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American the Broken

February 22, 2018


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America, we are broken.  This country is so divided, and the responses to virtually any potentially controversial topic are so automated, that we’ve made it nearly impossible to work together towards a common goal.  At this point it’s hard to envision a way for us to come together and have an actual dialogue about anything worthwhile.  But when it comes to preventing further tragedies like the recent murder of seventeen students and teachers in Florida, we must.  We’re the grown-ups here.  We’re the ones who are supposed to be protecting these children from harm.  We owe it to them and to ourselves to press pause on the knee-jerk reactivity that’s become so ingrained in our culture.  It’s time we all shut up and truly listen to the “other side.”  (And P.S., we’re on the same side, we’ve just forgotten that.)

The one thing I think we can all agree on is that we have a serious problem in this country.  There’s really no logical way to argue that mass shootings and gun violence are not issues.  I think that unfortunately we have reached a point in our national conversation where we tend to hear certain words or catch phrases and immediately assume we know what someone is saying, rather than truly listening to learn and understand.  Perhaps if we did that, we would realize that we have more in common than we thought.

For example, when some folks hear the words “gun control,” they shut down.  They assume that anyone proposing any changes to our current system wants to take their guns away, destroy the 2nd Amendment, and blame mass shootings on the guns themselves rather than the people using them.  Instead of thoughtfully approaching the issue with open minds and solution-focused perspectives, they fall back on talking points like “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and “Good guys with guns will stop bad guys with guns.”

For those who believe common sense gun control is a real solution, hearing the words “mental health problem” or “parenting issue” may spark feelings of frustration and anger at what they perceive as willful disregard of the real issue at hand.  Instead of working toward a common understanding of a complicated problem, they shut down and say things like, “You must love your guns more than you love your children.”

What’s missing in both instances is crucial: any attempt to truly understand and to find common ground.  No one involved in this discussion is for school shootings.  No one is pro-massacre.  This is a complicated issue, and an emotional one.  In order to fix the problem, we have to be willing to open our ears, our hearts, and our minds.  We have to be willing to feel some discomfort, to admit that we might not have all the answers. We have to be willfully engaged in the business of change, not married to our own agendas and our comfortable talking points.

A dear friend of mine who is a psychiatric nurse posted a New York Times opinion piece today that detailed how mental health professionals’ hands are often tied when it comes to preventing mass shootings.  There are considerable limitations on what qualifies as “mental illness” and protections afforded those who may be diagnosed with it.  The article makes a strong point that “the psychiatrist responsible for (his) care would know how to treat delusions, paranoia, mania, suicidal impulses, self-injurious behaviors, auditory hallucinations and catatonia.  But there are no reliable cures for insecurity, resentment, entitlement and hatred.”  The author, Amy Barnhorst (vice chair of Community Psychiatry at the University of California) explains what those who study mass shootings already know: mental illness is rarely the cause of such violence.  This may be hard for those of us not in the mental health field to comprehend.  We may assume that anyone capable of inflicting such death and destruction with no regard for human life must be mentally ill.  But in fact, the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

So what, we all wonder, is causing these young men to act out such violent fantasies and to feel so cut off from society in the first place that they no longer view other humans as worthy of life?  Perhaps, some argue, our society has fallen so far and produced such men because we have turned away from God and from our traditional values.  We have removed religion from our daily lives, we have raised a generation of entitled brats who think the world owes them everything, we have created monsters with violent video games.  Unfortunately this theory is one that is incredibly difficult to quantify or study, and next to impossible to mandate through policy changes or laws.  It’s an easy way to point fingers and blame without having to assume any real responsibility.  It is opinion, not hard fact.  Folks can believe it all they want, and there may truth to it, but there’s no clear way to prove it and there’s no real way to implement change in this area.  (Not to mention that whole separation of church and state, if we want to talk amendments and such.)  Certainly we can do our part, we can treat others with kindness and teach our children to do the same.  We can strengthen our own families by living our own core values and passing them down to the next generation.  But we cannot force others to do the same, and we cannot indemnify ourselves by judging others.

So what can we quantify?  What can we study and mandate?  When it comes down to it, the piece of the puzzle that we actually have the means to change is…you got it…guns.  Unfortunately as of right now, the Centers for Disease Control are not freely able to study gun violence as a public health issue, despite the high number of deaths attributed to guns each year in the U.S.  The Dickey Amendment, passed over twenty years ago, prohibits the CDC from advocating for gun control, and Congress has routinely withheld funding to send a clear message to the CDC regarding any efforts to truly study gun violence.  Without clear data on the issue, it is nearly impossible to gain any real traction on common sense gun control.  The National Rifle Association was behind the Dickey Amendment and financially controls much of Congress’ action/inaction with regards to guns in our society.  Politicians are motivated by money rather than by what their constituents want.  Moving this issue out of the realm of politics and into the area of hard science would go a long ways toward reaching some sort of common ground between gun control and gun rights.  Hopefully we are seeing a move towards that which could ultimately make the case for sensible gun law reform.

Obviously policies and laws won’t always prevent the bad guys from doing bad things.  We have laws against robbery and illegal drugs and possession of child pornography…and we have prisons full of people who have broken those laws.  But we continue to spend massive amounts of money and invest untold time and energy in fighting these issues.  We don’t simply throw up our hands and say, “Well, criminals will steal stuff and sell heroin, and pedophiles will exploit children in the worst way possible…but laws won’t completely prevent that from happening, so let’s just not bother.”  The fact that there will always be those who break laws is not an argument for anarchy; rather, it is the clearest possible reminder of why we need those laws in place and why we need to uphold them and punish those who break them.

As for the “Guns don’t kill people” argument, I couldn’t agree more.  Cars don’t kill people, either.  The people driving them do.  Which is exactly why we have laws and rules regulating who can drive them and how.  We have mandated training before anyone can legally get behind the wheel or own a car.  We have traffic safety laws.  We have licensure that must be approved and updated.  We have limits on the type of cars that can be driven in public.  We recognize both society’s need for cars and the potential dangers inherent to them, and we have implemented ways to account for both.

And yes, the 2nd Amendment is a hot topic.  The interpretation of its intent, the fact that it was an amendment and not a part of the original Constitution, I’ll leave that to the legal scholars.  I personally grew up in Western Kansas with a healthy respect for the guns (safely stored) in my house, and a healthy respect for the people in my life who own and use firearms responsibly.  I don’t begrudge anyone the right to hunt or own a firearm for protection.  But any real hunter should only need to take a shot or two.  Anyone defending their home from an intruder should only have to fire a round or two to scare off or incapacitate someone intent on doing them harm.  Beyond that, I truly don’t believe our forefathers thought that anyone off the street should be able to purchase and wield a weapon capable of mass destruction.  And as far as being armed against the government, that’s pretty well laughable unless we think every citizen should also have access to missiles and grenade launchers.

So let us be reasonable.  Let us come together as human beings who care about their children and their fellow human beings.  The fact is that the majority of Americans support common sense gun control within the parameters of our basic rights: universal background checks, waiting periods, banning high capacity magazines and bump stocks and weapons like the AR-15, closing loopholes on gun shows and private sales.  None of these would prevent any rational, law abiding citizen from owning reasonable weapons.

The majority of us recognize that our society is broken, that our divisiveness is tearing apart the fabric of our democracy.  We cannot stand by and wring our hands while our children fear going into their classrooms and concert-goers nervously look to the windows of nearby buildings.  This isn’t a political issue, it’s a human issue.  Divided we fail, united we work towards a common goal: saving lives.  The issue at hand is complex, to be sure.  There is not one clear solution that will end all violence.  But we have before us the opportunity to end some violence.  Can we live with ourselves if we allow our differences to prevent us from doing so?  I, for one, can’t.





New Year’s Revolution

January 1, 2018

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As another year comes to a close, I feel that nagging pull to resolve.  Resolve any lingering issues from the past year, make resolutions for the shiny new one.  Buy a fresh pen and journal, ink a list of bullet points that will (ostensibly) keep me accountable.

But here’s the thing…it’s kind of bullshit.  Sure, it feels good to set goals.  Given the right circumstances, goals can be exactly what we need to stay motivated and on track.

There’s something about New Year’s resolutions, though, that implies we’ve failed the previous year.  We didn’t totally get our act together, but HERE’S OUR CHANCE!!  “New Year, New You!”  Finally we can be skinny, strong, calm, patient, fiscally responsible, healthy, perfect.  

Maybe this past year we ate too many cookies, watched too much Netflix, spent too much time on Facebook and not enough time in the gym, yelled at our kids too much, wasted our talents…but the coming year will be different.  We will be our best selves.  We will do all the things.  (And when we, inevitably, don’t?  Well, there’s always next year!)

But what if it turns out we’re already good enough?  What if losing ten pounds or getting organized won’t actually make us happier?  What if, instead of cataloguing our shortcomings, we embraced who we already are, our flaws and weaknesses, our shiny outsides and our tarnished insides?  What if this NewYear’s we spent time reflecting on what we’ve done well the past year?

I think this New Year’s Day I’ll spend more time reviewing the things I like about myself and my life rather than listing out how I can be “better” in 2018.  I’ll focus on my highlight reel and appreciate all the best parts of me.  It doesn’t mean I won’t strive to improve certain things or reach new goals in the coming year.  It just means I’m okay with the Me I am right now.  I’m granting myself a little hard earned grace.

New Year, New You?  I believe I’ll take a pass this go-round.  I’ll just be grateful I get to take the old me into the new year.  She’s got some pretty cool shit to contribute to the next 365 days.  Just the way she is.





The Middle Ages

October 24, 2017


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Tonight I’m feeling my age.  My low back is hurting from yoga.  (Seriously.  Not from rock climbing or power lifting…from hanging out too long in pigeon pose.  LAME.)  My husband, who I first met when he was 18, is turning 45 tomorrow.  I got an email today about our firstborn applying to college.  My high school class is planning our 25th reunion next summer.  Somehow I’ve found myself smack dab in the middle of middle age.

And yeah, that comes with its fair share of wrinkles and aches.  It’s a season when our parents are getting older and our kiddos are growing up too quickly.  We’re no longer youthful, virile, energetic beings.  There’s a reason the mid-life crisis cliché exists.

So how come I’m smiling as I write this?  Because middle age has its perks.  To name a few:

  1. I may not give ZERO fucks, but I give a whole lot less than I used to.  It’s freeing to realize that other people’s opinions of you mean nothing, that your self worth is determined by you and only you.  When I was 20, or even 30, I spent way too much time measuring myself against the invisible yardstick of public opinion.  I worried far too much about whether people liked me, not realizing that respecting myself was far more valuable.  True integrity only exists once you feel comfortable expressing yourself honestly and living a life of authenticity.  The freedom to be yourself completely is a gift given to us by age and experience.
  2. I love my body.  Does that mean I don’t want to improve it or that I don’t sometimes feel self conscious about it?  Of course not.  But I’ve come to appreciate it for what it has done (given birth, climbed mountains) rather than how it looks in a bikini.  Sure, I looked a hell of a lot better naked when I was twenty.  But I feel a whole lot more confident now, twenty pounds heavier but capable and strong.
  3. I am so, SO grateful.  Things I took for granted when I was younger I now cherish.  Age has a way of forcing you to appreciate the time we have with the people we love.  It reveals, in sometimes brutal fashion, the fragility of this life we’re so fortunate to be living.  We realize just how precious each day is, what a gift we’ve been given in these people and experiences that make up our lives.  Perhaps the bitter is what enhances the sweet.  To truly embrace the beauty we must first glimpse the darkness.  Only then can we fully appreciate all that is precious.
  4. I understand who I need walking beside me in this life.  I recognize now that I need real, loyal friends who accept me and lift me up.  The years have taught me lessons about the character of those who I want to spend time with and invest emotion in.  I’ve come to realize that friends with whom I’m my best self, who I can be unencumbered with, who challenge me and teach me and safeguard my heart are the ones I should value.  I’ve also come to realize that it’s okay to break ties with those who don’t, but that I should do so without judgment or anger, understanding that I may not be what they need, either.
  5. I’ve learned to be still.  I get now that busy is not a badge of honor.  Honoring the quiet inside and taking time to seek peace within it is valuable and important.  Listening, truly listening, to the small voice inside, trusting in my intuition, learning to be open to whatever lesson I’m meant to learn…these things are necessary if I want to become more.  More me.  More what I was intended to become.  I’ve become better at shutting down the outside noise and the inner voice that wants to shout above the truth.  I’m allowing room in my mind and my heart for what the universe is trying to share with me.

So yeah, my back hurts.  Yes, I now think naps are the best part of my afternoon.  Sure, gravity is impacting the kinds of face creams, bras, and jeans I buy.
But I’m okay with that.  Life is all about balance, and right now I think the scales are tipped in my favor.  Middle-age isn’t all that bad.  It’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative…and the company is fabulous.  






We The People

October 3, 2017


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Words fail on a day like today.  They can’t make sense of the senseless.  They can’t bring back what was lost.  They can’t heal what’s been broken.  Yet I feel compelled to use them.  I realize they won’t do any of those things, but my hurting heart needs them all the same.

Today was a reminder of what man is capable of inflicting on his fellow man.  It was yet another example of random violence, of carefully orchestrated chaos and destruction.  Our collective response was a call to “pray for Vegas,” a sort of all-too-familiar shock, a feeling of sickening déjà vu given voice on social media.  We hashtag our grief and ask one another, “What is this world coming to?”

But deep down we know it will happen again.  Because we live in a country where a perceived threat to our rights takes precedence over actual human lives.  The lives of children, massacred in a classroom.  The lives of friends coming together to celebrate in a nightclub.  The lives of concert-goers cornered like fish in a barrel.  We make all the right noises, we send out “thoughts and prayers,” yet we’re offended by any discussion of how we might prevent such tragedies, saying it’s “too soon,” that “political opportunists” shouldn’t take advantage of these sorts of things to push their own agendas…even if those “agendas” would save lives.

We are a nation of hypocrites.  Of willfully ignorant citizens coddled into believing we can have it both ways: we can mourn the lives lost in such tragedies while maintaining our stance on gun control.  We’ve been sold a lie based in fear and it’s literally killing us.

Here are the facts.  75% of mass shootings are committed by gun owners who legally obtained their weapons.  No one wants to take hunters’ rifles away, or say that a person can’t own a handgun for protection (although statistically that gun is far more likely to cause harm than prevent it).  As much as 40% of all gun sales currently involve private sellers and do not require background checks, and 40% of surveyed prison inmates who used guns in their crimes said they obtained them this way.  Background checks, waiting periods, assault weapons bans…these are all reasonable, appropriate measures to take in order to limit the access of mass murder weapons to those who wish to do harm.

The time to talk about such measures is absolutely when something like this has happened.  The stakes are simply too high to postpone such discussions.  And with the regularity of mass shootings, waiting just isn’t feasible.  In any other scenario we would recognize the need to seek solutions when a serious problem arose; if a flight went down, we would want to figure out how to avoid other air disasters, and if a terrorist attack occurred we would immediately try to identify ways to prevent a reoccurrence.

I’m angry.  I’m terrified.  And I’m tired of feeling this way.  I grew up with guns, and I have a healthy respect for them.  I have no desire to take away anyone’s right to bear arms…despite the fact that our forefathers’ intentions have been warped and manipulated by the NRA.  What I do want is for our country to get its head out of its ass and move toward sensible regulations that (as shown in other countries) could limit the number of grieving family members whose lives were forever impacted by guns.

I want “thoughts and prayers” to be backed up with action.  I want the fear of losing loved ones to outweigh the fear of “losing” a right.  I want common sense and love to win.  I want CHANGE.  And I’m not willing to put a waiting period on saving lives.  I want it now. 





Parenting: This Sh*t Is Hard

September 19, 2017


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Parenthood: the most rewarding, important, maddening, joyful, frustrating, exhausting, exhilarating, tedious, frenetic, terrifying job in the world.  And despite troves of parenting books and an abundance of (often unsolicited) advice, the truth is that when you’re in the thick of it, most of that goes out the window.  Parenting in person is a whole lot trickier than parenting on paper.

I should know.  After all, I am an “expert.”  I have a degree in child development, a career spent providing support and education for parents and running child care centers and preschools, and enough continuing education to justify a second degree.

And yet…sometimes I flat out suck at this parenting gig.  Not “forgot to pack a vegetable in my kid’s lunch” suck.  No, we’re talking “completely lost my mind and screamed at my teenager in the midst of a fight” suck.  Serious suckage.

Y’all, there ain’t no guilt like sucky parenting guilt.  It makes all other guilt feel wildly inferior.  That other guilt wants to be parenting guilt when it grows up.  It’s epic.  

So how could someone with my education, my experience, my expertise have moments when she completely fails as a mom?  I don’t have an excuse, but I do have an explanation: this shit is (in my professional opinion) hard.  It’s hard to have a job with no quitting time, no vacation days, no sick days, no lunch breaks, no training manual.  It’s hard to parent when you’re tired, or sick, or stressed, or sad, or distracted.  It’s hard to keep your cool when your child is testing limits, pushing buttons, acting out.  It’s hard to say and do the right thing ALL. THE DAMN. TIME.

The fact is, no one is going to parent perfectly.  We are imperfect people raising imperfect children in an imperfect world.  So how do we deal with those moments when we feel like we’re screwing everything up?  How do we live with the guilt of knowing we parented wrong? 

We own it.

Our children need us to.  They need to know that we make mistakes.  That we learn from them.  That we apologize for them.  They need to hear us say, “I screwed up and I’m sorry.”  They need us to listen when they tell us how it made them feel.  They need to know that we love them so fiercely and so completely that nothing could ever change that.  And hugs help.  A lot.

A few nights ago my teenage son and I got into an argument.  Honestly, this doesn’t happen very often and I know I’m lucky to have a teenager who makes parenting him pretty darn easy most of the time.  But this was a doozy.  It got heated, we both said things we shouldn’t have, our voices raised, our words barbed.  I lost control of my adult-ing and allowed myself to react like I was a teenager, too.  And (duh) that escalated the situation.

But in the middle of that unhealthy exchange, I suddenly saw through the veil of my son’s anger and realized what was in his eyes:  pain.  Pain that took my breath away and made me quiet my voice and soften my heart.  I paused and saw what he was feeling and realized that I was, in large part, the cause of it.  My heart broke, but in the breaking light found its way in and illuminated the core of my motherhood.

I took him in my arms and we both sobbed.  We sat down on his bed together and talked. We apologized.  We shared.  We sought to understand each other.  We worked it out…together.

It was horrible and wonderful and heartbreaking and healing.  It was parenthood in all its messy glory.  It was a low and a high all wrapped up in one opportunity to become a better parent.

Isn’t that the goal, after all?  To become better at this?  Parenting is complicated.  It’s challenging.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  But isn’t that true of anything worth having?

I still feel guilt.  I still remember every instance over the past sixteen years when I could have handled a situation differently, when I could have shown more patience, been kinder.  I’m a work in progress as a human and as a mama.  But like I told my son the other night, there’s no one in this world who could love these kids harder.  Parenting them is a privilege and an honor, and the lessons they teach me are the toughest and most important ones I will ever learn.  It may require a lifetime of on-the-job continuing education, but I’ll keep taking notes in my heart and giving it my best shot.

And saving up for therapy, just in case.








How To Prepare For Your New Puppy: A Helpful Checklist

September 7, 2017




  1. Set your alarm to go off every few hours around the clock.  Each time it goes off, head outside and stand in your yard whispering, “PLEASE go potty” every ten seconds for approximately ten minutes.  Head back inside and wait five minutes, then pour lemonade on the carpet and clean it up.  Repeat.
  2. Pile up all your favorite shoes, then randomly grab at least ten individual shoes and throw them in the trash.  Set fire to the rest.
  3. Take a metal chain to the legs of all your nice furniture.  Convince yourself you like the weathered look.
  4. Obtain a recording of high pitched yipping and whimpering.  Play at bedtime, set on repeat throughout the night.  Sleep well!
  5. Have a serious conversation with your children about shared family responsibilities, solemnly accepting their promises of how they will help out with the new puppy.  Now laugh and laugh, realizing this conversation is a joke and you will be doing EVERYTHING.
  6. Save up thousands of dollars.  Seal the money in an envelope and drop it off in your nearest veterinary office’s mailbox.  Repeat at least annually for the next fifteen or so years.

(Okay.  You’re almost ready.  But this next part is crucial, so pay attention!)

7.  Imagine the feeling you get from warm sunshine on your face, the softest cashmere blanket wrapped around you, hugs from your favorite person.  Prepare yourself for unconditional love and complete devotion.  Visualize coming home from a hard day and being welcomed with utter joy and relentless affection.  Think about silky fur, wet noses, puppy breath, sweet snuggles.  Realize that life is so much better when you share it with a furry friend, no matter how many rugs she ruins.


NOW you’re ready.


Beyond the Birds and the Bees

August 30, 2017

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Let’s talk about sex.  Got your attention?  Good.  Because I guarantee it has your teenager’s attention.

I’m sure by now we’ve all had some semblance of The Talk with our pre-teen and teenage kids.  And many of us have also had the benefit of additional sex education for our children through schools, churches, or other institutions of learning to fall back on.  We probably feel fairly confident that they understand the basics of what their bodies go through and the mechanics of how those parts fit together in the appropriate context.

I remember asking our son who he wanted to have The Talk with, me or his dad.  His response?  “You, Mom.  Dad uses all these weird metaphors.”  And so I did.  In detail.  I explained everything he would likely be experiencing and feeling and eventually doing.  I wanted him to understand that all of it was perfectly natural and normal and that if he had questions we would be here to answer them.  We giggled a few times, but we got through it.

But that isn’t enough.  Because our kids are also learning from other sources, ones that may not view things the same way we would like our children to: friends, media, the internet.  Information and images our generations whispered about at sleepovers and sneaked peeks at from the pages of a stolen Playboy have evolved into a steady stream of graphic feedback available at the click of a search engine.

While researchers have been largely unable to identify a causal relationship because viewing online pornography and risky sexual behavior in teens, it stands to reason that children and teens who view online pornography during a time when their sexual identities are being formed may develop unhealthy, unrealistic expectations of sex as well as bogus ideas about gender roles and body image.  So how can we, as parents, counteract this?

The obvious answer is to restrict internet usage: limiting computer and phone usage to shared family areas in the home, installing parental controls, setting rules for how and when children can access the internet.  But relying solely on this approach fails to take into account the fact that homes our children visit may not have these same boundaries in place.  It doesn’t address the reality that children and teenagers will share information with one another and discuss things they’ve seen and heard.

Given these factors, experts recommend starting conversations early with children as young as four and five-years old about equality and respect.  Teaching children to honor personal space, to treat others with respect, and to respect their own bodies lays the foundation for a lifetime of positive interactions and healthy sexual attitudes.

When we begin to talk about sex and relationships with older children, we can expand beyond the physical actualities and discuss intimacy and the importance of mutual respect and consent.  By doing so we can help our children and teens filter information through a lens of understanding that allows them to differentiate between fiction and reality, to place what they see and hear in the context of what we’ve taught them about relationships.

We also need to have conversations about the “What Ifs.” The more we arm our kids with knowledge and give them opportunities to plan in advance for situations they may encounter, the more likely they are to make wise choices.  About how to avoid being in positions where they could end up harmed or falsely accused.  About how to handle it if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.  About how to respond if they witness someone doing something unsafe or unkind to someone else.  About what is appropriate to text or Snapchat or photograph in general.

Perhaps most importantly, we can show them what healthy, loving relationships look like.  After all, we can talk until we’re blue in the face but what we do will always have more impact than what we say.  By demonstrating respect towards our partners and fostering a climate of open communication with our children, we are setting the tone for their future relationships.  The way we talk about and treat the opposite sex sets an example for how our children may do the same.  The manner in which we treat matters of consent and show respect towards our own bodies also guides them in how they interact with others and how they view themselves.

We have a responsibility as parents to foster healthy habits and attitudes in our children.   The world we now live in can make that incredibly challenging.  Raising children in a digital age of social media and easy access to information is often a daunting task.  But if we encourage our children from an early age to communicate with us without fear of judgement or recrimination, and if we model appropriate behavior and initiate dialogue that frames sex in the context of loving, mature relationships, we can help them navigate these choppy waters.

We just may need a bigger boat than previous generations.