Sex Talk in the Fourth Grade: Dads Do It Differently

“Mom, what’s porn?”

It’s hard not to flinch with your fourth grader comes home with a new word like that one. I felt like he’d poked me with a sharp stick. In the heart.

I’ve always had an open door policy with regard to any questions – vocabulary or mechanics – of this kind. But he must have sensed my inner flinching, because he apologized immediately. “Sorry, Mom. I just heard it from some of the kids at school, and I wondered what it was.”

“Don’t be sorry, buddy. Whenever you hear a word you’re curious about, I’m happy to talk about it with you. I want you to know from a credible source what the words actually mean. So let’s talk about it.”

I told him there are two big categories for sex: there’s the beautiful kind, and there’s the ugly kind. There’s a kind that’s loving and honoring to women and their bodies, and there’s a kind that’s horrible and ugly and disrespectful to women and their bodies. I told him that porn is pictures and videos of the kind of sex that is ugly and disrespectful and dishonoring to the people involved.

(It’s hard to know how much to say about such things.)

On the second day, he came home with another new word. “Mom, what’s a perv? Pervert, I think? What is that?”

First of all, because I said I would answer, a pervert is an ugly word for somebody who likes and enjoys that ugly kind of sex that we talked about yesterday. But secondly, and so casually so I don’t scare away your honesty, by the way, who are these deviants who are walking home from school with you? Let’s get to the bottom of this situation, stat. I’m about to show up with my teacher voice.

Third Day: “Mom, what’s rape? Am I a rapist?”

Okay, stop right there.  This word makes all of this a whole new ball game.  I asked him to tell me where he heard this one. I needed context.  After much conversation, including guaranteed immunity for knowing the words and the sources, I found out that, “Well, I was walking home with Cleveland and Houston and Ulysses, and Cleveland said he raped Houston’s mom.”

(Names have been changed to protect the innocent, but since much of this generation is named after a president or a city, these are relatively believable pseudonyms.)

I impressed myself with the even tone of my voice, the serious degree of calm. I said, “I’m so glad you told me, buddy, and you’re definitely not in trouble. I need to talk with Peter about this, because this is definitely a dad thing.”

(Translation: Alleged rapists in the fourth grade is above my pay grade. I’m gonna’ need to call in the big guns for this dialogue.)

I calmly walked into Peter’s office, gently closed the door, and then promptly lost my crap.

What is happening? What just happened?! Who is influencing my children? Who are the deviants walking them home from school, and is it too late to redeem my children from this path of degradation? Porn? Perverts? Rape?! I can’t. I can’t handle this in their vocabulary, in their minds, in my home. Peter, save us.

There was great gesticulating and wild gesturing. And then there was Peter’s deep breath, the calming presence before the outpouring of wisdom. He brought us all together for a family meeting. And he took everyone very, very seriously, perhaps in part to show that he grasped the magnitude, and also because this approach is hands-down the absolutely guaranteed path to my children’s hearts. Please, they beg with their little listening faces, take us seriously.

He said, “Men, I understand there have been some conversations among the guys at school.”men


“And there are some new words, I hear?”


“I see. I have a few questions. First, I need to know, are there very many children having sex at your school?”

At which point I laughed out loud. So much for my plan to take this—and everything about this and everyone involved in this—seriously. The truth is, we can’t underestimate how young this exploration is happening. And we need to give voice to it, so they can tell us about it when it happens. But still. The way he said it, the whole question of “very many.”

My children were appalled by the idea. There was a flash of horror across their eyes, because sex is (quite thankfully) all things gross to them in this life stage, but then they get their expressions together.

“No, that is not happening.”

“Good. I’m very relieved to hear this. The next question is, are there very many children forcing other children to have sex with them at your school?”

(Again, I was laughing at the audacity of it. Because I can only keep it together in a handful of parenting situations, apparently.)

“No, this isn’t happening.” “Good. This is good to hear. Because I really would want to know if this is happening at your school.”

“No, it’s not. I promise.”

“Good. And finally, are there very many children forcing each other’s moms to have sex?”

You guys, it was the end of me. I was just picturing myself in the presence of these fourth grade boys, not a single one of whom is a sexual threat to anyone, least of all the mothers in the room. Again, I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, just that it felt so audacious and thereby so ridiculously unreal that we were having this conversation.

“What?! No! No, nobody’s forcing any of the moms. No, that’s not happening.”

Peter said, “I’m relieved, you guys. This is important to talk about. I’m thankful to know it’s not happening.”

And here’s where he rounded third base and headed straight home. (No pun intended.)

Peter said, “So, since none of those things are happening, what we have on our hands is not a situation of sexual predators in your classroom. What we have here is a case of some boys in your class talking about things they don’t know anything about. What we have here is an example of bad company corrupting good character.”

At which point I was no longer laughing. Instead I was getting schooled on how to not overreact and to identify the real heart of the problem.

He said, “Men, here’s what is true: the boys in your class are good kids talking about bad things. But kids who are experimenting with these things when they’re nine will be in serious trouble by the time they’re nineteen. Don’t be that guy.”

And then he finished with, “Men, how about I walk you home from school tomorrow?”

Dads do it differently. And brilliantly.

The Dumbest Way to Lose Five Bucks

I’m on the east coast this week for our annual pilgrimage to Atlanta for the Catalyst Leadership conference. It’s the first year for Peter to join this tradition, so between my brother and his wife, my husband and me, we have a veritable Couples’ Retreat happening. You know, in a Christian leadership kind of brother-sister way that isn’t weird. As is tradition from straight off the plane, we start our three days together with dinner at The Vortex. It’s a burger bar that is delicious and intriguing with a menu that reads like standup comedy, and it is—most wonderful of all—adults only.

There’s no parking directly in front of The Vortex, but there’s paid parking right across the street. We know this, and it’s part of the plan. We got out of the car, and there stood a guy moving a traffic cone across the parking lot. He welcomed us with a nod “Vortex?”

“Yep,” we nodded back.

“The parking meter is out of order,” he tells us, “so you can pay cash. It’s five dollars.”

And we each, all four of us, busted out our wallets to pay this guy. As fast as we could and without question, it was a courtesy race to give this guy a five dollar bill. I only had a ten, but he didn’t have change, so Peter gave him a five. He thanked us, we thanked him, and we headed inside.

Except he never gave us a receipt to put on the dash. And the parking meter wasn’t broken. We got played.

By the time we realized we had just gotten scammed, our guy was headed across the parking lot and out of sight. He flashed the peace sign as a farewell and a laugh in our faces. I mean, it was only five dollars. But still. We now owed another six dollars to the actual machine for actual permission to park in the actual parking space.

We were aghast. We rehashed it on repeat over dinner.img_3837

“How did that happen, just now?”
“How did we all four just play right into his hand?”
“Well, he had a traffic cone. I thought he was legit.”
“Of course, since a traffic cone in hand is the international sign for someone who’s doing his job.”
“Didn’t it strike any of us as odd that he had no change? What kind of cash-only parking guy has no change?”
“Right, as if everybody else tonight had paid with a five dollar bill?”
“Wait a minute. If everyone had paid with a five dollar bill, then all he would have is change.”
“How did this happen?”
“Well, at least it was a stupid way to get scammed out of five bucks. So we can feel good about that, I guess.”

When we finished our meal and headed out the door, my brother offered a team challenge, “Hey, guys? Let’s try to get across the street without anybody conning us out of any money.”

So, FYI, there’s a guy outside the Vortex who’s making a quite a dinner’s wage on the distraction of happy, laughing couples. img_3835We are ridiculous.  And we are so happy to be together that we just don’t actually care. Five bucks?  Let’s call it a cover charge and call it a night.


The Grim Reaper: Dads Do It Differently

Well, it’s so-very-almost October and that bring us to the annual argument at my house in which Tyler presents his best case for his Halloween costume of choice: The Grim Reaper.img_3821

In turn, I ask him to please think of almost any other invention of himself. Truly, I’d be up for almost anything but this Messenger of Death. But he’s enamored, and this happens every.single.year.

So he began his arguments, I began my rebuttals, and we entered the annual autumn dance that I don’t love.

Peter asked, so casually, “So, what’s this about? What does he want?”

“Oh, this happens every year. He wants to be the Grim Reaper again.”

“And you don’t want him to?”

“Not especially, no. There are just so many other choices, and I don’t love that one.”

He nods his head, as dads do. And then he takes the situation in hand, as dads do.

He said, “Tyler, I love the idea of the Grim Reaper. I think you’d be a great one.”

(Wait for it. As I did.)

“I will totally make that happen for you, and we just have to follow some simple steps to get into character. I’ll tell you what: let’s get all the Grim Reaper movies, and we’ll have a movie marathon this weekend. You can study the character, his actions and gestures, motivations, and then you can really embrace the integrity of the role.”

Silence from the Reaper-to-be. “Peter. Do you even know me? I would have nightmares for days.”

“Pal, you would have nightmares for years to come. But if this is who you want to be, if this is the character you want to play, then we can make it happen.”

End of discussion.

This just in: Tyler has decided to be a Sumo Wrestler this year for Halloween.

The Belong Tour: I’m a Conference Junkie

You have to know that I’m a conference junkie. I’m a 100% auditory learner, which is maybe an exaggeration since I do most of my learning through books, but still. I’m a lecture-lover at my core. Talk to me with your stories and your bullet points and your sound bytes of glorious quotability, and I will be yours forever. It’s a proven theorem.

I went to the Belong Tour this weekend. It’s the Christian women’s spinoff of Women of Faith. It’s the same formatting (and perhaps the same white chairs on stage), all now rewritten and structured for the rising generation of women thinkers and leaders. In other words, far less humor about hot flashes and menopause, more guidance about thinking and dreaming and becoming, all rooted in the agreement that every woman gets a seat at this table.belong

The women on that stage and on this tour are seriously some of my favorites on the planet. There’s Shauna Niequist, whom I just really want to invite me over for dinner. I want her conversation, her laughter, and all of her recipes. I feel like we can BoyMom it up together.

There’s Patsy Clairmont, who’s a combination of your wise, darling grandma and your colorful, eccentric art teacher. (My friend Sarah leaned over to say, “Don’t you feel like you want her to be your grandma?” Well, since I’ve been traveling to ‘visit her’ once a year for the last decade, I do kind of actually feel like she is my grandma.)

There’s Jen Hatmaker, who is every girlfriend’s best girlfriend. She’s who we need, you guys. Peter recently called me out on some Jen-Hatmaker-hero-worship. I am prayerfully considering this respectful admonition, but not in any drastic ways like fasting from her books or any such nonsense. And anyway, I prefer to refer to my practice of study as “learning from a mentor in my field,” thank you very much.

It’s possible that Jen Hatmaker’s talk resonated also with anyone other than me, since she very well owned the stage, made us laugh, and set us all in motion to take ourselves and our gifts seriously. But I’m not kidding when I say that I felt like she was talking just to me. She talked laughably about her many early years of writing books nobody read, and she set me free to put my yes on the table, to simply show up for my own life with the gifts God has given me, and to trust him with the outcomes.hatmakerimg_3791

I wrote voraciously, taking notes like a wild woman and storing it all in my heart.

And then she quoted Marianne Williamson, in A Return to Love, and I sat up straight like a sunflower facing the sun, letting the truth wash over me and set my confidence free.

She said,

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?

We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.”

Well, that’ll preach. Actually, it did. Quite fantastically.

When Strong Women Do Great Things

“When strong women do great things, they have to do what it takes for everyone to be taken care of.” ~ my friend, Diana

I serve on a team with Diana as we host a monthly event for women. (It’s something I’d love for you to come to if you are: a) anywhere near the Denver area, and b) a woman, but that’s a different conversation.) Diana leads, I teach, another woman plans all the connectivity, yet another one plans hospitality, and then we open the doors and women find each other. It’s awesome.

So we were trying to plan a meeting so we could debrief from last month and plan next month, but it’s never easy to do with jobs and kids and families and all the things. Then one of the women said, “Well, I think I could meet Thursday afternoon. The worst case scenario is I’ll have to bring my little boy.”

It’s a common, everyday problem among moms of preschoolers, and Diana’s response was wonderful and gracious and worth repeating. First, she gave all the grace for Jennifer to bring Mason, and then she said:

When strong women do great things, they have to do what it takes for everyone to be taken care of.”

Don’t you just love that? I do.

I want to write it on everything, on behalf of the strong women doing the hard things and making sure all the everyones are taken care of. It’s not small thing and it’s not an easy gig.

I’m fairly confident that we’re all strong people doing great things. I always have more grace for the person in front of me when I remind myself that we are each doing our personal best.

And let’s be honest: there’s a lot of “everyone” to be taken care of.

Do what you need to do in the way you need to do it with the information and resources you have.  That’s all there is, strong girl.