Monday, April 26, 2010

Twenty eager faces

....are waiting by the library door before the bell signifying the end of lunch has rung.

I'm equally flattered and afraid. My neck is hurting so much after the busy morning that even holding a lever arch file of notes in my left hand and draping my shoulder bag from my right is barely enough to keep me balanced and upright enough to smile at them all.

Must.... Not.... Swear.... even if the tiniest movement sends waves that of pain so severe I can taste the ominous sloshing of bile in the back of my throat. Sweat beads collect under my eyes as I very carefully place my gear on a spare chair, lowering myself by bending my knees and nothing else.

The room feels like a car that's been left out in the full sun except that there's no air-con dial or window winder to reach for to improve things. How the hell am I going to entertain and encourage these kids today?

Sapphire's at the table furthest away from me and she mouths silently, 'COMPUTERS, Mum, COMPUTERS!'

Bless her for reminding me. "Kids, the laptops are booked, so I want you to go to the IT room and sign out one each and return back to the library as soon as you can." A lonely piece of paper flutters gently to the floor in their wake.

Ah yes, this is the lesson where I said I wanted to see their Killer Opening Sentence, a Five-Point Plan (courtesy of my home-made handouts) and a start on their first chapter. For the two minutes of solitude I'm given I lean up against the wall with my eyes closed, pushing the bile back down with every deep gulp of stale air.

They're back, chattering happily as they log on. Thank god they're all computer savvy and have remembered their USB sticks in order to save their work.

I shuffle around, teetering forward from the hips so that my back and neck stays straight as I read over their shoulders. "Ben, you've called your book 'The Elemental Dragon'. That sounds pretty intriguing, but you do you know what 'elemental' means?"

He shakes his head.

"No? Well --- yes that's right, look it up on the online dictionary and then decide if it's how your dragon really is...." (Thank god he didn't ask me to define it)

"Yes, um Lucy, isn't it - I guess you can start and finish your novel using the exact same sentence as long as you can convince your readers and me, your editor, that there's real meaning in the ending."

"Sorry Nate, I'm not wincing at your work, it's just that something's wrong with my neck and I shouldn't have just automatically bent down to pick up the whiteboard marker before taking a deep breath and lowering myself down without moving my torso.... I like your sentence 'He was in the jungle and heard a hissing noise', I really do."

"Um, Emma? Writing your first sentence in size-72 font isn't going to convince me that you've been working all that hard today."

Flynn is the blow-fly of the class, buzzing around trying to distract others, to get them to laugh at his silly characters and dumb story ideas. Humouring him hasn't worked, nor has some special one-on-one time where he's been asked to explain to me what he'd really like to write about. He's out of his seat again, this time flicking the back of Otto's chair.

I want to lie down on a hard floor in the dark but know that if I set my limit now, it'll be worse next week. I tighten my already too-thin lips into a white line. "Flynn this is the third time I've asked you to sit down and stop bothering Otto. If you don't sit down and start working in -----" I look down - PHARK! Even that simple move hurts! - at my watch "------ in three seconds, I'll take you to the principal's office and you can explain to her exactly why you don't want to be one of the 20 children selected out of a school of 440 to write a novel."

It comes out a bit harsher and louder than I'd planned, but my damn neck, the stiflingly over-heated transportable hot box with the low ceiling and the afternoon sun bouncing straight off the reception windows into my watering eyes and the frankly-rather-enviable energy of the pest in question makes me do it.

Now cowed, he sits in his chair meekly and keeps his head down, busily writing for the rest of the session and keen to avoid any more of my attention. I can see that his cheeks are red and he's not used to being yelled at. I was that kid once, too. Being scolded in school was rare and it hurt. Stuff him, I was in too much agony just managing to keep my own throbbing melon head upright on my spinal column to care.

Pencils industriously scratch on paper, feet kick against table legs and keys are tapped. I continue to do the rounds, having worked out that a gentle walk relieves the pain by half a notch and that I can have a quiet chat with each child about their work. Their enthusiasm to get into it fills me with gratitude.

All too soon the lesson ends and the inevitable pass-the-parcel of forgotten notebooks, abandoned worksheets, tiny rubber roll piles of erased sentences, dropped pencils and chaotically shared data-sticks are played. The Kumon tutor waits patiently for us to clear out so that she can set up.

Sapphire runs to get her school bag from her home-room and I lean up against the outside gate, the weariness of the day still torturously travelling its evil way down my neck and back. She holds my hand and chatters about the class. "Lee thinks you're hilarious and I had to explain that when you told him to 'vomit it out' that you just meant to write down much as you can to get it out of your brain and worry about the corrections and spelling later."

I nod - PHARK! The Agony! - at her sensible translation as we walk slowly home.

She makes me a cup of herbal tea and nukes my wheat bag several times. Milly's nudging my leg, eager for our now-nightly walk around the block on litter ninja duties, but the panadeine's not working. I drop one hand down to ruffle her ears, hoping that it will suffice for tonight.

Love Chunks eventually rides in, and sees from my face that the day has been long and painful. With the distant strains of Sapphire's viola floating up the hall, he jokes, "So I guess some hot sex resulting in your head being rhythmically slammed against the headboard is out of the question then?"

His smile slides when I burst into self-pitying
tears. I don't do pain (or ageing) well.


Elisabeth said...

Oh dear, oh dear, but you write such a terrific description of all your suffering, I almost want it to go on.

No. No, of course I don't.

I hear about your daughter reheating the wheat bag though and I wonder have you noticed a number of comments rolling into your last post that have recommended you get off the heat and onto the ice?

Maybe that would not work for you, and maybe you have been well advised otherwise, but it sounds so dreadful we all want you out of your misery.

Still it is a wonder you can manage such a wonderful, witty piece of writing about the joys of neck pain while teaching young ones to write.

You must have 'elemental' patience.

Wally The Walrus said...

I had a small fall down the stairs on Saturday whilst carrying the washing down to put on. SWMBO was at work so just me and the chaps. Twisted ankle, scraped shin, and all twisted around and jarred. Not nice.

By Saturday evening, the left side of the neck was sending such strong spikes of pain up through my head I could barely move, eat, just wanted to die.

1 ibuprofen and 2 hours of sleep on an ice pack, and it was immensely better. By Sunday - fixed. Good enough to cook for guests for dinner, including making bread.

Ice seems to work pretty much every time. The only downside is you get a bit cold. An extra blanket helps there.

Todays word verification: Mulstle. Odd...

nuttynoton said...

r sprains if that is what you are suffering with your neck muscle I was always told my mum to alternate ice and then something hot, not sure what your skin would make of it but it may be worth a try, thought the article was brilliant, keep it up we want more!

Baino said...

Well I admire you for turning up in the first place, a lesser soul would have spent the day on her back with several wheat packs. Frankly, it's gone on long enough, you need to see a physio and quick!

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks Elisabeth - yes, the ice advice was something I read about *after* my neck had eased enough to be able to sit at the computer, so I'll know for next time. Ice and voltaren and maybe an appointment with a chiropractor.

Oh Wally, that sounds really awful: "I could barely move, eat, I just wanted to die." That sums it up perfectly!

Nutty, I'll do what the kindly commenters say, I promise.

Baino - you are sort of right. It's better now (or I wouldn't be sitting here writing this) but if it gets that bad again, I'll be seeking help and NOT putting up with it, I assure you. I crick my neck quite frequently and just endure it because it usually goes away of its own accord in a day or so, but last weeks' torture was new and hopefully not an indicator of how things are going to be from now on....

Rowe said...

I always tell Sum's dad that if we don't scold her from time to time (when it's necessary) she will be running our lives. No adult wants any child ruling their world. You do feel guilty about it, but look at the desired result - Flynn sat down, shut up and took notice. Too bad you had to forego the head banging episode, Kath. Hope you are better by the next game of footy on TV for some half time shenaniganism.
I'd also highly recommend Helen's physio suggestion Kath - I went to see one a little while ago for my arm out of whack and she gave me some simple, easy to do exercises that reduced the strain and the pain. She wanted me to come back for one or two more visits, but I persisted with the exercises and just the one visit sufficed.

franzy said...

I read!
I like!

What's so bad about Flynn that having a kid actually called 'Otto' in this post-Simpsons age couldn't trump?
What were his crap story ideas?

River said...

I'm sorry that your pain is resisting the panadeine, have you tried lying flat without a pillow and having your legs raised? Sometimes it relieves spinal pressure. And I would say that sex is most definitely out of the question. Have you seen a doctor yet?

YoungW21087 said...


Pandora Behr said...

Hope that neck of yours has mended. How you function with it I will never know.

Helen said...

that sounds painful! I hope it gets better soon... I get ansty migranes that stretch to neck-spasm sometimes, and I find that muscle relaxants and two days of being a zombie are worth the pain relief!

It sounds like a fun workshop, the kids are lucky to have you!

The Plastic Mancunian said...

G'Day Kath,

"Vomit it out" - I love it!!