Being Different Is Being Beautiful: Speaking Out About Caitlyn Jenner

The photo jumped out of my Facebook feed during my lunch break today. The beautiful woman, not the headline, caught my eye; she looked like someone famous, but I couldn’t quite place her. Then I realized who I was looking at: Caitlin Jenner.

I quickly scanned my middle school classroom for someone to share it with, someone who would care. The 9th graders scarfing down their lunches and talking sports and summer? The 8th grader taking a vocabulary test? I settled on my 20-something intern, who casually replied, “Oh yeah – I saw that. She’s gorgeous. Wow.”

I smiled, and went back to my salad.

Within minutes, it was all over social media. SHE was all over social media, in all her courageous, vulnerable, breathtaking silk-bodysuit clad natural beauty.

caitlyn jenner

Scanning the news feeds, I was struck by my friend Loran Lewis Wyman’s Facebook posting – above the headline she wrote, “I’m wowed by the courage to do this. Awed by the transformation our world is making so that everyone can feel accepted. Inspired by an ongoing and deeper pursuit of realness. And invigorated by the always amazing flow of information – through the eyes of a brilliant photographer, an exclusive press article and cover, and via electrically charged digital media sharing the story across the globe like water running down a mountain in rivulets.”

Wow.

All I could add to that was “And hopeful that the children who have experienced ridicule and hate because they feel “different” will grow up in a world where being “different” is celebrated!”

Because that’s how I think. That’s my world – kids. That’s my barometer of life, how the world is changing and how I wish the rest of the world would catch up.

I look out at my students and marvel at their courage every day. I have kids who struggle with the everyday challenges of life: what to wear, how to style their hair, how to balance sports and school. They struggle with their parents and puberty, with grades and goals and getting into (and out of) relationships. They worry about being ‘different’ and about being alone or going along with the group.

And yes, they struggle with their gender identity and with their sexuality, sometimes before they even know what they’re struggling about.

So as I sat with my salad and thought about the kids in my room, I smiled. I didn’t have to show these kids her photo – they wouldn’t be phased by it. They’re growing up in a time where being different is no longer as taboo as it was in my generation. They’re growing up in a community that celebrates diversity, in a school that embraces children for how they treat each other, not how they look or who they love.

My heart filled with hope – hope that if one of those kids eating their lunch and playing with their Tech Decks – if one of them is growing up feeling “different”, that maybe our world is changing just fast enough that they won’t have to wait until they’re sixty-five years old and panicked that, in the words of Caitlyn Jenner, “If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life. You never dealt with yourself,’ and I don’t want that to happen.”

Congratulations, Caitlyn. Thanks for introducing yourself to the world. Thanks for living your true self. Thanks for showing us that being ‘different’ is beautiful.
Photo credit: Poppy – I am so different via photopin (license)

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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What Happens When You Focus On Your Words?

It was a normal Thursday afternoon. I pulled my red Prius into the garage after a long day at school, ready for the weekend. Our car ride chatter was nothing short of normal – with my teenage son, I’ve learned that some days are talking days, and some are best to be left quiet – and that words matter. Today we talked about the day, his classes, homework, and what he needed to do that night. As the radio clicked off and he swung his long legs onto the garage concrete, I heard him whisper, “Whoa, deja vu.”

“Whispers from your former life, bud,” I commented as I pulled my bulging bag of papers out of the back seat.

“No-not a former life, Mom. This has happened before. It’s the same thing,” he snapped back. Guess he’s not ready to  believe in past lives just yet.

“Seriously, Cam. When we have deja vu it’s you repeating what you’ve experienced in another time. It’s part of the Universe,” I patiently tried to persuade him.

“No, it’s not. I’ve done this before. In this life,” he shot back as the door closed behind him.

And we were done.

I’ve noticed that conversations with him require intense concentration. They are short, deliberate and to the point – or they’re not. Sometimes they’re full of hidden meaning, of twists of language, or simply a game of trying to appease my questions and get me out of the room.

As a writer and his parent, this does not satisfy my quest for stories, to use language to share emotions, to delve into the insides of his brain, or even to recount how he made his chicken/pasta concoction taste like something from a Food Network chef.

But it does start me thinking about words, and what happens when we focus on what we’re saying. In my classroom, I’m forever telling my 8th graders that English class is to learn to communicate – to use written and spoken language to understand each other, to share history, to create an understanding of the human experience.

I want my students AND my children to feel the urgency to use words to learn and move forward with the magic of life, and to always remember where we came from.

For writers, the written language is our sustenance. Moving pen on paper or fingers on a keyboard brings vigor to our veins and joy to our world. Writers teeter between words gushing out and over and tumbling down our bones as a waterfall carries the current, debris tossed in with beauty. We then sort and shift and question every single word, each letter becoming part of a canvas for our emotions and thoughts and stories. We can squeeze out language in the most excruciating fashion, hovering for days to capture that precise moment stuck in our minds and begging release into the world.

This consciousness of language, of purposefully and deliberately thinking about the words we put into the world, becomes at times both painful and pleasurable. Head down, we squint to see a story take shape, to illuminate the shadows of our world with words chosen with calculating concentration. We seek to be understood, to create community with our words, searching for the beautiful connection that comes when the reader pauses, looks up to wipe a tear or breaks into giggles. And we struggle with the pang of unkind comments, misunderstood intentions, and careless words flung thoughtlessly into the universe.

Writers know how much easier it would be to dismiss our thoughts, to brush them off and become part of the unconscious masses who struggle to put together 140 coherent characters. We understand the ease of dashing off an idea, pushing submit and walking away, and yet we continue to push through the pain of process. Why? To nourish our souls, to spread joy and understanding and passion and consciousness and hope that someday, in that deja vu moment, someone will call forth an experience and smile, reach out their hand, and make the world just a touch more beautiful.

That’s what happens when we focus on our words. We compose a wholehearted life. We create the kind of world we want to live in, for now and forever.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Playground Paradise

When my kids were little, trips to the playground were a must. Their energy expenditure was critical to my ability to make it through the day sanely, and I’m sure that they benefited from not only the fresh air and exercise, but from the time to play and explore. After they were dressed, the stroller was packed with snacks, dig toys and a beach towel, we would head off on foot to one of the many kid friendly areas in our neighborhood. One of their favorites was the ‘The Grandma Penny Park”.

This park had all the prerequitsites for toddler paradise: a climbing structure, swings, a slide, soft woodchips to land on and best of all, the merry go round.  For kids who needed to test their boundaries and get their wiggles out, this was heaven.  For moms, the shady bench in close proximity to the playground was a perfect place to observe-just far enough away to give the kids some freedom, yet close enough to catch them when the fell.  And they always did.  I was there to scoop them off, brush off the woodchips, pull out splinters, offer sippy cups full of juice, and swallow a few Goldfish crackers before testing their courage all over again.  Cries of ‘Watch this, Mom’ resonated throughout the park nearly every second as my babies tested their balance, speed and courage.  Playmates screamed, laughed and occasionally argued over who was going down the slide first or who got more ‘under doggies’ on the swing.
Once elementary school began, life was so much more structured.  The “Grandma Penny Park’ was visited less and less, as t-ball, gymnastics, karate, rock climbing gyms and play dates because locations of paradise.  Occasionally we would stop by to take a quick swing or spin, but the twice daily trips to the playground became a thing of the past.  Energy was now expended in a more focused manner.  Shouts of ‘Mom, check this out!’ caught my attention as my children back flipped, tucked, and shimmied down every imaginable object.  Gone were the splinters and sippy cups, replaced instead with rope burns, blisters, bruises and Gatorade.  Hurt feelings from learning how to navigate friendships were soothed with hugs, talks and mommy time.

These days, trips to the playground are virtually non-existent.  Teens and preteens are much more likely to find their paradise  ‘hanging out’ with friends downtown, at the pool or bowling alley, or gulping down a Starbucks Frappuccino before shopping. Trying to hang onto the innocence of childhood becomes a balancing act between their quest for independence and my thirst to hang on to childhood.  Statements of ‘Can I hang out with my friends’ frequented our conversations.  Squeezing in the family vacations before college became our mission.  So many places to visit, things to teach them, and experiences we want to have as a family.

When we recently stumbled upon Fern Canyon, we were thrilled to watch our kids run, jump, swing and spin in nature’s playground.  Gone were the iPods, cell phones, playmates and Facebook connections.  Instead, our kids rediscovered their childhood pleasures among the fallen trees, dripping waterfalls and trickling stream.  Wooden board bridges offered just enough stability to cross back and forth while presenting them opportunities to test their boundaries.  Many times I called out, ‘Be careful” as one child scampered too high up a fallen log, or came close to soaking his only pair of shoes.  Declarations of, ‘Watch this!” echoed down the canyon as he darted from one wet rock to another, making it safely every time.  There were no swings, slides, or sippy cups in sight, just a mom, a dad and two kids creating their own bliss.
What I’ve learned is that all of us need to find our own paradise.  Sometimes we need  the structure of other people or events, and sometimes it takes the apparatus of a structure, or the companionship of friends.  Sometimes, though, all we need is our imagination and the opportunity to unleash it.
What I’m still learning is  how far away to watch, and how fast I need to rush in when they fall, as they always do.  I’m learning when to hug, when to wipe the tears, and when to stand back and let them handle it on their own.  Paradise found.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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