Sunday, February 22, 2015

Whales and the Best Movie I've Seen in Awhile.

Last night Brian and I rented Boyhood to watch after going out to dinner. We wanted to see it since all the Oscar buzz surrounding it has our interest, and the concept seemed pretty original: the same cast, filmed over 12 years, following a boy and his family through hard, real, and mundane seasons of life. Mason, the protagonist, maintains a level head and a tender heart through the tumultuous childhood he's given. On a more aesthetic note, the soundtrack choices and small inclusions of pop-culture to help mark the time (Gameboy Advanced, 20 Questions, Pokemon, Britney Spears) were perfection.

Brian and I had the same favorite part. When visiting his dad on the weekend, right before they fall asleep, Mason asks him a question. It goes like this:

Mason: Dad, there's no real magic in the world, right?
Dad: What do you mean?
Mason: You know, like elves and stuff. People just made that up.
Dad: Oh, I don't know. I mean, what makes you think that elves are any more magical than something like a whale? You know what I mean? What if I told you a story about how underneath the ocean, there was this giant sea mammal that used sonar and sang songs and it was so big that its heart was the size of a car and you could crawl through the arteries? I mean, you'd think that was pretty magical, right? 


The best thing about the movie, I think, is how it elevates what we Americans might call a "regular" or "normal" childhood to expose it for what it is: incredibly rocky and tough to go through, something that should be celebrated when it's conquered. We've heard the story a million times: a kid's parents get divorced (or never get married), his mom struggles to raise him and his sister as she moves from one drunken jerk of a husband to another, and is constantly clawing her way through for herself and her family. She attends night class, gets a better job, and yet, still, even when the bills start to get paid on time, the brokenness follows. We watch Mason go from a six-year-old boy who gets in trouble for putting rocks in the pencil sharpener at school to a mature, introspective teenager who goes through love, heartbreak, and asking the big questions about what he is supposed to do in this life and why this whole rig is here in the first place. Through the lens of this film, this kind of childhood, although common, is no longer normal. Or just regular. It's real and hard. Kids go through it and kids survive it. I think Mason's survival is amazing. Boyhood champions a not uncommon (but not unimportant) story, bearing witness to its struggles, and pointing ahead to opportunities still to come.

I suppose you could call it a classic coming of age story, but I've never seen one quite like this before. I think it was well worth the 2 hours and 45 minutes; I almost wished it were longer! Movies like this remind me why I love to think about things like worldview, purpose, perspectives, and of course, magic.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Valentine Brownie Points

Brian has just been RACKING UP the brownie points this weekend. First, he called my dad a few weeks ago and asked my parents to go on a double date for Valentine's Day. Not only did this secure his place as number-one-son-in-law-for-life in my parents' eyes, it just made my heart burst with all the feels you get when the guy you love cares what your parents think about him. It was precious. We all went out to Trattoria Stefano, a fancy schmancy Italian place in Sheboygan. FABULOUS. After eating all we could possibly eat, we made the obligatory stop at my dad's favorite mini mart (he is a serious mini mart aficionado) for the best gas station coffees and hot chocolate you can find for miles around. Believe me, my dad knows. He's done his research.

So after he got the points with my parents, B racked them up with me, making me the sweetest and best Valentine's Day mix this year, along with a note that I can't share for fear of taking away from the stoic, manly facade he's built up for the sake of public image (PSA: he's actually made of marshmallows and gumdrops on the inside). Enough of the mush, though. Let me share with you some of the great songs that graced my ears on the drives up to and back down from Wisconsin. These are screen shots from my phone as I Shazam-ed the titles so that I could share a few of them with you all.

First? Thunder Clatter by Wild Cub. This is one of "our songs" if you could consider us to have "songs" specific to us. It played at our wedding when we walked in the reception, and it was the subject of many jam sessions while we drove back and forth to each other's apartments in the engaged-but-not-yet-married stage. It's a great song that still gets me.


Next, we have Jim Croce. The title is self-evident. 


Thirdly, no trademark Brian mix is complete without one of his musical idols, Neil Young. I have to admit, I used to think the whiny voice was a little overwhelming, but now I appreciate his nuanced genius. 


Van Morrison is next. Neil and Van are Brian's staples. At this point you might notice that all of Brian's selections are of songs released before we were both born. This is cheesy, but when we first started dating, I remember a slow dance in his apartment to a Van Morrison vinyl. (Actually, I just said that it's cheesy so you guys wouldn't judge me. It wasn't cheesy at all; it was an adorably charming move on his part.)


Ah, he does modern music, too! I like this song for its electro-coolness, as well as the band name, Anna of the North. Hey, Anna of the North? That's me! 


Back to the oldies with James


And finally. Last but not least, we have this hilarious tribute to one of the worst musical decisions ever: a song named Wifey. Go listen to Next and laugh. Brian has a hip hop streak :) 


All in all, I've concluded that you shouldn't believe what they tell you about guys giving up the chase once you're married. They just tend to know you better, so their gestures are less corny and more personal, like hanging out with your parents and curating an awesome Valentine CD. B's brownie points, as always, keep on climbing. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

On Being Done With Having a Hard Time

Today. Hmmm. Well, I'll just say that it involved a flat tire, a dead cell phone, and being locked out of my apartment. All of this is small potatoes in the realm of real problems. I'm privileged to have a car with the flat tire on it, enough money to buy groceries, and an apartment from which I can be locked out. This "bad" day made me think of some other truly bad days I've had in my life...but more on that soon. 

This past Friday night, I got to eat dinner with two of my favorites, Sam and Julia. You've met them before, but in review, they are my friends through Teach for America. They were there with me from day one of our training at the crazy summer of Institute, teaching middle school even though we would all spend our first year in lower elementary. We all were at three different schools with different challenges, but our experience was the same: it was a Hard Time. I will be real with you and tell you that my first two years of my adult career life involved lots and lots and lots of bad days. Not just "bad" days either, but the real kind. 

Julia phrased it this way: "It's so great being done having a hard time." All three of us completed two years of teaching at our placement schools, and all three of us chose to stay in this teaching profession after our commitment to Teach for America was done. We all found new jobs for our third year of teaching (a healthy decision for all of our lives) and came together to share about the new things going on. Boyfriends, husbands, apartments, coworkers, classrooms, students, principals, and travels were all on our minds and in our conversation. All those things, of course, in between our rants and raves about the fantastic food we ate at Big Jones, the place where we met. Can you say fancy fried chicken?! (Seriously, go visit.)

At the end of our night, Julia made that comment. About how wonderful it is to be past a really hard time in our lives. And how it is so special to now have that awareness of how hard it truly was, on the other side, alive and okay and still somewhat emotionally intact. I'm realizing, upon looking back, that I had no idea how lonely, depressed, frustrated, and difficult those two years were for me while I was living them. I was so obsessed with making it through the day, finishing my action items from four different managers and bosses, following my to-do lists, keeping up with grad school homework, and surviving each milestone (....Friday......Christmas...summer??...) that I had never paused to take stock and feel, truly feel, the weight of what was going on around me. I felt like a failure, but I hardly had any time to process that. Failure or not, the next day was coming and the next week had to be planned. I just kept going. My full schedule kind of saved me from feeling anything too deeply. 

Does God do that on purpose - overload your life in the hardest of times - to protect you from the hard stuff? Does he add weights to your feet so that you never look up toward the surface to realize that you're drowning? I truly think that's how we all made it: too busy running around to know that we were run down. It was chaos for sure, and these are two of the only people I have in my life who know exactly what that felt like. And yet, in those hard times, we became something. 

We became grownups, advocates (for ourselves and others), and teammates. We became teachers. We became graduates of schools and of an organization with a mission dear to all of our hearts. We became better people, capable of intelligent conversations based in experience, and more fully able to show compassion to others in a struggle because we lived one ourselves. We became more aware of our world and how we can best take our places as agents of change and redemption within it. 

So sure, we all will have "bad" days here and there. We still have hard times...sometimes...and in different ways. But it is so sweet to know, that in the ebbs and flows of life, that you have made it past a difficult season. You've come through a Hard Time and are done with it. Maybe a future season will hold something even more difficult; surely dark days are on the path of everyone's journey, right? But for now, for one Friday night, it was sweet to celebrate the light. 

The best part about being done with having a hard time?

Sharing it with friends who made it through with you. 


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Stuff Students Say: January Edition

January is always a little bit rough for me in the teaching realm. You have the post-Christmas break drag to overcome, not to mention a newfound realization that you have SO MANY THINGS TO DO before your kids go off to third grade. It's a combination of a fuzzy brain, a busy schedule, and cabin-fever kids. In spite of that, though, my kids are fabulous as usual and supplied me with some great one liners. Here are this month's gems:

(Said on January 12.)
Wait...Christmas break is over?

My mom wants me to get a drink of water I think. Or she would want me to go get a drink of water. Because I'm thirsty and she doesn't want me to be thirsty. So can I go do that?

If she's the principal's wife does that make her the vice principal?

(Talking about the temptation of Jesus and how he was fasting in the desert.)
Me: What does it mean to fast?
Student: It means to lay off the sugar. 

I wish this day could last forever! I don't want to go home! On the other hand, we would get really tired.

I have a neck injury. Therefore, may I please go to the bathroom?

I lost my sock. I'm off to survey the premises.

(After conquering the task of decoding hard words during Guided Reading)
I feel so powerful!

I want to live in second grade forever! 

Mrs. Whartnaby I lost my sock. I'm off to survey the premises.

Our Unit Benchmark Test, there was a Reading Response that asked the students to think of a time they had a problem and what they did to solve it. A girl in my class raised her hand and said:
I have never had a real problem before. What do I do for this question? I can't answer it. 

We are reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and when Veruca Salt went down the garbage chute, someone yelled out: 
She just got SERVED!