Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Will LDS Scout Units Soon Be Able to Have Gay Scoutmasters?

In very interesting news, the Boy Scouts of America has announced that it is considering dropping its long held policy against the admission of homosexuals to its ranks (see AP article). The policy change could come as early as next week when the BSA's national board meets on February 6.

I can think of only three possible reasons that the BSA would venture to make a pre-meeting announcement of the potential policy change: 1) they are certain that the policy will change and they want to get people used to the idea, 2) to pressure some of the undecided board members to scrap the controversial policy, or 3) some of both 1 and 2. At any rate, it seems that maintaining the current policy after announcing that it might be changed would produce a much worse result than just keeping mum on the topic.

To be clear, the new policy would not automatically allow homosexuals admission to any BSA unit. Rather, membership acceptance criteria would be determined at the unit level (except for those the BSA considers potential child abuse risks). This would allow parents to place their sons in BSA units that fit the parents' ideals.

While the change will certainly please many homosexual rights advocates, it is unlikely that these advocates will see the change as sufficient, given that the BSA will not prohibit units from excluding homosexuals. Rather, sponsoring institutions will be permitted to establish BSA membership policies "consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs." If the BSA is seen as bowing to the pressures of secular society, you can be certain that the policy change will only invite more pressure to adopt more secularist values in the future.

An interesting question is how the various religious groups that sponsor the bulk of BSA membership will respond to the policy change.

The LDS Church, which is the largest sponsor of BSA units (47%) and membership (23%), has said that it is aware of the potential policy change, but that "it would be inappropriate for the church to comment" on the matter until it is formally notified that the BSA has changed the policy.

The article omits any mention of United Methodist Church, the second largest institutional sponsor of the BSA (14% of units and 20% of members). But a statement from the General Commission on United Methodist Men comes across as very supportive of the policy change.

The BSA's third largest institutional sponsor, the Catholic Church (which sponsors 11% of units and 15% of members) also refused to comment on the matter for now. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops merely said that it hopes that the BSA "will continue to work under the Judeo-Christian principles upon which they were founded." That could either mean that it opposes or welcomes the change, depending on what is meant by the broad term, "Judeo-Christian principles."

Other religious groups not mentioned in the article include the Presbyterians (BSA's #5 sponsor behind the PTA), and Lutherans (BSA's #6 sponsor). But the article makes it clear that at least some Baptists (BSA's #8 sponsor with 5% of units and 6% of members) are definitely unhappy with the proposed change. Some Southern Baptist leaders have said that they might encourage congregations to consider switching from the BSA to other youth groups if the change is adopted.

Presumably the BSA has sounded out the feelings of sponsoring organizations regarding the proposed policy change. At least some of the statements made by religious groups seem to bear this out. If so, it would seem that the largest sponsors are comfortable with the change and that the BSA is willing to risk the loss of some smaller sponsors.

Some LDS Church members have opined that the church designed its Duty to God program to replace scouting when BSA becomes too secular. As discussed in this LDS Scouter blog post, however, church leaders have repeatedly affirmed the church's intention to continue to strongly sponsor scouting.

I can't help but wonder if the LDS Church is not only prepared to accept the BSA's proposed policy change, but is advocating for it. In light of the church's recent affirmations that it is completely acceptable for church members to have same-sex attraction (see church's website) as long as they are chaste, and LDS apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks' recent general conference statement that it is wrong to ostracize those dealing with same-sex attraction, it seems that the church is now interested in including homosexuals in all of its programs, including scouting.

After all, how does a bishop say to a worthy young man with same-sex attraction that it is acceptable for him to join his peers in an Aaronic Priesthood quorum on Sunday, but not to join them in scouting—"the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood"—during the week? Is a faithful LDS husband and father that happens also to be gay to be excluded from ever serving as a cubmaster, a scouting advancement chair, or a Varsity coach?

I discussed this matter with a friend at a meeting last night. My friend saw my point on the inappropriateness of excluding youth dealing with same-sex attraction. But he could not imagine that the LDS Church would countenance self identified gay men serving as scouting leaders. While this will seem bigoted according to secular principles, in my friend's mind, same-sex attraction is a disability of sorts. He opined that same-sex attraction ought to prevent men from serving as scouting leaders just as some other men are unable to serve in such positions due to physical or mental impairment.

It seems certain that the BSA will soon be announcing the policy change. It will be interesting to see how the BSA's major religious sponsors respond. Being Mormon, I am particularly interested to see how the LDS Church responds to the policy change.

Unlike some, I can definitely see the potential for a lot of good to come out of the BSA's policy change. However, I can also see the potential for secularists to see the change as a green light for them to pressure the BSA to make greater concessions that I doubt would be welcomed by the BSA's largest religious sponsors.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

And We Sing As We Go

My sons sometimes aren't sure what to make of their little sister. Our daughter brought up the tail end of our brood following four boys. She inherited all of the toy weapons, hero action figures, cars, and balls that any child could want.

And she actually did like playing with those things. But dolls and princess clothing were new to my sons. And to me. Having had no sisters, I had to learn about girl toys, clothes, likes and dislikes. How was I to know that some blouses button up in the back? Although I must admit it did look like it fit a little odd when I buttoned it up in the front.

Music has always played a significant role in our household. My wife demands that each child take piano lessons long enough to learn how to read music and play rudimentary hymns. Two sons have become quite excellent pianists. Two have found talents in other areas. Our daughter is learning piano. She seems quite capable, but sometimes I think she could apply herself better. (I'm sure my mom said the same thing about me when I was a kid.)

One son has always loved to make noise. He likes to sing. It is not uncommon for his baritone voice to burst out in a loud operatic solo. Or to grunt out some metalcore vocals. Or jazz riffs. Etc.

Our daughter likes to sing too. Ever since she was very young she has been found singing around the house under almost any condition. Her singing is decidedly different than that of her various brothers. It's usually sweet and lilting and is carried on almost absentmindedly, as if it is just a part of her. She particularly seems to enjoy singing LDS children's songs.

Our sons regularly complain about their sister's incessant singing. But honestly, it's like she sometimes doesn't even realize she's doing it. As stated above, she will sing under just about any condition. That includes when using the ... ahem ... necessity facility.

One day we could hear our daughter's lovely voicing ringing from the privy. The tones of When We're Helping We're Happy clearly echoed from behind the closed door. Most of the rest of us were gathered in the nearby family room. I turned to my wife and flatly said, "And we sing as we go."

That brought gales of laughter from the family. I may never again be able to hear or sing that song with a straight face.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Three Summers That Changed My Life

The summers that followed my junior and senior years of high school and my freshman year of college forever changed my life. I learned to do things I had never done before. As I learned how to work and to deal with being a long way from home, I developed many characteristics and relationships that have served me well throughout my life.

The summer after my ninth grade year my two older brothers went away to Hawaii to work in the pineapple fields. The tales of their exploits made me want to follow in their footsteps. By the following summer my oldest brother was serving as a missionary. I wanted to accompany my next older brother to Hawaii, but I didn't turn 16 until a month after the summer ended.

I finally got my wish to work in the pineapple fields of Hawaii following my junior year of high school. As I explained in this 2009 post, it turned out to be a difficult but memorable summer for me. I continually struggled to meet the 6,000 plant-per-day standard required of each pineapple planter. I grappled with homesickness and depression. I lost weight while gaining character and bleach blonde hair. One of the many valuable things I learned was that, unlike my brothers, there was no way I was going to spend more than one summer working in the pineapple fields.

I was approached by a scout executive the following spring with an offer to spend summer working at a Boy Scout camp in the remote wilderness between the Tetons and Yellowstone. The pay would be meager and I would have little free time. But I accepted the offer after some encouragement from friends that had worked on scout camp staffs.

It took me awhile to agree to work at scout camp because I remembered the three summers I had attended scout camp. Overall, each of these weeks had been a good and memorable experience. But I remembered being a lousy hiker, being one of the less popular kids in the troop, struggling with scoutcraft and camping skills, and being homesick. I also thought of the guys that worked on staff in heroic terms. I felt inadequate and wasn't sure that I was camp staff caliber.

Living in a tent deep in the woods many miles from civilization for a whole summer was a new experience for me. Learning to be a proper staffer was somewhat challenging. For example, I was tasked with teaching the Pioneering merit badge. Knots and lashings I could do. But splices completely befuddled me. When some scouts came to me for help with splices I sent them to another staffer that had previously taught the badge. He soon sought me out and patiently taught me splicing techniques. I was intrigued. I soon found myself trying out my newfound skill whenever I could. To this day I am still quite proficient at splicing rope.

Despite the low pay, endless hours of work with very little free time, vicious mosquitoes and horseflies, nasty weather with little shelter, cold nights, and being away from civilization, I grew to love working at camp. The camaraderie with other staffers and the joy of serving scouts and their leaders far outstripped the negatives.

I returned to camp as a staffer the following summer as well. Some of my scouting buddies (including my younger brother) came along and ended up becoming great camp staffers that served for a number of years. My second summer on staff was even better than my first. I still occasionally run into people that remember me from when they came to camp as scouts all those years ago.

It is difficult to describe the qualities gained from working on a Boy Scout camp staff. I gained a great deal of self confidence from being entrusted with many duties. Even today I am amazed at the duties that can easily be turned over to boys that have worked on scout camp staffs. They are better at many things than even trained adults. You give them a job to do and they do it, usually very well, and often with an innovative flair.

Since those days of working on camp staff I have been to scout camp many times as an adult leader. I have interacted with many young camp staffers, including my own sons. I can see why camp staffers seem heroic to the boys that they serve. Heck, they seem heroic to the adult leaders. Over the years I have often worked on service projects at scout camps, partially in gratitude for all that I have gained from my experiences attending and working at camps.

I have been to many wonderful scout camps. But Camp Loll, where I served on staff, occupies a special place in my soul. The camp is situated on the shore of an icy cold lake called Lake of the Woods. A few years ago I penned a poem about my staff experience that I titled, 'Round the Lake of the Woods.

Those glorious days 'round the lake of the Woods
We frolicked, we toiled, and sang.
The woods nearby heard the loon's cry
And with the echo of young voices rang.

The clear summer night and the thunderstorm
Are things of beauty that I've loved,
With the deer's casual canter, the chipmunk's fierce banter
And the eagle's flight above.

Ah, the games that we played, the songs that we sang,
And the service with steadfast friend
Will glow in my soul as the campfire's last coal
When we joined hands and sang at the end.

But summer's now past; I'm back in the city,
And life goes on as it should.
Yet my heart often wanders to those glorious days
'Round the Lake of the Woods.

Taken together, the experiences I had during the summers I was 16, 17, and 18 formed a sturdy framework that has strongly influenced the rest of my life for the better. I wish for today's youth similar strong foundational experiences that will guide them into a purposeful and happy future.

Friday, January 18, 2013

It's Asperger's Not Bipolar

Several months ago I wrote about my son's suicidal thoughts. Specialists thought he probably had bipolar disorder. Over the intervening months my son has received intensive treatment at a center that specializes in behavioral problems and related conditions.

While it was obvious that our son had issues, specialists at the center were not comfortable with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. It turns out that his regular psychologist and psychiatrist weren't either. Their documentation said merely that he exhibited some symptoms consistent with such a diagnosis.

Our son's case was referred to a group known as the leading experts in the state on behavioral issues. They gathered a huge amount of data from us as parents, our son's teachers, and the various specialists that have been involved in our son's treatment. They conducted an intensive parental interview. And finally they spent an entire day putting our son through a variety of tests and exercises.

We recently met with the specialist in charge of our son's case after they had taken time to consider all of the information. He explained to us that our son has Asperger Syndrome (which will soon be classified as an Autism Spectrum Disorder rather than being classed s a separate condition). While it is not uncommon for people with AS to have other coexisting conditions, it was felt that our son's anxiety, depression, and mood swings fit best within the context of AS. Diagnosing problems of this nature is rather complex and is not as straightforward as some might think.

At first we were a little surprised by the diagnosis. We know people with AS and we had developed a stereotypical idea of what people with AS are like. But as the specialist went through the findings in some detail, my wife and I frequently found ourselves looking at each other and nodding our heads.

It turns out that cases of AS can vary quite a bit. A common symptom of AS is difficulty developing and engaging in normal human relations. But such challenges are not always present in AS or may be rather mild. Our son, for example, seems to do generally well in this arena. He has always demonstrated a high degree of compassion and empathy for others.

Among our son's challenges are significant diminished abilities to plan and to contextualize (which means fitting details into the bigger picture). It's not that he hasn't had enough training in these areas. Despite his level of intelligence, he will never be able to do these things naturally. He can, however, learn coping skills that may allow him to somewhat compensate for these deficiencies.

Since our son can't engage in normal levels of internal planning and has difficulty fitting details into context, he tends to use external planning methods and to focus intently on details. I have long criticized him for refusing to consider alternatives. If his Plan A doesn't work out, he will melt down or lash out rather than consider Plan B. I now understand that this is because, for him, there is only Plan A. Plans B, C, etc simply do not exist. He can talk about alternatives academically. But he can't really consider or manage them in the regular flow of daily life.

Our son's diminished ability to fit details into context means that if a detail (even a minor detail) of his Plan A doesn't work out as he has anticipated, the whole plan is ruined. His anxiety levels skyrocket because he feels that he has run out of options, leading him to engage in antisocial behavior.

This explains our son's suicidal thoughts. The diagnosing specialist explained to us that a common misconception is that suicidal people are ultra-sad. Rather, people that are suicidal feel as if they are have no other remaining options. Thus, it is important to deal with our son's planning and context deficiencies rapidly and as well as possible. He has learned some hard and fast rules for what to do when he has a suicidal thought. Having sure-fire instructions to follow reduces the need for developing new plans on the fly.

Our son's focus on details frequently leads him to engage in long-winded, extremely detailed monologues on subjects that are of interest to him. He can go on and on (enthusiastically) without making any particular point. I'm not sure whether he doesn't perceive others' social cues telling him to curtail his speech or if he grasps these but still feels compelled to complete what he has to say anyway.

Depression and low self esteem are pretty serious issues for our son right now. This is fairly common for kids with behavioral issues because they tend to get an overwhelming number of negative (or corrective) messages from those around them, mainly based on others' unrealistic expectations. Right now our son feels as if he can't do anything right. He wants more than anything just to be normal.

Fortunately many resources now exist for helping people with AS. Many people with AS live rich and fulfilling lives. Successful technologist, businessman, and author John Elder Robison, who has AS, provides a lot of hope for kids with AS in this recent blog post about developing compensating skills. Our son's diagnosis provides us direction in getting him the help he needs.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sleeping With a Tennis Ball Hooked to Your Back Could be Helpful?

Did you know that sewing a tennis ball onto the back of your pajama top can help alleviate certain sleep problems? Neither did I. But according to this WSJ article, the tennis ball technique is a low tech way to help some people with sleep apnea and/or snoring problems. (Also see the related graphic, which is pretty good.)

I was relieved to read that "there is no one right way to sleep." Why was I relieved? Because it seems like every time I read any article or am exposed to any broadcast about health, it turns out that I am doing something (everything?) wrong. If there's no one right way to sleep, maybe my unusual method of sleeping isn't unhealthy.

The article reveals that sleeping mostly on your back is fairly unusual. Only 17% of people do so. Like most people, I tend to occasionally change positions during the night. I sometimes spend some of the night on my side (which causes me to lose circulation in the down arm). But my main and preferred sleeping position is flat on my back.

Well, flat on my back with my head to one side or the other. And therein lies a problem. A couple of years ago when I went in for my annual physical exam, I asked the doctor about a small patch of scaly skin on the outer rim of one ear. He thought it looked like skin cancer or its precursor, so I soon visited a dermatologist.

The skin doctor excised patches of skin from the outer rim of each ear. (She found a second patch on the other ear.) The biopsy results revealed Chondrodermatitis Nodularis Helicis (CNH) rather than skin cancer. They figure that the condition is caused by compression of the tissue. This can occur due to consistently sleeping on the ear, a pattern of wearing headphones, or other similar pressure on the outer ear.

The dermatologist advised me to find a way to avoid putting pressure on my ear. I had gotten used to sleeping on a rather deep pillow, so that piece of bedding had to go. I soon found a product called the CNH Pillow, which has a depression that prevents pressure on the ear without sacrificing overall support. It took me a couple of weeks to get used to sleeping on it, but I have had no CNH symptoms since that time.

While there is no perfect way to sleep, the article describes how changing sleep positions can help alleviate acid reflux, shoulder pain, back pain, and neck pain, in addition to the sleep apnea and snoring issues discussed above.

I think that perhaps a bigger problem than sleep position is that the mattress my wife and I currently use. We started out with a waterbed when we first got married. Some years later as the waterbed craze waned, so did our enjoyment of the giant water filled plastic bag that we called our mattress. So we bought a pillow top bed.

After a few years we cut the pillow top from the mattress because the pillow padding had pretty much lost its redeeming qualities. Neither my wife nor I are heavy people. But over time our mattress has dilapidated into two depressions with a ridge in the middle. I can sleep on almost anything. But this is not the best situation for my wife. Or for cuddling, for that matter.

We have known for some time that we need a new bed, or at least a new mattress. But it just isn't in the budget at the moment. We have been undergoing a period of relatively significant expenses in recent years to deal with school, missions, and a confounding array of medical issues experienced by various family members. We hope to someday be able to replace our mattress and one of our aging cars. But when that might happen is anybody's guess.

While the sleep article was interesting and informative, I doubt it will lead me to change my sleep habits in the near future. After all, I rather like sleeping on my back. I might implement a few of the article's tips, but you won't see me sewing a tennis ball onto the back of my pajama top anytime soon.

Monday, January 14, 2013

My Order of the Arrow Chapter Conundrum

I spent this past weekend at our Order of the Arrow lodge's largest annual event, known as Founders Festival. More than 200 people participated. There was a lot of energy and excitement. Most of our lodge's 19 chapters were represented. Some traveled great distances in dicey weather to attend. Our chapter managed to bring three adults and two boys.

At the concluding award banquet I heartily applauded the accomplishments of several chapters. I reflected on the glory days of the first two times I served as chapter adviser some years ago. We were consistently the top chapter in the lodge. Our membership included a number of highly accomplished boys that went on to become medical doctors, educators, businessmen, engineers, military officers, craftsmen, and even professional scouters.

Two degrees, diagnoses of Multiple Sclerosis and hypothyroidism, a career change, five jobs, and five kids later, I again find myself serving as adviser of the same Order of the Arrow chapter. But instead of working with a vibrant cadre of enthused youth, I find myself struggling to just keep the chapter alive.

My chapter chief is the only youth on whom I can consistently depend, and that is because he is my faithful son. He is a genuinely good person who easily makes friends and he has a strong interest in the O.A. But organization and recruiting are not among his strong suits.

On Saturday my chapter chief son confided in me his concern about chapter leadership once he graduates high school and moves on. He has no idea how often I have thought about the same thing. Nor does he know how much I worry that I may be unfairly placing responsibilities on his shoulders that he might prefer to avoid. It's a conundrum.

Membership in the O.A. is controlled by scout units, not by current O.A. members. Units can hold an election each year to nominate boys that meet certain criteria (including attaining at least First Class rank and having 15 days and nights of outdoor scout camping). Candidates must then go through a challenging induction known as the ordeal to become members. The ordeal is filled with hard things: self denial, sleeping alone under the sky, silence, and sacrificing to do service projects.

When I was a young scout I desperately wanted to join the O.A. I was more than willing to endure the hardships of the ordeal to join my friends that were already members. I was elated when my troop nominated me to do so.

The first two times I served as chapter adviser I had little problem doing O.A. elections or getting candidates to attend the ordeal. Troops clamored for us to come and hold elections. My chapter chiefs assigned boys to handle these appointments. Newly elected boys showed up in droves to endure the ordeal, although, they knew it would be challenging.

After again putting on the chapter adviser hat a couple of years ago, I was stunned to discover how much had changed. We have to beg troops to let us hold elections. Only a few scout leaders will even let us come. Excuses include having no boys that meet the camping requirements, having no boys that are interested, and having no boys that the scout leader thinks are worthy of the honor.

When we finally do get to hold a unit election, the vast majority of candidates never attend an ordeal. They are busy. Their parents complain that they are already involved in too many other worthwhile activities. Nor are many boys much interested in doing the hard things required during the induction. With dwindling numbers of candidates joining, few candidates sense any peer pressure to join because they have no friends involved.

Another factor is my own waning enthusiasm. I greatly admire and appreciate the O.A. The organization made a major difference in my life as a youth. During my first two stints as chapter adviser I had a great time helping other boys gain some of the same kinds of benefits I garnered as a youth.

It's different this time around. I have significantly greater job and family responsibilities, several health challenges, and less energy. I constantly face dilemmas when it comes to committing time and effort to my O.A. position. My inability/unwillingness to put forward the kind of effort I did in years past bothers me. But I am not sure that the outcome would be much better even if I did so, due to social and cultural change.

As I glanced around the room at the closing banquet of Founders Festival I could see that the reported registration numbers were right. Just slightly more than half of those present were youth. The O.A. is supposed to be run by the youth. The adults are supposed to be there for support and safety, not to run the organization.

Like the rest of the BSA, the O.A. has seen its membership demographic change. The percentage of youth members is declining as the percentage of adult members increases. The BSA anticipates having more registered adults than youth in a few years. Multiple factors are at play here. One is that more of those that enjoyed the program as youth are choosing to remain or become involved as adults than in past generations. (I am among these.) But another is declining interest in the program among youth.

The result of this shift is an organizational push for the O.A. to do more to serve the interests of its expanding adult membership, which is antithetical to the organization's stated goal of primarily serving youth interests. The flip side of this is that adults that see little in the organization for them tend to stop showing up and helping the youth.

I'm not going to solve major social issues. I can only address what I can do. Right now I feel guilty that I am not doing more to improve the flagging chapter that I advise. But I also feel guilty if I try to do more, because it takes time away from my family. My district scouting chairman assures me that having me serve with my limitations is better than what they would otherwise have, which is no adult leader currently willing to step up and serve. But I would be dishonest if I didn't say that I am not happy with the results.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Husband Can't Dance

I recently saw a comic showing an eager wife leading her much less eager husband into a dance class as the husband remarked that taking dance lessons was something like #1,382,076 on his bucket list. I laughed because I understood the man's plight.

My beautiful wife grew up dancing. While still a pre-teen, she and her siblings traveled from their home in California to far off Utah for a major dance competition. I have seen the pictures of them on stage with their fellow dancers dressed in western looking costumes.

In fact, the first time I met my wife was at a dance at the local LDS Institute. But this was after the dance was over. During the cleanup I sat down at a piano to tickle the ivories into eliciting some songs that were popular at the moment.

I still recall the song I was playing as two young ladies walked up and introduced themselves. The cutest one was doing the talking. She asked if I knew a guy that was a friend of hers. I had worked with him on Boy Scout camp staff and we both served in the same mission (he was still there), so I knew him quite well. He had apparently told the young lady to look me up.

Although I really wanted to ask this girl out and I felt that she was angling the conversation in that direction, I simply couldn't bring myself to do it. I didn't even get her number. I had always been painfully shy around girls. And after all, there were two girls standing there and it seemed incredibly awkward to ask one for a date with the other just standing there.

Time skip 4½ years. I was surprised to discover that my blind date (which had been arranged by one of my former Boy Scouts) was the same young lady whose number I had failed to get that night at the institute. She eventually told me how disappointed she was that I had not pursued a date and asked why I had been so reluctant. When I explained my reasoning, she replied that her friend was there only for moral support and was already committed to a guy anyway. (As if I could know that given my lack of mind reading skills.)

This highlights one of the differences between male and female thinking. Unlike guys, gals tend to enjoy inviting their gal pals to visit the restroom together. Although I will admittedly never quite comprehend this penchant, my future wife must have employed this kind of thinking when asking her friend to come along to talk to a guy. It apparently never crossed the mind of my sweetheart-to-be that, while friendly female support might seem helpful to her, simple math dictates that 2 gals + 1 guy = no date.

Just a few nights after our first date, I met my wife again at the LDS Institute, where she was engaged in dance practice with the institute's folk dance team. I marveled at the dancers, since dancing had never been my strong suit. I know what good dancing looks like, but I've never been able to make my body do it.

During our courtship and engagement, I attended many folk dance practices and performances. At our wedding reception the folk dancers did a number of dances and then performed a wedding waltz while my wife and I slowly waltzed in the center of the group. My wife had carefully trained me to do this limited step and everything went satisfactorily.

A couple of years later my wife informed me that she had signed us up for ballroom dance lessons at the local university. Being madly in love with my wife and knowing how important dancing had been to her throughout her life, I acquiesced.

Our dance classes stretched over a couple of months. I learned many dance steps, some of which I can still sort of do. I learned to lead. But I can only do so if my wife is constantly reminding me of what I am supposed to do next.

Dancing is supposed to flow from the inside out. Learning the techniques of dancing is meant to merely hone the body's natural response to the music, making the experience more enjoyable. But I have never been able to get to that point.

For me dancing has always been a series of unnatural mechanical movements, each requiring deliberate thought, shrouded in the stressful fog of trying to make sure that everything happens when it's supposed to happen. If pleasure is at one end of a given spectrum, dancing is somewhere toward the other end of the spectrum for me—near the likes of surgery without pain killers.

A couple of years ago some friends invited us to their stake's Valentine's dance. I agreed to go because I love my wife. I'm sure that dancing with me is far from the most enjoyable experience in the world. I was grateful when the husband of the other couple (who knows how to dance) danced with my wife for a few songs. I was also very grateful when the evening was over.

Although my wife has always loved dancing, she willingly puts up with my lack of dancing ability because she loves me and apparently finds other compensating factors in our relationship. I will dance with my wife when she really wants me to, because I love her enough to do something that I find less than enjoyable when it's important to her. And somehow, mixing her grace with my awkwardness enhances our relationship.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

At Home Together but Apart

We had a somewhat unstructured New Years Day celebration today. I spent three hours of the day at the first installment of The Hobbit with two family members.

The movie is a spectacular and incredible adaptation of JRR Tolkien's book and various writings. I must admit that I was surprised to see families with quite young children in attendance. The movie includes some pretty dicey scenes.

Later in the day I had hoped that we could relax together as a family. (None of us are sports enthusiasts, so we had skipped the day's various televised athletic competitions.) But everyone was too busy with their own pursuits to be bothered.

One child was upstairs desperately trying to master a new video game. Another was downstairs trying to complete schoolwork that should have been done long before the final day of Christmas vacation. Two were in the family room. But one was wearing headphones and was glued to the laptop, while the other was watching a video that nobody else in the family can stand to watch. My wonderful wife was at the dining room table working on a sewing project for one of the children. (She once enjoyed sewing. Now she only does it at great need.) Finding no willing companions, I retreated to the office.

The modern American family home can be both a blessing and a curse. When there is enough room for each person to have their own space, the need to spend time together is minimized, even on a holiday when families traditionally spend time together.