fearlessly authentic

Jason Collins is the first NBA player to announce that he is gay.  Jason received a call from President Obama praising his efforts as a role model. It is a little unsettling to realize that in 2013 one’s sexual orientation is still news, but as a former high school teacher, I celebrate Jason’s willingness to be the first in his profession to blaze this trail.

I worked with a handful of openly gay/lesbian teens when I taught English.  They were fearless souls, all of them.  Being fifteen and open is a tremendous act of courage.  I knew many straight teens who spent countless hours concerned with the impression they were leaving on others.  It is hard to be authentic in an environment where the right pair of shoes matters so dearly.  To be fully out of the closet in high school is like walking around with your heart outside your rib cage; one is left so achingly vulnerable without armor.

I worked with one student, Chris, who was particularly stunning in his courage.

Chris spent the beginning of his life as a little girl.  He went to grade school with most of his classmates and was known by a different name during those years.  By the time middle school rolled around, Chris had made some serious decisions in his life.  The most notable being that he did not actually consider himself a girl.

As his peers looked on, Chris slowly peeled away his feminine exterior.  By the time he landed in high school, he had a crew cut.  He had bound down his breasts, camouflaged his female curves with massively baggy clothes, pierced one ear, and  changed his name.

He was a bright, quiet kid.  He did his work; he faded into the background.  Chris wasn’t on the receiving end of constant outward violence.  He didn’t get beat up daily, or to my knowledge, threatened.  Chris was quite simply ignored.  Kids thought he was weird; they talked about him behind his back; they referred to him by his old female name; they disrespected him with their cold-shoulder treatment and feelings of superiority.

I often wonder what happened to Chris.  He would be in his mid-twenties now.  I hope he lives in a great community; I hope he is involved in a career he loves.  Most of all, I hope the world has stopped ignoring him.  I hope everyday he is seen and heard.  And someday soon I hope one’s sexual orientation is no longer news.  It shouldn’t warrant a phone call from the president because it shouldn’t matter to any of us.

 

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I’m entitled to a cheeseburger

In my twenties, I did a lot of hiking and camping.  Once my kids were born, I decided hiking and camping with children was a dirty chaotic experience, and I packed up my sleeping bag until my babies were old enough to pitch their own tents.  In 1993, my first husband, Scott, and I took a road trip to Glacier National Park in Montana.  We spent a week in the mountains, and I have great memories from that trip.

One night, I shifted restlessly in our tent.  I was hungry, I couldn’t get to sleep, and I really really really wanted a cheeseburger.  Sometimes when you are twenty, and it’s a random Thursday night in August, and you’ve been hiking all day, you need a midnight cheeseburger, and nothing else will fill the void.  The problem was I am historically terrible at starting campfires, so I wanted Scott to get up and make me the burger.

Now, I know this sounds like a diva-move on my part, but I would like to note here that we had a very successful thirteen-year marriage, and I did lots of nice things for him, including delivering his son who weighed over ten pounds.  Personally, enduring two pregnancies and giving birth to a semi-truck entitles me to a cheeseburger retroactively.  (So, stop judging me!)

Scott finally agreed to make me the burger.  He left the tent, started the fire, dug out a pan, cooked the meat, found a bun, (“Don’t forget ketchup and mustard,” I yelled from my sleeping bag) and he brought me the finished product.  It was as delicious as any burger I have ever eaten.  Full and satisfied, I hunkered down for bed, but I kept smelling the delicious burger, and I kept thinking about all the bear warnings posted, and I made the connection that if I could smell the delicious meat in the air, surely Smokey the Bear could smell it too.

To make a long story short, I made Scott drive me all the way back to the main area in the park where we could both take a shower and rinse away any left-over cooking smells.  While we were gone, we aired out the tent, and decided that if bears had not torn it to shreds in the hour it took us for our round-trip shower expedition, it would probably be safe to fall asleep.

Me hiking in Montana, 1993.  BTW, I bought the boots I am wearing in this photo at REI.  I swear; I not lying about this.

Me hiking in Montana, 1993. BTW, I bought the boots I am wearing in this photo at REI. I swear; I not lying about this.

This is a long way around to the main intention of my story, but I was thinking about this Montana trip yesterday while I was on the treadmill watching CNN.  Obama nominated Sally Jewell as his new Interior Secretary.  I took note of this because I am a Washingtonian and Sally is a Washingtonian, the CEO of REI.  To be clear, I don’t know Sally; we have never gone hiking together; I’ve never asked her to cut me a deal on a water-proof tent.  Still, I am happy to know a local woman will now be in charge of the national parks across the country and surely will monitor the bear activity in Montana.  And, you know, if she wants to hook me up with some discount gear, that would be totally appreciated.

 Obama's pick for Interior Secretary: Recreational Equipment, Inc. CEO Sally Jewell in 2006. IMAGE

Sally Jewell, REI CEO and nominee for Interior Secretary

What do Kelly Clarkson and the Obama girls have in common?

I watched President Obama’s inauguration yesterday while I was running on the treadmill at my gym.  I am not an entirely patriotic person; for example, I forbid any of my children from joining the armed services because the idea of sending one of them off to war is simply too much to bear.  Plus, I love memorial Day ’cause I get to sleep in, but I don’t hang a flag or go to the cemetery.  And every four years, right before the presidential election, my husband and I joke about moving to Canada.

Regardless of my shameful lack of country pride, I do love times when we all pull together, and for me, the inauguration feels like a unifying event.  The fact that we can all take a moment to acknowledge our democratic freedoms, put aside religious differences and pray for a brighter future, and join in gossiping about the first-lady’s J Crew gloves, is a milestone worth celebrating.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, presidential inauguration 2013

Myrlie Evers-Williams, presidential inauguration 2013

My first favorite moment of the inauguration was Myrlie Evers’ prayer.  Her husband, Medgar Evers, a secretary for the NAACP, was assassinated in his driveway in 1963.  Myrlie Evers-Williams was the first lay-person to deliver the invocation at a presidential inauguration.  She was poised, articulate, and looked amazing for her seventy-nine years.  After all she has endured, the fact that she has a prayer left inside her is a quiet miracle that deserves sincere acknowledgment.

My MOST FAVORITE part of the inauguration was when Kelly Clarkson sang My Country ‘Tis of Thee.  Of course, it is a great song, and she sang it flawlessly, but what I loved best was the fact that she obviously called Sasha and Malia Obama weeks before the event and discussed color coordinating their outerwear.

“Hey, Sash and Lia,” Kelly said.  “I was thinking how fierce we would look if we all wore the same color coat.”

“Ohhh, great idea!” Malia agreed.  “How about yellow.”

“Yellow!” Sasha gasped.  “I look terrible in yellow.  All in favor of purple say American Idol.”

“OK,” Kelly said,  “Malia, you wear the burgundy scarf with the rose-violet coat, and I will wear the burgundy coat with a rose-violet scarf.  Girl Power!”

Inaugural Swearing In

Kelly Clarkson, presidential inauguration 2013

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Sasha and Malia Obama, presidential inauguration 2013

fool-proof plan to reduce gun violence

In the wake of president Obama’s new gun control proposals, the National Rifle Association has released an ad making suggestions of their own.  Their pitch is to put armed security guards in schools.  To the NRA president, David Keene, I say, “What is the matter with you?”

By a show of hands, how many parents want their kindergartener policed at recess by an armed guard with four days of training making minimum wage?  Plus, you and I both know that the first person to apply for that job is going to be your crazy Uncle Willy, who has built a bunker beneath his house, has a twelve-year supply of venison jerky, and collects rain water in rusty barrels, but I am sure he REALLY LIKES kids.

David Keene’s NRA argues that if armed guards are good for Obama’s kids, then they are good for all kids.  The difference is that the president’s children need armed guards because every crazy person across the globe knows exactly what they look like, where they go to school, and what house they live in.  Al Qaeda doesn’t even know what color hair my kids have.

I propose that we let the NRA have all the guns they want.  Sell them out of vending machines to every convicted felon, grade school student, and mall cop in the country.  But, from this point forward each bullet will cost $8,372.  Plus, when you purchase a bullet, your finger print will be lasered into the casing and a small drop of your DNA will be housed in a tiny chamber off the back, like a little bullet fanny-pack.

Then, I suggests we hire the kingpins of the Crips, Bloods, Latin Kings, Russian Mafia, and a few crazy Ukrainians.  We pay these men ridiculous sums for every black market bullet they remove from circulation.  Plus, we give your crazy Uncle Willy a job guarding the gang leaders.

It is a practically fool-proof plan to reduce gun violence.  Congress should approve this immediately!

Kate-ukkah

Nine days ago, President Barack Obama declared November to be National Adoption Month. As an individual who was adopted, I appreciate having a month to honor me (Right now one of my distant cousins is reading this and screaming, “Holy Crap! You were adopted?”). Yes, I was adopted, and my birthday is in November, so I feel Barack had me personally in mind when he chose this time-frame to pay tribute to my life.

So, throughout this month, you should think of me often, send generous gifts, and pray for my continued health and safety. Moving forward, you can refer to the month of November as Kate-ukkah, like Hanukkah, only instead of lasting eight days, it lasts a month, and instead of being a festival of lights, it is a festival of ME. Also, I read that during Hanukkah, fried foods are eaten to commemorate the importance of oil. In this way, Kate-ukkah and Hanukkah will be similar. We will all eat fish and chips, sing songs, and leave work early to light candles.

It is only right that I have my month. After all, August is National Sandwich Month, and October is National Pet Wellness Month. National Bicycle Month is in the spring. Let’s face it; I am way better than a PB&J, a parakeet, or some rusty Schwinn.