Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gimme a Break


It is so so so great. So great, in fact, that this break has felt like 42 seconds long to me. The past week has gone by so quickly that I really can't believe it's been a regulation-length-week. We've been to Philadelphia, back to Chicago, up to Libertyville, further up to Cedar Grove, back down to Lansing, up again to Chicago, and now tonight I finally sit next to Brian on our couch in Villa Park, nagging him to attend to writing letters of recommendation for his students. I'm not much better, as I have plenty of unit planning and resource-hunting on my to-do list that is being ignored in its own right. We're pretty exhausted, burned out, and ready to finally sleep in for once, but it has been an awesome 8 days thus far. While looking back makes it all seem like a blur, there are great themes that stick out in my mind, defining the chaos of event after event a little more clearly into focus. It mostly all revolves around family.


I got to see Philadelphia, where Brian grew up until he was 14. One goofy part of that trip was a trip to the Xfinity Live! sports bar that quite the spectacle. We went there to watch the Eagles game (pronounced egg-uhlz) with a few of his cousins. All I can say that it was a land flowing with beer and nachos, complete with the scantily clad cheerleaders (I let my own feminist statement be known about the cheerleaders before we proceeded to watch most of the game...) and rowdy fans. It explained a lot about what it means to be a sports fan in Philly, which really addresses what it means to be a human in Philly. They are passionate about their sports. We also got a tour of Delaware County Christian School, the school in Pennsylvania where Brian attended from Kindergarten through 8th Grade. It has a beautiful campus, a great history, and a solid foundation. I love the school where I teach, and it's encouraging to see brilliant people putting their talents toward helping kids discover who they were made to be. That "great cloud of witnesses" line comes to mind when I have experiences like this. My in-laws met on that campus (high school sweethearts!), Brian's grandma used to work in the office there, Brian's aunt taught second grade there, and he and lots of his family members received an awesome foundation as students there. The current head of school at DCC used to be Brian's professor at Wheaton, so it was cool to get an inside look at a place so important to Brian's formation. The best part of the trip, by far, was spending time with the Whartnaby clan. We had a Christmas party, ate lots of chicken parmesan, and made great memories. The whole trip out east was really great for me. I got to connect with my new aunts, uncles, and cousins, but I also got to have a bigger perspective of who my husband is. I could really get a good vibe of where his roots began, thanks to the many driving tours my father-in-law provided through the different suburbs and city of Philadelphia. I love that being married means discovering more and more about the man I married with each milestone and month that passes. It only makes me love him more.


Not only were we able to see the east coast family, it was a busy week of family goodness at our midwest Christmases. We did Christmas Eve Whartnaby-style with a nativity play at their church and dinner at the neighbors' house. (I'm finding that Italian families do holiday food in the best possible way. Can you say lobster pasta, king crab, and wine all around?) Late that night we jetted up to Wisconsin for Christmas Day with my family, where my heart was full to see both of my siblings, my sisters-in-law, and Sawyer and Xander all together with my parents for Christmas morning. The last time we were all together was at the wedding, and it felt so good to all be together again. I got to see my Grandpa Gesch, Great Aunt Nelda open their presents, right next to little Xander, playing with his latest Ninja Turtle present. I heard it said in church this morning how we often spend the holidays distracted and distant, when it is just the time to be grounded and focused on the main things. This Christmas, spent surrounded by my family, helped ground me in gratitude for the blessings I have in my life. I surely don't want to take them for granted. So while this break has been hectic, it's definitely been worth it. I'll be spending the last few days of 2014 reading, sleeping, and catching up on life, thinking about the last week with a smile on my face.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Good Dads

I was thinking about my first year of teaching. On one of my first days ever as a teacher, one of my little girls, T, was crying at dismissal. I bent down and asked her what happened. Another teacher came up to me and said, "Oh, Gesch, don't worry about it, she always cries at dismissal because one day last year nobody came to pick her up after school," kind of in a nonchalant, it-is-what-it-is type of way. I was kind of shocked that someone thought it was no big deal that a 7-year-old was crying for this traumatic reason, but it's an attitude I came across often: brushing off the real emotions of children. I don't say this as an offense to the heart of my coworkers; on the contrary, many of my coworkers in East Garfield Park were some of the most amazing individuals with the biggest hearts for kids I've ever met. More so, it's a comment on the intensity of life in my old school's neighborhood: if you got worked up every time a kid got a little worked up, you'd be burned out by Thursday. And you have to last all year. A few people didn't even last all year. But there was T anyway, tears streaming down her (beautiful - and I mean that - she really is a beautiful kid) face. And I started to think about that.

As it turns out, she was supposed to be picked up by her dad that night. Perhaps it was a miscommunication, maybe it was an innocent mistake between her mother and father in a game of phone tag about who was picking up T that night. I don't think her parents were terrible people, just people who had a lot on their plate and were capable of making mistakes, just like I am. I don't know all the details of why, exactly, she was forgotten. Being left at school was a watershed experience for T, as she continued to cry at dismissal every single day after school for the first few months of school. We would get into the routine of me hugging her for basically the whole time until someone picked her up. She wasn't forgotten today, whew. She could wipe her tears. Crisis averted.

It made me think of our world, and how mistakes, large or small, may be seemingly insignificant to us adults, but how deeply real they are to kids. It makes me think of kids like T, who was picked up at the end of a long 4 hours at a police station, 8:00 pm on a school night instead of the usual 4:00 pm, horrified that nobody was coming to get her, so uncertain of what was going to happen to her, defenseless against anything.

My dad. 

As I go on through this third year of teaching, I am, ever so slowly, sussing out what the last two years of my life have really meant. I'm just now starting to process the impact that my experience with Teach For America left on my heart. A lot of it, to be honest, is depressing to rehash and think through in hindsight. I think of T and how she buried her wet cheeks into my leg while I stood on the lookout for her car. I think of how she was afraid that her dad forgot about her. I think of dads in general and how rare it is to have a Good Dad in our world, to have a dad of character, who is there for you, who always comes through. I think of my dad and of Brian's dad, and how good they are, and how lucky we are to have them. It makes me despair a little bit that dads like ours are so rare, that so many in this world go without a Good Dad. It all gives me a shot of pessimism toward our world's future.

Then, I zoom out and get a little historical perspective on how my own dad came to be the person he is. He also came from a Good Dad, my Grandpa Gesch. A hardworking, strict, hilarious, intelligent, kind, principled, faithful man of integrity. An example. A Christian leader. That's who my Grandpa is. Where did my Grandpa learn to be all of those things? By watching his own father? Actually, not at all. I never met him, but I hear that his dad was a little bit of a tough dude. In an effort to avoid slandering my own ancestors, let me just say that my great-grandfather, my Grandpa's dad, was not setting forth a loving Christian example and leave it at that. And yet, God intervened anyway, and he grew up little Wilfred Gesch to be a leader, a teacher, a believer, a father, and the patriarch of a large faithful family of Christ-followers. It's amazing how good of a dad he has become. He didn't learn it through an earthly example. He learned to be a Good Dad through following the person of Jesus Christ, setting forth a chain of events leading to an immense impact on his (massive) family. I know that my Good Dad wouldn't be who he is without the influence of his own father. It is a beautiful cycle of God's love sent down through generations by the means of  Providence and Faithfulness and the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit. It is a beautiful testimony, my family.

So what does some German guy have to do with T, crying on the sidewalk, waiting for her dad to pick her up? These intersecting stories in my life give me a small dose of optimism; they point me to a larger picture of what is possible and the Hope we have in this dark world for progress, love, and redemption. My Grandpa Gesch didn't need a Good Dad on earth to understand how to be one himself. T doesn't need to wait for a Good Dad to come around. She doesn't need to have a perfect earthly example in her life to make the choice to begin something new in her own life, in her own family.

The truth is that T already has a Good Dad. He is of the heavenly sort, who already shows up and comes through when he says He will and will be faithful to His word. We all, T included, have access to this dad who will be consistent to His promises, true to what He says He will do, even if the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. This heavenly father is the kind of Good Dad who comes down to fill in the voids that human parents tend to leave conspicuously wide open. In a world full of imperfect dads and moms, it is beautiful to think of that.

So whether you have a bad dad, a mediocre dad, a good dad, or maybe even a dad who is gone from this earth, I'm sure you will be confronting that situation soon over the holidays. Family gatherings have a way of making us come to terms with our own dad and mom situation. Maybe it will be a happy time, but perhaps it will be difficult or even sad for you to think about the impact (or lack thereof) your dad has had on your life. Whatever that situation may be, perhaps it might help to think of T, and to know that you are not alone in shedding a tear or two. I hope that you and I can remember the Good Dad we all share who is faithful to us: a refuge, a strength, and an always-present help in trouble. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Things Lately

Life lately is, well, like a usual teacher's life in the last ten days before Christmas break: all over the place. We've been incredibly busy, yet not all that busy at the same time. Busy with school, with work, with obligations, but not yet busy out and about and living the Christmas-y December life. We are running around with end-of-semester student projects, Christmas programs, finals, and grading. Here's a few things going on in my life lately:

1. Serial. FE:OIWJFE:OWIEJFW:OEIJ:A:LKJWELRKF. That's all I have to say. It's so good. Sarah Koenig has me hanging on to her every word. She brilliantly, fairly, and ever-so-cleanly investigates a murder that occurred in Baltimore in 1999 through a series of podcasts. That year, a high school boy named Adnan Syed was put in prison for the death of his ex-girlfriend based on very little physical evidence, one friend's testimony, and phone records that seemed to indicate his guilt. With a little prodding, Sarah is finding more and more holes, questions, and coincidences than she's finding answers. We all get the privilege to ride along and see where it goes, the fate of this man, now in his thirties, hanging in the balance. People. Go take a listen.

2. Brian Regan. Mel's family has famously followed Brian Regan's comedy for as long as I've known them. Her dad is always good for a little quote sesh on the spot. Well, this weekend her friends were invited along with the Lawrence crew for a live show of his at The Chicago Theater. I had lost my voice at that point (see #3 on this list) and was squeaking out these raspy laughs all night. 

3. Dayquil. It's that time of the teaching year. Second graders tend to spread their slime without consideration of the state of community health, and I've finally succumbed to the barrage of germs that come in my direction daily. Unfortunately for Brian, he is realizing that having an elementary school teacher as his roommate means that he also gets the benefit of strengthening his immune system through exposure. We've been going to sleep at 8:45 at night lately. I'd be lying if I said I didn't love the extra sleep/reading/cuddle time, even if we are kind of miserable. We're miserable together! #marriageperks  

4. Harry Potter. Oh yes, for the first time. Today I told my friend Sam that I was reading the series for the first time ever. She gave me a puzzled look, saying that she always thought of me as a book-y person and could not believe that I hadn't read them before. Well, sadly, it is true. Not sadly, when everyone else was reading Harry Potter in middle school, I was working my way through the Chronicles of Narnia, so not all was lost in those early years. I got to know Digory and Polly and Tumnus and Lucy, and all was well. Now I get the joy of cheering on Griffyndor, loathing Malfoy, and living vicariously through the most curious and brave three best friends  I could imagine. I finished the first book yesterday and am absolutely hooked. 

5. Birchwood Kitchen. I've been trying to get to this place for forever! Brian and I tried going last year and ended up with the prospect of waiting for a table for over an hour. We ditched that and went to, of course, Smoke Daddy instead. Thankfully, Michal and Reese were free this morning and also wanted to try it out. It was delish and had an adorable little atmosphere. The company was the best part of the meal. 

Soon I will add Christmas Programs, End-of-Year Christmas Parties, and Flights to Phiadelphia on this list of things lately in my life. But that's next week. We'll take it one at a time over here. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Gimmies

There's this Berenstein Bears book called "The Berenstein Bears Get the Gimmies." It's all about how Brother and Sister bear (quick sidenote...Brother? Sister? Realllllly? That was clearly a last minute name selection.) get distracted with wanting wanting wanting everything they see, becoming self-involved, whiny brats. They of course get sorted out after a good talking-to from Mama Bear and the day is saved. Papa probably made a fool of himself at some point in the book, but I forgot. He usually does. 

So I've been doing this thing, where I don't buy clothes for six months in a row. I started on July 1st of this year and will refrain from purchasing clothes for myself until January 1st, 2015. This is pathetically, very difficult for me, and I'm afraid I've got a case of The Gimmies. I think Christmas specials and advertising isn't exactly helping. It's good to show restraint, though. It's okay to look, right? Check out this eye candy. It's from Madewell, Anthro, Timberland, Patagonia, J Crew, Modcloth, Anthro, and TOMS. In that order. Let's all just take in the beauty, shall we?