Monday, May 5, 2008

Magic Buses and Singing Cows

On Saturday night we watched the latest movie from our netflix queue, Into the Wild, and it is still haunting me. Have you seen it? I keep trying to figure out what about the movie has me feeling so unraveled. I think it probably has something to do with having a son and imagining him running away and doing something so foolish/brave as trying to live on his own in the middle of the wilderness of Alaska. I think the movie touches on a parent's biggest fear: losing a child. But this case is worse because the child wants to be lost. And you can't even blame drugs or mental illness or anything. The main character, Chris (a.k.a. Alex), is a very intelligent, sensitive young man who wants to detach himself from his past and upbringing and parents so much that he destroys anything with his name on it, gives himself a new identity and disappears into the snow. Is there anything more nightmarish as a parent? The movie is not just about him living in an abandoned school bus in Alaska, though. It also tells the story of his gypsy-like journey across America to Alaska. Along the way he meets all sorts of characters who teach him how to be a better person/nomad in some way, and who he touches with his charismatic love of the wild (and literature about the wild). He cannon balls off of cliffs into beautiful rivers, he kayaks his way to Mexico, camps in the exquisite starkness of the desert. His journey is like one Ansel Adams photograph after another, portraying the utter gorgeousness of the American landscape. You can totally see how he would want to keep wandering forever.

Coincidentally, I also stumbled across a new blog after seeing this movie. The blog details a family's account of selling/donating all of their possessions so that they can live out of a school bus with their two small children. Their plan is to travel the country trading their plant and flower tinctures for other services from like-minded individuals. This of course led me to a host of other blogs who are also written by people living out of school buses with their small children. So I guess these buses all must come equipped with wi-fi?

As a family, we have done our share of wandering, having moved almost every year for the last six years. (Granted, the closest we've come to living out of a school bus is living in corporate housing for a few months.) As someone who has lived in an apartment or a townhouse for the last several years, the idea of living off the land and raising my children like little nymphs in the forest sounds sort of appealing. I think I might just settle for a back yard, though. The school bus bloggers write about their vision of raising their kids in a sort of Utopian society where everyone's needs are met, everyone loves and respects each other, the earth and the universe, and people are allowed to live off the bounty of nature and their yarn crafts... But what happens when someone gets bitten by a tick and you need to go to the pediatrician? Will the doctor really want to trade his services for a pair of felt moccasins? Or what happens when your child becomes old enough to decide for themselves what they want their life to be...what their version of "utopia" is? Will their idea of going into the wild be running off to business school? That'll show Mom and Dad! One way or another, no matter what you do, are your children going to run away from you? Won't there always be something to worry about? Is it really possible to escape the human condition with a magic bus?

Lately, in our house, you will be doing something, maybe you're downstairs typing on the computer, or in the kitchen washing vegetables, or in the bedroom sorting laundry, when all of the sudden you hear a faint whistling coming from Emma and Charlie's bedroom. You realize you recognize the tune that is being whistled, and that the tune is "Don't Worry. Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin. (go on, click over to that youtube link...and don't forget to turn up the will make nice background music for the rest of this post.) Anyway, you will hear that music and know that Charlie is in his room pressing the hoof of his new stuffed cow that inexplicably sings "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Ever since his Gigi bought him the singing stuffed cow, he can be found in his room listening to that song, much the way I listened to 10,000 Maniacs' "These Are Days" over and over again in my college dorm room. "Don't Worry, Be Happy" is now like the theme song of our house and I have to say, hearing that tune drift down the stairs into whatever room of the house I'm in always brings a smile to my face. That's nice, Elizabeth, you're thinking, but what does this have to do with Into the Wild and living in school buses? Well, I'll tell you. I want to write to those school bus people and tell them that they don't have to live in a bus to find peace and happiness. That it is all around them. That there are singing cows around every corner and that the world is filled with so much love that it is like a balloon with too much air in it. When I stop and look at the world through my children's eyes, I can see things this way. Charlie's song reminds me of that and it makes me want to cry when I hear it...not just from pregnancy hormones either...but because I realize I am happy. Right here where I am. No school bus required.


Suzanne said...

Wow. Your post reminds me of Phillipians 4:12--the secret of being content in any and every situation. What a great place to be.

Elizabeth said...

Well....I'm not there all the time, but I'm trying to be better at it.

Thanks for reminding me of this verse. Here it is for anyone who's curious:
4:12 I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. 4:13 I am able to do all things 9 through the one who strengthens me.

Anonymous said...

I was haunted by the movie, too. And so sad that apparently the protagonist had decided to re-join civilization when he ate that bad berry (sorry if I'm ruining it for anyone). It makes me tear up just thinking about it! Of course, I cried out loud while reading Clara The Giving Tree today. And I don't have a pregnancy to blame it on. RAK

gwen said...

I just added that movie to my Netflix queue, although admittedly with a little trepedation after hearing your description of it last night. But it sounds like it's worth it for just a little bit of that perspective.

mdm said...

You may know this now. You will truly know it later.

Now, you take some sense of satisfaction and pride and joy in seeing and hearing your young children grow to the next point.

Later, when they are grown and gone from your constant involvement, you'll take some sense of stisfaction and pride and joy in knowing what and who they've become and in knowing that while they no longer have to have you, they still need you.

There, if not present.

P.S. What are all things 9?

Elizabeth said...

You don't know your Bible very well, apparently, mdm. You don't know about all things 9? Ummm....all things 9 would be a typo. Inexcusable on my part. Sorry. : (

Anonymous said...

I was witness to a slightly heated debate among a small group of mothers at a "volunteer appreciation" brunch yesterday. Two of the mothers were talking proudly about their plans to send their oldest children off to the small local college prep school in the next 2 years. They were discussing the belief of needing to prepare the kids to have to work hard in order to go to a "good" college and succeed. Truly they believe that providing this experience will make life better for their children.

Another mother walked up and announced that her oldest was leaving for college in the fall. She was very proud of her son, who had attended only public schools, including the very over-crowded and extremely diverse high school, and would be attending Yale in the fall. She obviously has much to brag about. However, she went on to tell us (lecture us, really) about how it was wrong to send your children to a private preparatory school and protect them from the reality that they will experience through the public school. Also, that if you are worried about getting your child into a "good" college, that her experience was case in point that it could be achieved through the public school system. She turned on her heels convinced that she had put us all in our place and when I turned back to the other mom's they both kind of hmmphed with a "well, I never!" look.

Of course, I will never know how well-prepared either side's kids will be for their college experience, or how happy they will be for the path that was provided for them. Both sides are arguable and rational. In the end, we have to make choices for ourselves and our children that allow us to sleep at night. We have to know our children and family life that are unique and do our best so that we can let go when the time comes. The fact is private school, public school, home school, or school two children will have exactly the same experience. We can't guarantee anything, but we can give them our best.

All I know for sure is that my best would not happen on a school bus!!

Thanks for the fodder,