the icon of a leap forward in our national character. But I got stuck on two things. One, society or school or my husband and I have clearly already communicated to our kids there are RIGHT answers to some questions. They changed their answers when I reminded them I really wanted to know what was in their hearts. Two, in asking his question, I realized Dr. King understood–preached–rather, that in order for us to advance, we had to be honest about what was in our hearts. Even if we looked inside and found a sinner, or found answers unfit for our mothers’ ears, the truth is the best place, perhaps the only place, to start to develop one’s character. Case in point, when we legislated the end of slavery, racism continued. When we look into our hearts and reveal ourselves, real change starts.

And the kitchen table is where it can start. It’s where honesty is honored and hearts are revealed and values are learned. We teach kids values through how we act and what we choose. And sometimes, like us, they have thoughts no one likes to hear. But we need to talk about the incongruencies in life, the mistakes we make, the thoughts we produce and the feelings we grapple. If there is one thing I would like to succeed at as a parent, friend, aunt, sister, daughter, neighbor and professional…I would like to make a safe place at my table. That’s why Dr. King reminded his congregation that he was a sinner. He took the shame out of thinking and feeling and being real. He said, tell me, and I will not judge you. Look in, see yourself and be free to be who you WANT to be. Say “pancakes!” Say “trains!” Say “sadness.” Say “fear.” Say “anger.” Say “love.” And my this table, we will talk about feelings. At this table, we will gather courage. In these arms, we will face fear. In our home, we will listen to each other.

Two little blonds just wandered in as I was writing. I asked them again, “What is in your heart today?” The little one said “the Titanic.” The big one said “whipped cream.” “Wilder,” I investigated, “aren’t you awfully little to have that big ship in your heart?” He said, “I was just thinking about all the poor people that died. Ten million died and only three of them are still alive.” “Wow, buddy, that is really sad. Do you have room for all of that sadness in your heart?” “Nope,” Wilder said, “that’s why I am sharing it with you.”

I couldn’t say it better. It only takes hearing a baby’s borning cry to know they arrive with full grown feelings in their tiny bodies. So here stands Wilder, 4 years, 3 feet, 40 pounds, trying to carry the Titanic in his heart, alone. It’s not possible; this ship will sink. He needs to share his burden. For that matter, Tenny seemed pretty delighted to share thoughts on the wonder that is whipped cream. We are practicing for when his answer is harder to express and takes more discussion, like “bully” or “date” or “failure.” In my own way, I hope I am doing my part to shape America’s character. I am doing it by asking my three boys and anyone who else who will come to my table, “what is in your heart today?”