Stefania Shaffer, Profile


Life Tips

It Bears Repeating: Mom-isms You Heard Your Whole Life

Can’t Get That Nagging Voice Out Of Your Head? But, Oh, How You Will Miss It When She’s Gone.

We grew up with that voice of hers nagging us to clean our room, or unplug our curling iron, or re-wash the dishes—properly this time. She had advice on everything from make-up, “Take off the mascara, pinch your cheeks,”—to wearing clothes, “Start with one smart piece, then accessorize, the rest can be bought from Penney’s.” Mom-isms.

We’ve all got them stuck in our head, rolling around like loose marbles on a pinball machine until, before you know it, one drops to the finish line and comes shooting out of our mouths.

When I find myself in states of heightened stress, I hear her famous words heaved along with my exasperated sigh, “Oh my goodness gracious me, oh my.” It usually comes attached to the times when my two-inch binder filled with the lesson plans for this month spills across the floor. What’s funny to me is the look of amazement on my students’ faces. They act like they have never heard such a term before, especially not coming from someone who looks so young and hip, of which I keep reminding them, I am certainly neither.

“I never met a person I didn’t like.” And the explanation for this is because “it’s awfully hard to dislike someone who likes you, that’s why I like everybody.” She was sure savvy.

Her positive mental attitude came in this soundbite of encouragement, “You never know what’s around the corner and it just might turn out to be something pretty good.”

Of course, the famous one that I heard more than I cared to in my surly teen years, “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face,” never made sense to me, but these were the Mom-isms with which I was raised.

She had a repertoire for any question.

If I picked the movie that would probably be more to my liking than hers, I could always count on a reply of, “Sure, I’m good-natured.”

Anything I ever posed that required more serious thinking was invariably met with a supportive, “Why not?” I loved that my mom was amiable in almost all situations.

For the times when she would put her foot down, there would be no mistaking it because she bellowed, “I’m putting my foot down!” I can’t imagine I would have as much success if I borrowed this remark for my own use today. But it does make me recall with fondness the times when she emphatically tried to win some point with child or father.

Since her death, I can’t seem to get her voice out of my head. Her Mom-isms have seeped in so deeply, I feel like she is in my backyard calling me outside to “get some Vitamin D for twenty minutes.”

I can practically see her in my kitchen, peeling an orange, or a cutie, saying, “I’m having my citrus for the day.”

Anytime I ever felt tired from the exhaustion of life, I would hear, “I believe in naps,” as she would encourage me to lie down.

For the times that something troublesome would rear its head, she would be sure to repeat as often as needed, “I believe in positive thinking.” She sure did.

“Suit yourself,” felt more like she was going along with it under duress.

The one that bears repeating is the one I aspire to use more often, “I’m agreeable.”

This is what made her so easy to get along with and oh, how I miss the face, the shrug, and the endearing smile that came with it.

Blog question: What are the Mom-isms you will remember the most long after she is gone?

Learning Something New Is Hard At Any Age

Need More Empathy For Your Student’s Learning? Take This Month To Learn Something Challenging Yourself.

It began as my administrator’s clever idea to help staff members gain more empathy for our middle school students while we learned what a typical day felt like for them.

Several of us in this experiment arrived at school almost giddy that we had substitutes covering our own classes, a little sad for those who wouldn’t be participating in the pushing and shoving through hallways.

After checking in at the front office to pick up our tailor made schedules, we navigated our way through wings and classes we rarely visited throughout the year because we were usually locked away inside our own rooms for most of it. Equipped with our lunch money, backpack, and comfortable shoes, we embarked on the “first-day-at-school” journey we hadn’t taken in decades.

I gained a few insights this day.

I discovered how hard it is to sit in our desk-chair combination seats that are torturous for even one class period, let alone a whole day of tailbone twitching trying to get comfortable.

I developed a tremendous amount of empathy for students who ask to use the bathroom during class. I now realize this is less about, perhaps, wanting to avoid a grammar lesson, and more the case that there is simply not enough time to negotiate this necessity in the mere three minutes we have to pass between classes.

The most powerful lesson I learned today is this: I only know what I know. After sitting in on other subjects taught by my middle school colleagues, I found that with all of my education behind me, I have really only mastered the subject I teach. 

So I have done some thinking about how I will ward off Alzheimer’s since they say the best way to do so is to exercise the brain by learning something new. A language at this point seems like more school work, outside of my regular school work. A sport is out of my comfort zone. An expansion in my culinary and baking skills will be more play time, and not the challenge I am seeking.

So, I think back to my childhood to recall the passions I had a full minute to explore before I abandoned them for increased homework loads, adolescent angst, college commitments, corporate ladder climbing, and overachieving adulthood ambitions.

I remember that I once went to horse camp as a sixth grader in the Girl Scouts. I was taught how to brush a horse, and pat his caboose when I walked behind him, lest he be surprised and kick me. I got my first pair of Roper boots that my mom said would stretch out the more I wore them, so I slept in them. Every day for one whole glorious week, I got to see my horse Butterfly. Riding at a slow trot was not half as much fun as galloping.

Years later, I took any chance I had to ride with friends on the coast, or in the valley, because I wanted to gallop again. I considered myself a real horsewoman throughout my high school years because I had ridden the beach alone…twice.

Let me tell you, there is a lot more to becoming a horsewoman than what I learned at horse camp. I have been taking Dressage lessons for five months now—the English riding style that will eventually teach me how to jump. Around month two, I started to feel inadequate that as an aspiring horsewoman, I still relied on one of the ranch hands to tack up my horse for me, so I said I wanted to learn.

This has been the most challenging subject to master. There are about seventeen steps to girding up your horse before you can get your giddy-up on. All of the leather straps that need to be laced around your horse’s head, properly linking the chain behind his throat, while getting him to take the bit the first time, have given me nightmares. Don’t even get me started on the layers of saddling, and boot wrapping that need to be done. For a long time, brushing was still my favorite part.

But, this experience has finally given me one more great story in the arsenal I rely upon to build confidence among my seventh-graders. I love the student who tells me they’ve never been good at school, and learning is hard. I understand completely.

Now, I will tell them that I know exactly what it’s like to learn something new. I will tell them that when I didn’t understand the instructions the first time, I was overwhelmed. When I still hadn’t mastered the routine after the second time, I felt frustrated. After the fourth time, I felt embarrassed. After the seventh time, I thought I was in over my head and I would never get it. But, like Shania Twain’s song says, “I ain’t no quitter.”

Today, I am 85% Proficient, which means I am nearly Advanced. I know I can lick this, and I can see the improvements I have made.

The ranch hands all know me by name and tell me I am besting my time from when I last tacked up my horse—not that it’s a race, but they are building my confidence. I can even see the growing approval in my patient horse. He knows I know what I’m doing now.

When your own kids say “it’s too hard”—it only means they are afraid of looking stupid because everybody else seems to be getting it faster.

Take this month to challenge yourself—let your kids see the kind of learner you are. Show them that the road to mastery isn’t about age, it’s about skill—and gaining some is quite gratifying in the end.

Blog question: When did you last learn something challenging and what was it?

How To Tell When Your Best Friend Is A Bad Friend

What adults can learn from middle school—the Top 5 signs your friend is not a friend worth keeping.

Why does your neck stiffen when you hang up the phone with a best friend? Start paying attention to the warning signs of a true bad friend.

For years, there was a familiar voice replaying in my head every time I got off the phone with one of my best friends. It was not my own that I heard because I had not found my words yet to describe this feeling I was having. The voice was not my mother’s who would have frowned upon the situation as if I should know better by now, nor was it my then-boyfriend’s whose interpretation of the obvious I ignored. It was Oprah’s.

Having been an avid follower of everything Oprah, and a lifelong subscriber to O, The Oprah Magazine, since its inception, a long-ago read column has stuck with me ever since; it was an ah-ha moment on how to determine when a best friend is truly a bad friend.

As I recall, it boiled down to this for Oprah: When you hang up the phone, ask yourself, “Do I feel better, or do I feel worse?” If you feel worse, then it is time to make some decisions about how to get the love you need, or how to extricate yourself from the kind of pain you don’t need to be finding among your friends. The world has plenty of that to offer you elsewhere.

What makes a frenemy? A Feature writer at O, The Oprah Magazine, named Paige Williams could not have defined it more brilliantly, and humorously, in her article called The Friendship Detox: How to Say Goodbye and Good Riddance. This article has stayed with me long after I read it because I, too, have had to ask myself what makes a frenemy? And, more importantly, why when something good happens to me does it sound like my friend is chewing shards of broken glass as she spits out her atta-girl?

For years, I put the phone-test to the test, and for years I always got the same answer: stiff neck, tight shoulders, feeling worse, much, much worse. If there was a battered friend syndrome, I am sure I would fit the profile. I offered the first line of defense for her brashness, her selfishness, her utter misunderstanding of anything I thought could calm her, sooth her, present solutions to her problems. Had I done something to deserve her cutting me to the quick? I didn’t get it, but I forgave it time and again, and again, and again because I thought she was my true best friend.

She finally became so contentious over random topics of conversation that I felt like I was becoming an unwitting sparring partner for her verbal jabs. This was not part of my training in Friendship 101.  I only attended courses on how to love a friend through a difficult time, and how not to be too burdensome a friend by unloading every single problem you have every single time you’re together. I lost sleep. Lots and lots of sleep, which is precious to me. But, I knew it meant I had to say goodbye. As soon as it was over, my peaceful slumber returned immediately.

As a middle school teacher, I have seen my share of tear-stained children (both boys and girls) crying in my room at lunch over a best friend who has suddenly turned out to be a bad friend.

For students grappling with the mysteries of why best friends sometimes aren’t the best friends for us to have, just know this is a question that will plague you into adulthood—we don’t have all the answers.

I happen to love the best friend character of Rebecca Benson I created in my first novel Heroes Don’t Always Wear Capes because every kid should know what it’s supposed to look like when a true friend stands up for you.

But, here are a few tips on how you can tell it is time to un-friend your friend.

1)After talking to your friend, do you feel better or worse? If you experience a tightening in your neck, shoulders, or a heaviness in your heart, believe me, you feel worse.

2)Has your friend spilled the beans on one or more of your secrets? If you cannot trust a friend, you do not have a friendship, you have an arrangement. What are you getting out of it? What is she? Hopefully, you are not giving more than you are getting. The best friendships have balance.

3)When something really great happens for you, is your friend truly, enthusiastically giddy about your good news? Or is there a jab, a stab, a comment to be made through what sounds like a mouthful of broken glass?

4)Does your friend talk about the personal problems of her other friends to you? Guess what? She is also talking to them about yours. Loose lips sink ships, not just world war battle ships, but friendships included.

5)Are you losing sleep over the worry of ending a bad friendship? End it and find out how a good night’s sleep is supposed to feel. If you are wrong, you can always take it back; a true friend will forgive the error of your ways.

Blog question: Do you have any other warning signs that your friend is not a friend?