Your Grandson

Hey Dad.

Sometimes when I miss you I miss you for me.  I miss you because I find something beautiful in a book that reminds me of you and I want your perspective on it.  I miss you because I haven’t gotten a Dad-hug in a long time.  I miss you because sometimes it feels like I don’t remember you enough and I want that impossible refresher.

Sometimes when I miss you I miss you for someone else.  I miss you because I have a conversation with a sibling and I know that you were far more equipped to listen to them than I could ever hope to be.  I miss you because I want you and Mom to be living together at 581,  joking ever more seriously about moving to Covenant Village.  I miss you because I know you influenced strangers, family and friends alike in powerful ways and I want the world to be one person better again.

And sometimes I miss you for you.  I miss you because there are things happening and people existing that you would love and I wish that you could experience all of those things and people.

I want to tell you about one of them.

This is Axel.

He is one of your grandchildren.  The only one (so far) that you didn’t get to meet.

There are a lot of things that make Axel special.  He is energetic.  He loves people.  He’s only three, but he splits his time between the kids and the adults during family gatherings because he enjoys both.  He loves to play sports and games.  He’s goofy and creative.

And one of the qualities that I think you would love the most: Axel has an ear and a love for stories.

Just like you did.

Your daughters were being put to bed after a long day of playing.  We took a bath together and you, Dad, you poured more than one cup of freezing cold water onto our heads from behind the shower curtain.  Your laughs and our squeals, which were half delighted and half indignant, echoed around the bathroom.  You pulled each of us out of the tub individually and wrapped us head to foot, in thick, soft towels, until we stopped shivering and put on our pajamas.

We congregated on the bed.  Some of us were tucked under thick blankets, others sat on top of the sheets, savoring every last moment of freedom until bed time actually required sleeping. 

“What story do you want tonight?”  

“The scary man who ate oranges whole!”
“The junkyard story!  Tell the junkyard story with the creepy spyglass!”
“The story about the pigs!  The runt and the corn cobs!”

You laughed as we barraged you with an indecipherable cacophony of favorite stories.  Our suggestions turned into an eager silence and we stared up at your bearded face, expectant and excited.

“Why don’t we make up a story together?” you suggested.

And we did.  We arranged ourselves in a circle and, one sentence at a time we told a story that had never been told before and would never be heard again.

Over Easter weekend I noticed that Axel was always looking for a story.  We dyed Easter eggs Saturday morning at Heather and Chad’s house.  After we had finished staining our fingers in every pastel imaginable, Axel crawled into my lap and we looked at the USA place mat in front of us.  First we looked at the blank side and tried to remember the names of each state and then I started telling a story about a trip I had taken.

The story was nothing more than a mosaic, a patchwork quilt.  I told snippets and vignettes from the roadtrip Evie and I took a few years back and bits and pieces of my hitchhiking trip.  Each tidbit was attached to the last by the thin, invisible line I drew with my finger from one dot on the map to the next.  Evie joined in the story telling as well and soon the whole table was involved in the story.  Axel, specifically, couldn’t get enough.  At the conclusion of each story he would look up to either me or Evie and ask for the next part.

Axel, Jacob and I eventually started making up stories of our own. We told each other about our births at the bottom of the ocean or Lake Superior, where we found ourselves stuck in bubbles that rose slowly to the surface.  We spared no detail in the arduous journey from seafloor to sunshine, and our histories after our bubbles popped on the cresting waves were filled with robots and monsters and cows…I’m sure you would have had something fun to add.  I can imagine the smile that would have been on your face and hear your chuckle as you added new, fantastic elements to our ridiculously fun stories.

On Easter night Kaijsa, Axel and I sat outside old 581 and stared at the stars.  I asked them what they saw.  Kaijsa found a question mark that was actually the Big Dipper, which I loved.  Fresh eyes find new stories in the skies.  The call to follow the big dipper north has faded and we are left with an ethereal question mark in the sky instead.

After they told me what they saw, I told them what I had learned.  I told them about the big dipper and how it had been utilized on ships and secret, trackless railroads.  Kaijsa went inside, but Axel couldn’t get enough.  I told him that there was a W in the sky that some people thought looked like a chair and that in that chair there sits a beautiful, starry woman named Cassiopeia who is made of light and if you get close enough to her your eyes will not be able to focus.  Not because of the light, though that is powerful, but because of her beauty.  We also established that even though she was gorgeous, she wasn’t very nice.  So she sits in the sky as punishment, halfway between punishment and glory.

I pointed out Orion, with his shining belt, and told them (Kaijsa rejoined the storytelling party eventually) a wildly inaccurate story about who Orion was and what he did to deserve a seat in the stars.  (I didn’t mean to be inaccurate.  I just forgot the story and mine was more heroic and fun to reenact than the original, anyways.)  The three of us ran around in the grass, pointing into the heavens and screeching truths and giggling lies and becoming a part of the story, of the constellation, that existed for thousands of years before us.

You would have loved it.

I wish you were still here so you could tell all of your grandchildren, especially Axel, stories of your childhood.  I wish you were still here so you could create new stories with the four of them (and me, if you’d allow another adult to join you  :D).

I wish this for them, in part, but mostly I wish it for you.  I wish it for you because stories were an important part of how you interacted with the world and I wish you could see that love of stories continued in the grandson you never got to meet.


Stop Crying

I babysit a lot. 

I like to think that I’m pretty good at it.  The kids are usually excited when I get there and disappointed when I leave, which seems like a good sign to me.

Of all the time that I spend with kids, I would say that maybe 5% of our time is spent watching television or playing video games.  And I only say 5% because it’s a nice sounding number…it’s probably less than that.  More often we are at the park, doing crafts, playing barbies, writing stories, dancing, singing, reading books or baking things in the kitchen.  I rarely have the kids play by themselves and do something on my own (which some babysitters evidently think is alright?)  If they have friends over or have made a new friend at the park, I will back off so they can play on their own, but I never make them play alone. 

I don’t think that I have ever yelled at a kid.  Spoken strongly and seriously with lots of eye contact, yes, but even that rarely happens.  We are usually homies and when I ask them to do something or not to do something they are usually respectful and acquiesce immediately.

I try really hard to only shape kids in positive ways.  I try to tell them that they are hard workers and adventurous and creative instead of labeling them with qualities that don’t require effort (like smart or beautiful…this is one of the hardest ones for me, though).  I push them to try things that they are nervous about (ie climbing higher or more creatively on play equipment).  I prove to them that their little scrapes aren’t as bad as they think by asking goofy questions about their injuries and give them lots of kisses.  I encourage them to be creative by telling them made up stories and asking for one in return.  I help them think up names for bugs that scare them so they don’t seem as bad. 

In short, I try to stretch their comfort zones, increase their self-awareness and work ethic and challenge them to try new things especially if they seem different or scary.  I try really hard not to say “no” or “don’t” without first asking why and I never punish (whoohoo time outs!) without making certain that the child understands and can tell me what they did that was wrong.

Yesterday, though, I told a girl to stop crying, which I do not think I have ever done before.

We were going to play at a park for our last couple hours together.  I had talked to the kids’ mother about this park before and she said they went there every once in a while, so I figured why not?  I told the two girls that we’re going to a certain park on Lake Shore, which is exciting for the younger sister because she loves parks in general and for the older sister because she loves monkey bars, which she says are there.

A block away from the park, the moment it comes into sight, the seven year old (we shall call her Allison) stops in her tracks and declares her undying hatred for this park.  I tell her that we’ll play here for fifteen minutes and move to another one, but we’ve been walking for a while, so it would be nice to let her sister out of the stroller to play for a little while.  Allison begins to sob with huge, gasping breaths.  Her face takes on a petrified expression and she glowers at me with her huge brown eyes like I’ve suggested she play blindfolded in the middle of a highway.  And her eyes stay dry.

I try a couple different compromises, but am only greeted with excuses about why she can’t play in this park.  Almost everything that comes out of her mouth is clearly a lie.

I stop the stroller.  My nice voice disappears and I crouch down next to Allison and tell her to stop crying.  I tell her that crying is a perfectly ok thing to do, but that she is not allowed to cry because she is disappointed about a park. I tell her that when she feels a certain way about something she has to use her words and her “nice voice” to explain what she is feeling, that a breakdown is not an acceptable way of dealing with what she feels.

Now that I write it out, it doesn’t seem that bad.  In fact it reads like exactly the right thing to do.  But I felt so bad saying it.  I think Allison manipulated me with her magical puppy dog eyes.  Brown eyes should be outlawed.  They are too powerful, I tell you!  Too powerful!

As a mere point of interest…this is the same girl who, when her mother works from home while I babysit, will run to “tell on me” whenever I take her sister’s side on anything.  She also tried to tell on me when we got home yesterday.  She knows how to manipulate people and she’s cute enough that it is going to work for a long fricking time.


The Cabin in the Woods

Let’s be honest with each other for a moment.

I am an incredible pansy.

In fourth grade, for Halloween, my class watched a goosebumps movie (yes it was the creepy mask one) and I had nightmares for a month afterward.  I refused to even touch masks for a long time because I was just worried enough that they would suction themselves to my face and I would turn into a scary demon thing FOREVER.

The summer after I finished fifth grade I went to the Minnesota State Fair with my friend and her family.  Their family always went to the haunted house there, so they asked if I wanted to join.  I was scared, but I went in anyways because I didn’t want to be chicken.  I was a growed up fifth grader, goshdarnit.   Of course, my bravery lasted for mere moments upon entering.  After a minute of frozen, stone cold terror I broke into tears and sobbed my way through the rest of it.  Growed up fifth grader, indeed.

There are a couple exceptions to my otherwise pathetic horror tolerance.  I loved the first Hellraiser movie, liked the Exorcism of Emily Rose, did not suffer too badly when I watched Paranormal Activities and thought that the Orphan was effing stupid.  And I read horror frequently.

And now there we have found yet another exception to my “Zomg, horror!  Somebody save meee!” mentality.

The Cabin in the Woods:

Which isn’t entirely surprising because Joss Whedon is one of the writers and Fran Kranz and Amy Acker are both in it.


The Cabin in the Woods is a parody of horror movies in a critical and salutary way.  Even while mocking the redundant, cookie cutter format that has overtaken the horror movie genre, The Cabin in the Woods tips its metaphorical hat to underground and mainstream horror.  (Yes, that paragraph was weirdly pretentious sounding.  I’m reading House of Leaves right now…leave me alone.)

The Cabin in the Woods is the perfect balance of everything I love about Joss Whedon and everything that my uninformed self assumes a horror movies are.  Also, it gives explains the stereotyped plot and character points of modern horror movies.

Even better, it’s just straight up funny.  From the moment the title card hits the screen to the last second before the credits start to roll there is always something to laugh about.  And, typical to Whedon style (I’m sorry Drew Goddard, I know you are the director and other half of the writing team, but I haven’t seen your other stuff.  You seemed really cool at the advance screening.  :D), the jokes are mixed perfectly into a story that is just as scary as it should be, just as self-aware as is still fun, and a whole new level of supernatural.

Aaaand I don’t know what else to say.  I have deleted at least four starts to paragraphs because everything that I want to say contains a tiny, nestling piece of a spoiler that probably you wouldn’t catch until after seeing the movie…and even though I don’t think spoilers actually spoil movies… this one is the kind that you want to go in without knowing anything the first time.

That said, even though I got to see an advance screening a week ago, I will be there on opening night.


Edit (4/15/12, 9:30 am)

Quite a few people have found their way to my blog in the last few days with the search terms “house of leaves” combined with “cabin in the woods”.  Although I definitely mentioned the two of them together in this entry I was not comparing them, which I realize can be frustrating for the desperate web-searcher who just wants to know if one of their favorite things is like something new and exciting.

It’s not.  (But both are awesome!)

The following may contain a couple spoilers.  They’ll be vague but still spoily.

The house in House of Leaves has all of those strange morphing qualities.  The house itself is supernatural and it is essentially a self-sustained living thing, even if it is also reflective of the mental state of the people who inhabit it.

The cabin in The Cabin in the Woods is completely different.  The cabin is old and creepy, but definitely always stays the same size.  Everything about the cabin and the horror that rules it is fully and marvelously explainable.  And it explains more than just itself.

Aaaand for you, person who searched Cabin in the Woods with Hellraiser, The Cabin in the Woods winks at Hellraiser, but otherwise they have nothing in common.


Peripatetic Like Whoa.

It is a perfect day in Chicago today.  It’s one of those days that rests halfway between spring and summer where the sun is shining bright and warm, but the air is cool and it’s hard to decide if the sweatshirt you’re wearing is actually necessary.  It’s one of those days where you want to go outside and stay there and, contrary to what preconceived notions you might have about school, it is also a perfect day to be a Shimer student.

Near the beginning of this semester I fell in love with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.  We read about a third of it in my Social Sciences class and then moved on, which was disappointing for me.  I asked our facilitator, Aron, if he would be willing to lead an informal tutorial for interested students so we could finish the book before the semester ended.  He agreed, and since then we have met almost every Tuesday at 10:30 to discuss yet another book of the Nicomachean Ethics.

It has been phenomenal.

There are usually somewhere between three to six of us who take the time to read an extra 20 or so pages of Aristotle and meet for an approximately hour long discussion.  Sometimes we bring snacks.  Sometimes we sit outside.

Today we went for a walk, ‘cause we’re peripatetic like that.

The conversation started more casually than it usually does.  I think Alexis brought up my squirrel phobia, which led to Aron’s story of being attacked by a gang of squirrels when eating lunch one day.  Eventually, though we wove our way to the book of the Ethics that we had read and spent the next hour or so shouting over traffic and meandering through neighborhoods and parks while discussing Aristotle’s perspective on friendship.

I can say with the utmost sincerity that there is no other way that I would rather have started my day.  The conversation flowed beautifully and, despite being outside and walking, we managed to cite the text and carry on an extremely focused, rigorous and interesting conversation about a beautiful piece of philosophy.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that very few other schools have peripatetic philosophy days.

Ra-ra Shimer.

I’m going to go write an essay outside now.