More Than Serving Tea


Is This a Log in My Eye?

I’ve been a little preoccupied with my child’s weight, to the point of scouring new ways to protein- and calorie-boost snacks. A larger serving of scrambled eggs at breakfast. A protein bar for a snack. An extra slice of turkey in the sandwich. A bowl of cereal after school. An apple and a scoop of ice cream for dessert.

But would I be doing this if it were my daughter?

I had to stop and think about that one…and clearly I am still thinking about it. My son, Corban, has a slighter build, and right now is almost the same height and weight as his younger brother, Elias. I’m fairly certain that if a growth spurt doesn’t happen in the next few weeks, the two will be sharing pants and shirts, which makes it easier for me.

But we noticed this summer that Corban was noticing that he was smaller, not just shorter, than his friends. He voiced some concern about being shirtless at the pool (thank goodness swim shirts make being wet and in the sun for hours a wee bit safer) and about changing in front of other boys for gym class.

He was worried about being too small, too skinny.

As his mother I’m worried about nutrition being a contributor (we’ll suspend issues of genetics for now) to his small-ish frame and worried that this awareness was contributing to his reluctance to try different sports. So I did what any worried, parenting-out-of-my-own-issues parent would do. Protein-packed snacks and frequent offers of said snacks? No problem.

But for no reason other than my own neuroses did I stop the other afternoon after straightening up the protein-packed pantry and ask my husband, “Do you think I would be trying to increase protein- and calorie-loads if this were Bethany and not Corban?”

I remember when Bethany was a toddler who downed whole milk as if we had a dairy farm in our backyard. Family members scolded us for feeding her whole milk because “that will make her fat”. I bristled and you can imagine my polite, pursed half-smile and reply.

Those relatives never said anything about Corban or Elias getting fat on whole milk.

But my kids aren’t toddlers anymore. My unscientific observations after three kids and six nieces and nephews are that baby fat is cuter on boys a whole lot longer than on girls and that any baby fat that lingers is written off faster for boys than for girls.

The world is, however, changing. Body image issues are equal opportunity as young boys see youngish men flaunt photoshopped six packs and pecs. How do I know? Because my boys noticed what hours of yoga and running did to my arms this summer.

“Mom, look at your arms! You look like a man!” Corban exclaimed. He proceeded to tell Peter that Mommy was stronger because Mommy had bigger muscles. (For the record, Peter is and most likely will always be stronger, but for now my arm muscles are more defined. And he and I talked to all of the kids about health, exercise, what strength and health look like for men and women of different body types and other fun conversations during quality family moments.)

So as one who often writes about women fitting into and the redefining the world of men, I felt it necessary to hit the pause button.

If it were Bethany and not Corban with a very low BMI, would I be packing the pantry with nutrition bars?



“The Talk” – Part 2

Several years ago it was time to have part 1 of “The Talk” with my daughter. Since then she and I have regrouped to talk a little more about sex and sexuality, as well as God’s gift of sexuality and intention for sex, love and marriage and Hollywood’s version. It’s an open conversation that we started in 5th grade, before the school health presentation, because I have control issues and wanted her to hear the information from me first.

This year was Peter’s turn to start the conversation with Corban. I was hoping the conversation would take place first thing this year, but I was reminded that before we began to talk honestly and openly about sex we would have to undo some of our harmless lies.

Kathy: Honey, when are you going to have “The Talk” with Corban?

Peter: Well, I was thinking we should start out with the Tooth Fairy.

Kathy: Oh. Shoot.

…at least a month later…

Kathy: Honey, how about “The Talk”?

Peter: Well, what about Santa?

Kathy: You couldn’t just take care of Santa when you took care of the Tooth Fairy?

Peter: Honey, that’s a lot in one talk. Too traumatic.

…another month or so…

Kathy: Well, how did it go?

Peter: Well, Corban’s response was, “Dad, why do we have to talk about grown-up stuff?”

The “grown-up stuff” he hears today at school will be no surprise. Corban mentioned last night that today’s half-day schedule involved a talk on puberty – imagine a 10-year-old boy speaking with a touch of disdain and rolling his eyes. Honestly, there is tiny, tiny part of my Mommy heart that is relieved that Corban isn’t in a rush to grow up. I saw (and continue to see) more of that in Bethany and her female friends, especially as it relates to their bodies – how they dress and look.

But it’s time. It’s time to start talking openly and honestly as best as we can, as appropriately as we can. Peter and Corban, just like Bethany and I did years ago, have begun what we hope and pray will be a lifelong conversation that starts with “grown-up stuff” and never ends.


The Stigma of Suicide

Aquan Lewis was found hanging in a bathroom stall at his elementary school. He was 10 years old.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office ruled his death a suicide, but Lewis’ mother, Angel Marshall, openly shared her disbelief and distrust of the ruling.

“My baby did not kill himself,” she said. “You all need to get in that school and look at that stall.”

A police investigation into Lewis’ death continues, but the local news coverage is now focusing on the broader issue of suicide. The front page of the newspaper, countless websites, the news radio programs, afternoon news – suicide spoken of out loud in the same segment as the economy and weather. Does that mean the stigma is gone or is it something else?

As a campus minister, I have walked staff and students through two suicides. The first one was a freshman I vaguely remembered meeting at a new student week event. I got the call in the middle of the night from a frantic student leader. The second one was an upperclassman I did not know. I was out of town at a staff training event (ironically being trained for a new job supervising staff teams) when I was quietly pulled out of a meeting and given the news.

As an adult suicide has touched me several times, but only once was I told up front what had happened. A college friend had gone home for break and did not come back to campus. She had hung herself, perhaps in an attempt to silence the darkness that she had been fighting for sometime.

The other two times were just family deaths until years later when the secret of suicide emerged. A family member who had died decades before I was born died in the midst of familial turmoil, but it was never clear how this person had died. I once heard someone come close. “— died because — was so sad. — died because of the sadness.” It was almost as if the cause of death could be erased the demons would never come back.

Decades later those demons did come back. This time involving the other side of my immediate family. I was simply told that this relative, who was years younger than I, died. No other explanation given despite my obvious question – “How did — die?”

I was pregnant at the time, and I later learned that relatives were concerned that telling me this person had died of suicide would lead to either problems in my pregnancy or somehow adversely affect my child. You see, there are cultural taboos and then there are cultural taboos. There’s eating and drinking cold things after birth taboos and then there are the taboos that follow through the generations. The problem with hiding those family stories and addressing the taboos straight on is that we never really know what we’re running from and where we need to run to.Β 

I started thinking about my family’s relationship and understanding of suicide because the story of a 10-year-old boy’s suicide reminded me that suicide is never expected. It never makes perfect sense, if any sense at all. Yes, my family members may have struggled with undiagnosed depression. Yes, there might have been “signs” and “cries for help”. But at the end of the day those things never neatly lead us to think “Yes, that makes sense.”

The story also reminded me that those who have come closer to suicide than others in some strange way carry a responsibility to break the stigma around suicide, to continue breaking down the cultural barriers to openly talking about death and depression and how the two really can come together. One day I imagine it would be important for me and my sister and my parents and my children to sit down and talk about how depression runs in the family. About how I struggled with thoughts of suicide. About I feared depression was rearing its ugly head in my own children. About how we’ve sought both prayer and counseling therapy. About how the only taboo is believing that not acknowledging suicide will erase it from existence.

So as I glance at the clock and head out to pick up my young boys from school I’m saying a prayer for Angel Marshall and her son’s family and friends. I don’t know what the death investigation will turn up, but hopefully it’s gotten some people talking about suicide and bringing to light that which cannot remain in the dark.

Have any of you been affected by suicide? How have you (or your families) talked about suicide (or not talked about it)? Does a stigma remain on suicide? depression? mental illness? And how does faith or religious beliefs help or cloud the issue?

There are a number of good resources out there, but one I’ve used over and over isΒ Grieving a Suicide by Albert Y. Hsu.