Saturday, June 6, 2015

More than Skin Deep: Caitlyn Jenner's Transformation Can Help Us All

When Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover was revealed on the web, I expected some discussion of it in my classes.

I teach middle school choir, with boys and girls in different groups.  My girls talked about how pretty Caitlyn looked, with the discussion quickly moving into other Kardashian-related issues.  Pretty much par for the course.

But my boys?  They asked me these questions:

Does that mean Bruce Jenner was gay?
What is the difference between gay and transgendered?
How can she be a woman if she is still biologically male?
How is identity different from sexuality?

Yes, I got those questions from a room full of boys ages 12-14.  They were serious questions, too.  Not a giggle or smirk, no one elbowing or waggling eyebrows.  They wanted to understand what this means for Caitlyn, but these are questions they have about friends and family members and have never had the opportunity to ask.

I was so proud.  Nervous, but proud.  We had a great discussion, which gave me the opportunity to talk about things that I feel passionately about, the main one of which is this: nothing in life is more important than being comfortable in your own skin.  When you feel "wrong," life is miserable.  No matter what you do to be successful, you will not be happy until you find that peace within yourself that comes from knowing who you are.

Part of that, I firmly believe, is having others recognize and accept you for yourself.  One of the most well-intentioned failings I believe we have as a society is when we teach kids "it's what is on the inside that counts," because that is a lie.

Yes, you heard me.  A lie.

We tell them that the inside is what matters, but we have dress codes that prohibit many forms of self-expression because local community standards deem them harmful or distracting.  We can only judge people based on what we see: the way they present themselves, the way they address others, and the actions they commit are all we can know, because we only know what is inside ourselves.

Does that mean what's inside doesn't count? Of course not!!  It is supremely important, but we should be helping our kids find ways to make their outsides match what is on the inside.

When a student is rude or disrespectful to me, I take it outside.  Not to yell at the kid without witnesses, but for a discussion that always starts with this question:

Are you angry or upset with me?

Most students are thrown by this question.  They have not been asked this by a teacher before.  Most of them are still bristly and defensive, because they are expecting to be sent to the office or yelled at.  Once I finally get them to listen, I say again:

I really want to know, be honest and don't be afraid of offending me: are you upset or angry with me?

99% of the time, the answer is no.  They are angry or upset, but not with me.  Now we can talk about what is really going on, which includes me explaining that all I know is what I see, so when I see rudeness or disrespect directed towards me I have to assume it is due to a problem they have with me.

Sometimes it turns out they had a problem in another class and they are still upset.  Sometimes there are problems at home.  Sometimes there are social problems or personal dramas.  Whatever the issue, helping them understand how to present themselves and deal with feelings appropriately is an important lesson I try never to miss.

It doesn't always work.  But when it has worked, it works really well and I continue to hope that at least some of these kids go on to be happier and more successful.

So what does this have to do with Caitlyn Jenner?  I know personally how strange it is when your outside doesn't match the perception I have of myself on the inside.  Walking around feeling like an imposter in your own body.  If I felt that way because of purely physical characteristics (weight), how much more profound is it when it is your sexuality or gender identity?  A lot of our kids are going through that alone, afraid of the hostility or even violence they will face if they are honest, even with their closest friends.  Wouldn't it be great if we could create a society in which everyone gets to be themselves?

Society needs laws and standards, certainly.  But wasn't the United States of America founded on the ideals of personal freedoms? If being yourself doesn't hurt anyone, why is it wrong?  Not everyone has to like everything.  I may not like Ted Cruz, but he's allowed to go around spouting asinine observations and supremely unfunny half-jokes at will.  Freedom of speech, and all that.  I just believe that if we were allowed to help our kids discover more about themselves at an early age and encourage truthful self-expression we would all be better off for it.

That's all.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Back to School Guide for Goddesses

I was recently privileged to receive a truly extraordinary catalog.  Obviously this company knows me; my fame and renown have surprised me for years now, so I suppose I should have been expecting this sort of thing.  Sure, they put "or current resident" on the mailing label, but that was only to distract the autograph-seekers and celebrity-stalkers who make up 88% of the US Postal Service.

I cannot question the serendipity of the catalog's arrival.  Just as I was asking myself, "Where can one find a quality floor-length reversible hooded cloak for the everyday working woman?" my cosmic wishes were answered.  Herein I present my back-to-school wishlist from The Pyramid Collection, a company offering sensible fashion solutions to satisfy your Inner Goddess.  I devoured this catalog with such reverence and avidity that the moist snorts of my avidity could be heard for several blocks, and the high, quavering mewls of my reverence prompted my son to ask, "Who let the cat in?"

(For those of you who instantly thought of Fifty Shades of Grey upon reading the term "inner goddess," shame on you.  I sentence you to read Scarlett, the sequel to Gone With the Wind, which achieved total drivel status without a single pseudo-erotic scene involving a feminine hygiene product.  If you, like me, read it ironically, I commute your sentence.  But you should still read it anyway, it's totally cool.)

Of course, I have always been interested in that magical world of fantasy in which corsets are outerwear and a garment's chief asset is "flowiness."  I have done extensive research, consisting of reading The Mists of Avalon several times.  I have also purchased several of the Game of Thrones novels, and I can attest they are level and will hold a beverage upright for several hours.  As if that were not enough, I also played Dungeons & Dragons in my youth, and still own at least one 20-sided die.  (Parenthetically, Princess has been using my Monster Manual for reading practice, which I'm sure will necessitate a meeting with her teacher at some point to explain why she can't read "light" or "laugh" but does fine on "lich" and "lycanthrope.")

My wishlist shall be divided into three categories: clothing, outerwear, and accessories.  I think you will agree that I have assembled a totally professional wardrobe that not only conveys calm authority but warmth and approachability.

In the field of clothing, I give you this:

The Midnight Lace dress.  Nothing says "Trust me with your children" like red lace and corsetry.  I plan to snazz it up with a voluminous red tulle petticoat for that extra bump of style.  I hope no one mistakes me for administration!!

For outerwear, there is only one choice:

Nothing beats a cape for versatility.  Do you want to shield yourself from the cold?  Reenact scenes from Excalibur?  Stalk an unsuspecting love object?  This cape does it all.  I can see myself sweeping down the majestic, cobweb-festooned halls of Hometown Junior School.  I imagine its primary benefit will be recruitment; everyone wants to be in the class of a cape-wearing teacher.

Accessories are, of course, those extra touches that separate the eccentric from the possibly dangerous.  For shoes, my only choice is this pair:

I know they're subtle, but the secret to fashion is not going overboard.

As my regular readers (hereinafter known as "devotees") know, I adore jewelry.  In the spirit of keeping things understated, I offer these:

I adore statement pieces.  For me, there is no greater message I can send my students than, "I'm festooned with possibly poisonous spiders."  Maternal?  Trustworthy?  Oh yes.  I can just imagine the confidences my new attire will inspire.

See you on the 27th, children.  Hopefully the fang glue will be set by then.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

In Which Deb Is Annoyingly Pollyana-ish

I have discovered that there can be a lot of truth in some cliches.  One I hear a lot is "You get what you give," which seems to be a simplistic way of defining what we casually call karma.

On a discussion forum which I used to frequent, posters often lamented the rudeness of most people they encountered.  Cashiers at Wal-Mart who have a surly demeanor, for example.  Salespeople at Macy's who are more interested in having a conversation than helping customers.  Starbucks baristas who screw up orders and roll their eyes when asked to correct their mistakes.  Reading this forum would work me into a state of despair so severe only pounds of chocolate and several hours of gazing at Robert Pattinson pictures could ease my pain.

Though it took me an embarrassingly long time to notice it, I eventually realized that the world was not in such a severe state of rudeness.  Several stories on the forum were exaggerated (or outright made up), but even in the case of stories that were true, most had something in common: the poster was looking for reasons to be offended and/or the poster never spoke up to help the situation.  I began saying to myself (shouting at the computer screen): "Why didn't you just ASK THE CASHIER TO CHECK THE PRICE?" or "Was there a reason you couldn't clear your throat and ask for help?"  If people would speak up in a positive way instead of passive-aggressively fuming about the way others can't read minds, the results would be very different.

I decided to test my theory.  Wal-Mart was the obvious choice; in many parts of the internet, the brand is synonymous with bad service and trashy customers.  (The fact that most of us are also customers does not stop us from ridiculing them.)  When trapped in a line in one of the two open registers (out of 28), I would make brief eye contact and smile at people.  I helped translate for customers who couldn't speak English.  (I don't speak any other languages well, but just listening patiently usually helps.)  I chatted with the cashiers and made sure to thank them.  I even gave a recipe to a cashier whose husband had just been diagnosed with diabetes.  Wal-Mart is now a very pleasant place for me.

Next stop: fast food.  After a late concert I went through the drive-thru at Jack in the Box.  There were two people working inside and the line was really backed up.  I could tell by the tone of the person who took my order over speaker that they were very harried and stressed out.  I got up to the window and the cashier was very brusque with me.  Not rude, but short.  As I paid, I noticed that she did not make eye contact with me at all.  I decided to try an overture.

"Busy night?" I asked.
"Terrible," she sighed.  "Only two working and we get slammed on a Tuesday night."
"Well, I appreciate you being here," I said as she handed me my drink.  "Saves me from cooking this late."  She looked at me then and I saw a little smile.  I asked for some buttermilk dressing and she must have given me 15 packets.  I thanked her.
"You have a wonderful night, Ma'am," she said.  I wondered how many people had driven through without a word to her.  I also wondered how many grumbled and muttered to themselves about her rudeness or her hostile demeanor without making any effort to improve the situation.

I'm not trying to hold myself up as some paragon or anything.  I'm a scientific person; when I have a theory, I test it.  My theory is that people who are nice get treated more nicely than those who sit back and wait for other people to control the interaction.  So far, I've been proved right most of the time.  There are jerks out there, of course, but I think they are in the minority.

At least in real life.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Stranger Anxiety

If you haven't taken the Meyers-Briggs personality test, you're missing out on amazing insight into yourself.  I first took the test as part of the back-to-school staff development week.  It was a new school, a new district, and a new position: elementary music.  The tester was purportedly there to teach the faculty about getting along with different personality types by understanding the differences that define them.  Her main focus was introverts vs. extroverts.  (If anyone cares, I'm INFJ, which is the rarest type; about 1% of the US population has it.)

An introvert (which I am) finds it tiring to be around people.  We "recharge" through solitary time.  I spend every day with hundreds of kids, so I don't have much of a social life.  I can't be around people all the time.  It wears me out and gives me anxiety.  I always knew this about myself, but I didn't know it was a real "thing"; I just thought I was one of those descriptors always ascribed to introverts: shy, awkward, anti-social.

The tester proceeded to teach us how to get along by dividing us into an extrovert group (about 50 people) and an introvert group (about six, including me).  We were then told to "brainstorm" with our group about ways we could "reach out" to the others and "adapt our style" to make it more acceptable to them.  The extrovert group proceeded to brainstorm, which sounded a little like happy hour at Hooters.  The introverts stared uneasily at each other and shrugged occasionally.  I could already tell my year was off to a great start.

I generally don't like personal interactions with people.  I will sometimes have this conversation with Sven:

Deb: "I saw Whoosits today."
Sven: "Really?  How is she?  What's she up to?"
Deb: "I don't know, I didn't talk to her."
Sven: "Why not?"
Deb: [shrugs, embarrassed to admit that she ducked behind a Velveeta display so Whoosits wouldn't see her, even though Whoosits is great and not scary at all.]

There have been times that I have been upset that people don't recognize me after my weight loss.  Most of the time, however, I'm pretty pleased that a lot of people have no idea who I am, so I don't have to talk to anyone.  I can go anywhere and do anything and there's a good chance no one will know it's me.

Tee hee.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

An Actual Conversation

Time: Earlier this evening

Place: The Folksy House

Players: Deb and Princess

Princess: Mommy, when I grow up I'm going to have teats.

Deb: Well... we don't call them "teats" on humans.  "Teats" are what we call them on animal mommies.

Princess: So what do we call yours?

Deb: Um...

Princess: Boobies?

Deb: Well, no-

Princess: Boobs?

Deb: Uh, that's-

Princess: Mom, just tell me what you call them.

Deb: Breasts.  We call them breasts, honey.

Princess:  That's disgusting.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Resolutions 2012

The things I hope to accomplish in 2012, provided the world does not end:

1. Maintain weight.  Do you know how amazing it is to not write, "Lose weight?"  For the first time in my ENTIRE LIFE, I am at an appropriate and healthy weight for my height.  I have gained 2-4 pounds over the holidays, though, so I do not want to take anything for granted.

2. Wear high heels more.  I'm an upwardly mobile career woman.  I ought to be able to walk in heels.

3. Run a half-marathon.  You'll all be pleased to know that Sven laughed out loud when I told him this one, then said, "Sorry, were you actually serious?"  Aw yeah.  It's on now.

4. Clean my house.  I want to not only get my house clean; I want to organize things so cleaning is easier.  We've lived in this house since May of 2004; it might be time to go through the boxes I just shoved in a closet and throw some things out.

5. Spend time with those I love.  I want to spend time with my family, but I also want to get together with my friends more.

6.  Just trust me when I say I have a lot of work to do in a particular area that I don't want to discuss.

7. Write more.  I want to really write this year.  Looking back on 2011 has revealed to me that I did precious little "real" writing; I edited stuff I'd written before, but that was about it.  I want to really dedicate some time to writing this year.

8. Spend more time with my husband.  Sven and I need some grown-up time.  We've had two date nights now, thanks to Momz, and I really want to keep it up!  I find myself forgetting that, yes, I had a relationship with this man for almost 12 years before we had children.

9. Continuing Education: I want to start on my master's degree this year.  Even one class would be a start!

10. Positivity: I want 2012 to be about what can happen instead of what can't.  I want to see the good in every situation.  I want to look at myself and like what I see.

Happy New Year everyone!  What are your resolutions?


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Recipe: Deb's Amazing Apple Pie (Non-Diet, Completely Unhealthy)


3 cups Fuji apples, cut into small chunks.  (about 4 good sized apples)
Prepared (or frozen) regular pie crust, not deep-dish
2/3-3/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger
dash salt

1/2 stick (4 tbsp) butter (not margarine, real, SALTED butter)
1/2 cup brown sugar (I prefer dark brown)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans


1. Listen as your oldest child laments, with just a hint of tears, "You never make apple pie and it's my FAVORITE DESSERT in the WHOLE WORLD and I'll DIE IF YOU DON'T MAKE ME ONE."

2. Recall fondly when, as a teenager, you made really amazing apple pie.  Remember how easy it was and how impressed everyone in your extended family was when you brought it to Thanksgiving dinner.

3. Go to the store and lovingly select 5 pounds of apples so you have "enough."

4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Allow your youngest child to pull up a stepstool so he can "help" with the making of the pie.

5. Chop up 8 apples.  About 4 will go into the pie crust, the other 4 should be stolen by your children and (you are reasonably certain) husband.

6. Combine the sugar, spices, and salt in a cereal bowl and mix with a fork.  (Reserve fork for later.)  Dump the mixture on the apples and toss until reasonably evenly coated.

7. Using the fork (you're welcome), mash together the butter, flour, and brown sugar until you've got something more-or-less dough-like.  Add pecans and mash some more.

8. Using your fingers, press the crumb mixture over the top of the apples.  USE IT ALL.  You heard me.

9. Pop that sucker right into the oven.  Use a cookie sheet.  We're not savages, for heaven's sake.

10.  Let it cook for 40 minutes as you lament the state of your thighs.

11.  At the 40 minute mark, turn off the oven and look at it longingly as it cools.  LEAVE THE PIE IN THERE.  Do not question me.

12.  About an hour later, pull the cookie sheet out.  You're welcome.  The pie should also be there, amid the delicious drips of spiced apple goo.

13.  Call your children to sample the pie.  Look at the light in their eyes as they race down the stairs screaming, "Mommy made us a pie!  We have the best mommy ever!"

14. Observe the light in their eyes die as your oldest says, "Ew, that's what an apple pie looks like?  I am NOT eating THAT."

15. Put those children to bed.

16. Open the cool whip.

17. It was too good for them, anyway.