Life Behind the Wheel

night driveCall me crazy. Just don’t call me for carpool.

I’ve got two non-driving teenagers (well, one has driven long enough to wreck two cars), a frequent-flying husband, and a mother who believes with all certainty that a black-robed judge is going to show up at the door one day and “do away with me.” (Though what my good Christian mother could possibly have done to deserve this staggers the imagination.) In any event, until our Chiweenie successfully passes her driving test, it’s pretty much me driving everyone in the house where they need to go: work, therapy, doctor’s appointments, choir practices, grocery shopping … you name it, I’m driving there.

Now, some extremely devout and well-organized women I know use this time for prayer or some other high-minded pursuit. And yes, I occasionally flip on Catholic radio or plug in a little Matt Maher when I need a little faith-lift. The trouble is, no sooner do I get behind the wheel than my brain kicks into high gear and starts spitting out two dozen items for my to-do list that I am quite certain will be lost if I cannot write them down. Items for the shopping list. Phone calls that need to be made. Stops I need to make. These things whirl around and around my brain like it was Midnight in Menopauseville. You know what I mean.

And then there is the never-ending, nails-on-chalkboard prattle coming from my wide-eyed daughter, who seems to live for the moments she can make steam escape through my ears or yell at a pitch high and loud enough to unnerve livestock. “I can’t wait until I’m eighteen so I can get a tattoo … no, a piercing. No, both. And dye my hair black, like a Goth. And did you know that my boyfriend D____ (her current love interest) kissed me in the hallway? Well… he almost kissed me. Like, he looked like he was going to …”

Yes, I know she’s just looking for attention. Yes, I know this is what teenagers do. Yes, I’m sure I drove my mother crazy, too, and this is just God’s particular brand of cosmic justice. And so, I pay it forward the same way my mother did, with a benevolent mother’s curse: “One day may you be blessed with a child just like you.”

The thing is, she’s really not. And I know this because in her more lucid moments I see my mother look at my daughter when she’s raging against The Mom, and clearly she thinks she wandered into Comedy Land. Her eyes light up with barely suppressed humor as she watches her granddaughter spout off at me, and me trying to keep from blowing my ever-loving gourd. She doesn’t say anything. Certainly doesn’t try to take my side about ANYTHING. She just sits there and chuckles. Dammit.

Suddenly I feel like that old battleax Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. So I tell myself it’s time for a Mommy Time Out, pour myself an Arnold Palmer, thank my children for “volunteering” to do dish duty, and turn on Jeopardy. Because I have yet to figure out how to deliver two children at opposite ends of town to start work precisely at 9:00 and still make it to the office dressed in something other than pajamas to meet my new boss. I haven’t the foggiest idea how to extricate the Judge from my mother’s cognitive processes. But by Jove, I’ll take “Weird Stuff Nobody Knows but an Editor” for $1000, Alex.

And how’s your week going?

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“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.”