Chapter 11: still a grump
I have these pants that are pretty much hideous, a highly unflattering pair of khakis. Once, with sandals and a summer top and in a certain mirror, they looked cute and fun, so I keep wearing them in the hope that they will magically become the pants I so want them to be. Then they ride up, they're too baggy, too short, a bad colour. Wearing them puts me in a bad mood and makes me uncomfortable all day. I basically hate them – and yet I persevere. Maybe the problem is that they're really not for winter? Maybe without heavy shoes and a long coat they will be okay again? Another good reason to hurry up with the good weather, Lyon; help a girl out here.
For those of you who are starting to believe all this feminism hype, are getting too comfortable in your bodies and need to be knocked down a peg or two, I recommend the European ice skating championships. Have you seen these girls? Flipping around in the air like that, their partners holding them up with one hand? WHILE skating? On the other hand, one pair missed a lift and he dropped her on her face. It was terrifying, obviously very painful, nearly a broken neck. Is it worth being all cute and flippy just to be dropped on your face on the ice in front of thousands of people? Certainly not! Back to the cookie drawer!
One of my schools is completely disorganized: I never know if there will be a classroom available, if I even have a class, if I'll have to babysit the kids through a presentation of future job possibilities or if the teacher will have a whole folder of activities that I am expected to make happen. For this reason, I keep a little stash in my locker which I call "For When I Am Desperate," mostly a collection of crosswords and fill-in-the-blanks songs.
Last week a teacher was absent and the kids who showed up were unsure of whether or not they had to be there. I assured them that the skippers would be punished and so they were relieved to have made the right decision and looked forward to a fun, unstructured class. They were almost deliriously happy when they saw me prepare the tape player and got their pens out, all excited and ready to hear something cool, possibly by Snoop Dogg. Why did they think I would suddenly be hip? Did they imagine I had undergone some kind of transformation over the holidays? The last song we did together was Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" and I had to play it once through just to let them get their giggles out before even handing out the lyric sheets. (In a shameful attempt at redeeming myself in their eyes – their cruel, judgemental, junior high eyes – I casually mentioned that the song had been sampled by the likes of Janet Jackson, among others. They were slightly impressed but still thought my beloved Joni was dorky.)
You want to know how to have a good laugh? Let your students believe that they're about to hear cool, young, American music, that you've even given them the lyrics, that they will spend your hour together talking about booty and bling-bling, and then play Donovan's "Universal Soldier" and watch their faces crash in disappointment and horror. What is this folk guitar? Why is he singing like this? Why is it so slow? Why are you doing this to us? It's even better when you've filled in the missing words and get to talk about the meaning behind Donovan's ballad. Tell me, my sweet students, what do you think of war? Is the soldier truly noble? Or is he the problem? Discuss.
A funny translation moment: after the holidays I met yet another class for the first time, so I introduced myself and they had to ask as many questions as they could properly form. (By properly, of course, I mean "even slightly in the right direction with hopefully at least two English words included.") As per usual, they asked my age ("do you old?") and my background ("what do -- comment est-ce qu'on dit 'pays'? -- What do you 'pays'?") Then one boy asked if I had a boyfriend, which is "un petit ami" in French. How cute is this: "you 'ave a little friend?"
That same class has a new boy in it, Alexander, the talk of the town. He's from St. Martin and is nearly impossible to understand in both French and English. (I don't know why this is; the St. Martiners I met all spoke an easy and musical English and their French was the same as the Guadeloupans; I guess this Alexander is just a mumbler.) He was very excited to meet me, hoping to finally have someone to communicate with, but alas, it is not to be. I have to lip-read and guess and I usually still answer something that has nothing to do with what he said; he's a puzzled as I am and our conversation is limited at best. I name-dropped Guadeloupe in some effort to seem like a comrade in arms, I guess, but that made it even worse because he has family there and wanted to talk about it and I had NO IDEA what was going on. I was too shy to whip out my limited Creole but I have a plan: I have been practicing with Franck and have developed a whole repertoire of friendly Creole dialogue; next time I see Alexander I'm going to impress him with how hard-core I am. Ca caille, 'ti-mal? Yes-I.
And then I realized that I truly am difficult to please and just generally crotchety. I run a lunchtime club for eager-beaver kids who want to play games and do activities in English. It's really not a lot of fun and I don't understand why they keep coming back, as we have to have a "written trace" to impress the parents and so it's mostly writing and homework and that's just not anyone's party. Plus, they're generally hyper and in recess-mode, having just gobbled up their lunches in fifteen minutes to be able to come to the club, so for me it's The Discipline Hour and I can't wait for it to end.
Last week there was a winter camp and I only had four kids out of eighteen, all girls. We played some Simon Says and other such things, and then they got hold of the coloured chalk and went to town on the blackboard. They drew flowers, hearts, princesses -- the usual -- and then they started writing all these nice things about me: "We love you Kathryn," "Katreen, you're the best," "don't ever leave," "you have nice hair," and so on and so forth. Was I flattered? Sure, a little. Was I touched? I guess so, out of obligation. Mostly, I was just grossed out: stop being so girly! Stop drawing hearts! Your flowers make me sick!
I don't know when I went from being a girly-girl -- ballet, pink wallpaper, hearts dotting my "i"s and crushes on every boy who wasn't a blood relative -- to hating them, but that seems to be what has happened. You don't love me, you won't miss me, you're just girly and want to write pretty things on the board and suck up to the first available older girl, which happens to be me this year. And I think it's gross. Bring the boys back! Get some testosterone in this classroom! God help any daughter of mine who becomes a girly-girl, you mark my words.
Elise, my nine-year-old tutoree, decided last week that we should start doing plays, rather than the workbooks her mother got for her. I saw a puppet show stage set up and thought she meant that we would be writing stories, then practicing and performing them, which I agreed was an excellent way to speak English together. It turned out, however, that the puppet house was incidental and the real play was the two of us in this elaborate make-believe session she had dreamt up. The basic scenario was that I was a beggar, poor and cold, and she passed by me on her way home from a manicure. She recognized me from her grade one class and took pity on me, invited me for tea and cake and decided to change my life. She created a mansion for me and a baby and chose me a wonderful husband, the perfect life; however, it was all dependent on my wearing the magic dress she had given me. Without it, I would return, Cinderella-like, to the street, never to taste happiness again.
She selected a few dresses from her closet and told me to choose one, not quite grasping the fact that she is a small nine-year-old girl and most of her dresses would not fit on my left thigh. She insisted, though, and we found this pink dressing gown that I could wear if I took off my sweater and abandoned all pride. She put make-up on me and did my hair -- in an extravagant twist that she claimed she had seen on a runway model -- gave me a fancy purse and sunglasses to wear on my head, and then said "now you're starting to get pretty." Zing! The play went well enough, my lowest moment being when her mom looked in to see how we were doing. Elise, like most nine-year-old girls, is curious about bodies and chests and things; she was very pleased with my new look, stuffed as I was into my magical dressing gown. Her mother, however, was less impressed. I felt hideous. Hideous Chesty McGee.
The play suddenly took a strange turn and Elise was trying to kill me, something about poison and a sword. Only she would never let me come up with my own lines. "No, Kathryn. You say: 'Elise, you're so beautiful! I wish I could be just like you! I'm so jealous of you!'" I told her she was unrealistic -- why would I be jealous of her when I was the one with the mansion, the perfect husband and the fantastic hair? -- and she said the play was her idea so she could decide how it went. I told her she was bossy and I took my bag and went home.
Yesterday's play started as a restaurant scene and then morphed into her dancing to the new Madonna cd and "teaching me the steps." There was obviously little English involved and I had to put my foot down, afraid her mom would come in and ask me what exactly she was paying me for. The dance session was ultimately abandoned as an "unsuccessful tutoring activity," though she had this one really happening move, up on her toes and kind of twisting, that I plan to use next time I go dancing. Tutoring's the best.
More up my alley was the morning I spent babysitting the nine-month-old daughter of a colleague: I don't imagine any of you want to hear me go on and on about the bajillion amazing and delightful things a baby can come up with in the course of four hours, so suffice it to say that it set my personal little clock ticking even harder and faster than before. For the last time, girls, could somebody please have a baby already? What are you all waiting for?
Finally, you can all rest assured that I am in perfectly good health. I've had this bump under my jaw since last summer and since I tend to be overly unconcerned with suspicious bodily activity, I didn't worry about it and trusted that everything would work itself out and the bump would disappear. (Interestingly, I have little to no general medical knowledge; one might wonder on what I was basing such trust?) Recently, however, I got to thinking: it hasn't disappeared yet and in fact is a little tender to the touch... Panic ensued. I booked an appointment at a medical clinic and started planning the letter I would have to write to my schools, explaining that I had to go home for emergency treatment and possibly have my jaw removed. The clinic is ten minutes from my house but I left a full hour before my appointment in case they could fit me in sooner. I sat in the waiting room, whimpering, until the doctor finally opened the door and invited me in. He jotted down some basic information, checked blood pressure and heart, and then felt around my jaw for five seconds and said "oh, these are 'ganglions.' Everyone has them. Here, feel mine." I think they're nodes? Is that right? Is that what lymph nodes are? Near the jaw and mobile, like mine, is exactly right; you worry if they're lower down and hard. They're tender because you must have a cold coming on, they're pretty much forever and you don't need to worry about them. And that was that.
Meanwhile, I don't like going to male doctors and wondered if I should hold out for the next available woman, but this turned out to be the single nicest man on the planet and all I can do is hope to get sick before the end of the year so that I have a reason to go see him. So friendly! So cute and enthusiastic, trying out his English. His name is John! Not Jean or Jacques, but John! I would like him to be my neighbour or possibly my cousin. I'm considering inviting him for dinner -- would that be weird? God, I love that John. He's the best.
We've had some sunny days and they make everything just so much better. But then tonight there's a concert that a colleague of mine organized and enthusiastically invited me to and I feel bad not going. The flyer features names such as "DJ Flytrap" and I'm dreading the whole evening, but Franck's into it and we can at least make an appearance and then go for a ride on the big ferris wheel they've set up downtown: now that's what I call a good time.