Saturday, April 25, 2015

Happy Nerds

Every now and then the stars align and I find myself in the car all by my lonesome. The unfamiliar glory of freedom goes to my head and I consider driving to Montana for the day. I opt for the grocery store instead, which was the plan in the first place, but the sudden ability to have real, actual thoughts (!!) is almost as good as that dreamy road trip to the Midwest. Anyhoo, during these little rides by myself I sometimes turn on talk radio or NPR to see if I can learn something.

This week, I learned a few things that technically I already knew, but suddenly hit me in a different way now that I have two small cheddar-bunny-eating people in my charge. News reports on the total insanity known as Spring Break, which happened a few weeks ago in Florida, caught my attention. And it occurred to me as I listened to the description of what was taking place on the sandy beaches of our bordering state, that, as a parent, I would really, really, really like to shut that stuff down. Way down. I realize that I am at risk of sounding rather old and out-of-touch right now. Prepare yourself, because I'm also probably going to use the phrase "young people these days" any minute.

I've also tuned in to a few radio shows lately discussing the rampant assaults, hazing and generally disturbing behavior that happens on college campuses and I'm starting to think that home-school college should be a thing. I had a fantastic, drug-free, drunk-free, bad-boyfriend-free, crazy-free college experience, but that's been a ninth-grader's life span ago and things have changed a bit since I moved my tassel over. I'm pretty sure iPhones, social media, tweets, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. have absolutely changed the game since I had exactly 100 minutes on my "car" phone (which also came with it's own handy zip-up bag.)

In light of all the information out there on what the "young people" are getting into these days, I have come to something of a conclusion. I think the key to modern parenting just might be summed up by two words: happy nerds.

What's a happy nerd? Essentially, I'd define a happy nerd as a kid who doesn't care too much about what other kids think about them, who likes to learn stuff, who feels pretty confident about who they are, and who isn't spending 3/4 of their lives developing carpal tunnel due to excessive texting. A happy nerd is interested in exploring a new idea or solving a problem or creating something unique rather than spending the afternoon taking questionable selfies of themselves and then dumping all that jazz on to Twitter or Snapchat for other similarly-minded teenagers to comment on.

A happy nerd would rather be spending his or her time discovering something about the world or engaging someone in actual conversation or reading a book that stimulates their imagination or expands their understanding on some interesting topic rather than hanging out at the mall and not shopping.

Do happy nerds have friends? Yes. Just not the kind that invite them to parties in their parents' basement and then ply them with cheap alcohol so they can video them jumping off the roof into a pool. Do happy nerds fall in love? Yes. But, they get to know one another by spending quality (key word) time together and conversation, rather than just texting TMZ-worthy pictures of themselves to each other late at night.

Am I being a tad bit dramatic/unrealistic/naive? Yes. Do I want my son to grow up to be a semi-introverted inventor/engineer? Sort of. Do I hope that my daughter chooses to be a librarian when she graduates homeschool college? Absolutely. Are either of these things going to happen? Probably not.

BUT, I still stand by my happy nerd theory. At the end of the day, I want to raise children who value the things that matter and recognize and avoid the stuff that will resurface on Facebook twenty years from now and keep them from getting a real job. I'm having a moment where I'm realizing my little people won't be little forever and it's making me feel the tiniest bit nervous about who and what they will become. And I absolutely get that, at some point, their choices will be their own and I won't be able to take responsibility for them.

I know that I can't control what paths my children take, but it is HARD for this mama-heart to not want to navigate every step they take and make wise choices for them and absorb all the inevitable heartaches they'll weather. This parenting thing is such a high-wire balance of truth and love, control and freedom, holding on and letting go, acting and waiting, fearfulness and trust. Whoever said motherhood was not for the faint of heart was the Captain Of Obvious Statements.

Red socks go with everything.
Regardless of all my hopes and wishes and plans for who they grow up to be, in the end I just want them to know Jesus. It's as simple and as complicated as that.

And, so I slip into their rooms at night, long after they've drifted into dreamland and I whisper prayers over their sweet little selves. I'm hoping  that they can simply trust and obey and avoid having to learn things the hard way. But, whether they have to fall and get up a thousand times or they turn out to be miraculously obedient, I have to keep reminding myself that they belong to Jesus.

And He doesn't let anything or anyone that belongs to Him slip out of His sight or His hand.

Jesus loves me this I know, 
for the Bible tells me so. 
Little ones to Him belong. 
They are weak, but He is strong. 


Thursday, April 23, 2015

In Defense of the Romantic Movie: Why You Should See Cinderella

I left my little people's bedtime duties to my gracious husband a few weeks ago and, somewhat on a whim, went to see the new movie version of Cinderella with a girlfriend. Turns out, movies for children without the children are rather nice. And seeing a movie like Cinderella without the children turns into a chance to spend two hours being completely immersed in child-like wonder and remembering what it felt like to lose myself in a magical story outside of time, which doesn't happen very often now that I'm a boring grown-up.
(courtesy of Disney Pictures)

A friend, whom I adore for so many reasons, recently wrote an articulate article for US Catholic about her experience watching the new version of Cinderella with her 5 1/2 year-old son. Her opinion of the film was that this new version of the familiar story was too full of glitter and sparkles for her taste and was missing that tinge of darkness that, one might argue, gives a fairytale the very slightest tangency to reality. And I get that. But, for me, that ubiquitous element of evil is such a given for every single movie that Hollywood puts out that the lack of it felt genuinely surprising (in a good way) and even something of a relief (for the overly sensitive ones of us out there).

Full disclosure: I love sentimental, romantic movies. (Clarification: Not the ridiculously overdone, impossible-to-relate-to sort. Current culture's definition of a romantic movie usually includes either an over-sexualized, possibly twisted version of romantic love that tends to end with someone dying in a somewhat implausible way (e.g., One Day) OR it's a silly romp with an outlandish story that everyone who sees it hopes will never, ever happen to them (e.g., Knight and Day). And, isn't hoping "it could happen to you" part of the loveliness of a romantic story?

In case you're wondering, when I say the words "romantic movie," I have in mind something like Pride and Prejudice, An Affair to Remember, The Sound of Music, Life is Beautiful, The Young Victoria, Jane Eyre, Shadowlands, Out of Africa, etc. I might even include less classic movies like About Time, Sleepless in Seattle, The Notebook, You've Got Mail, and Notting Hill.

But, as you've probably  noticed, Hollywood doesn't seem to make actual romantic movies anymore. It makes Bridesmaids and Sex Tape in lieu of romantic comedies and weaves weirdly dark stories like Atonement and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby as substitutes for romantic dramas.

And as a person who loves a genuinely beautiful love story and is happy to spend a little time captivated by a romantic tale that transcends the current moment and suspends reality for a couple hours, the new definition of romance in Hollywood film is more than a little disheartening.

And so here we come to the part where I talk about how you should grab up your people (the ones who are old enough to sit still for approximately 105 minutes), fill your pockets with M&M's and Smarties and run to the theater while Cinderella is still playing on the proverbial big screen.

I absolutely won't be able to come close to summarizing the beauty and magic of Kenneth Branaugh's version of Cinderella for you, but I can note a few reasons that this new telling of an old fairytale is thoroughly mesmerizing and worth your time (and a $12 ticket).

For starters, the actress who plays Cinderella is lovely and childlike and believably good, without feeling overly sweet. The affectionate relationship that she and her parents share is portrayed beautifully and evokes a sense of true affection and total trust that is rare in movies. Similarly, the father/son relationship between the prince and the king is warm and kind and sincere. I so want my children to see relationships like these portrayed in the movies they watch and the stories they read, rather than the unbalanced, frenetic family relationships of the characters in most movies and tv sitcoms.

The romance between Cinderella and Prince Charming is simple and innocent in the best ways without the pruriency or overt sexuality normally played out in romantic movies today. Cinderella is demure and wholesome and the prince is respectful but determined in his pursuit of her. It's a lovely picture of an honorable man pursuing a pure-hearted woman as a treasure rather than a trophy.

The last element of this movie that I'll mention is Cinderella's lack of hatefulness or desire for revenge toward her absurdly cruel stepmother and silly, selfish stepsisters. Despite their absolute lack of kindness or love for her, Cinderella forgives them, unprompted and without irony. (And on that note, this is your reminder to bring a pocketful of kleenexes to this movie.)

Instead of a psuedo-romantic story that repeats the same tawdry tale of love replaced by lust and beauty sullied by waste and disillusionment, this movie offers a brave heroine whose goodness and hopeful heart withstand significant losses. If you're hoping for a story that is a slight glimpse into what purity of heart, genuine affection, sincere forgiveness, and a simple picture of redemption can look like, then this film will not disappoint.

I can't help but add a Frederick Buechner quote that I read this past week which, I think, somewhat sums up the story of this girl named Cinderella, and perhaps any good story that has a hint of the gospel in it (which is, in fact, every redemptive story).

"This is the world. Beautiful and Terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid." 

Life is full of lost loved ones, cruel stepmothers, disappointed hopes, and thankless work. But, the truth is that everything is being redeemed, often long before we can see it happening. In the end, all of the cruel and terrible things will be undone and will be replaced with what is good and true and beautiful. Like Cinderella, redemption is at the end of our story, too. And, so, like Buechner said, we need not be afraid.

"Every true story borrows its power from the gospel."  Cinderella is one of those stories.


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