Thursday, May 06, 2010

Double punch

"I hate her," Sapphire said on the phone to her father just as I was leaving the room.

She'd been at home with me for three days, getting over another bad cold - nasty little lurgies too easy to catch due to the lingering weaknesses still felt by whooping cough and allergies. Her face was ravaged and sore from the almost-constant friction of tissues and she sweated each time a fit of coughing came on.

Today was Day Three At Home, still necessary due to Sapph's persistent symptoms. She sank back gratefully on the lounge, looking ever so small and forlorn. Red blankie was pulled up to her chin as she eased herself upright to drink some green tea and eat some vegemite toast. "Thanks Mum," she smiled. My heart pounded extra hard: I felt privileged to serve her.

We watched a few episodes of 'Frasier' together, me knitting and she with a clutch of damp tissues in her hand, laughing together. After lunch of vegetarian pasta in a basil tomato sauce ("This is delicious, Mum! Do you make yourself lunches like this every day?") we chatted about the Writers' Workshop I was due to run at 2:30pm.

I phoned the school. Yes, I'd still be running it, but Sapph was still sick. Was it OK if I brought her along and sat her away from the others, on her own, near a private stash of tissues?

We arrived ten minutes before the end-of-lunch bell rang. Our laptop is slow at the best of times, and Sapph didn't want to risk spending the lesson watching a bouncing hour glass on a blue screen.

The kids streamed in. "Can I go to the IT room and get a lap top Kath?"
"I'm sitting at the terminal right here - can you save it for me?"
"I didn't get the email you sent!"
"Why do I have to describe what the Blob thingy looked like?"
"Can I get my pencil case?"
"Kath, Otto's forgotten about it today - can I go over to his class to get him?"

Fourteen of them had emailed me their writing during the week and I'd spent several hours reading them, adding inserts with questions, suggestions and encouragements to get them to expand their writing.

"How did you kill that Ninja?"
"Is 'Booboo' really the right name for an eleven year old boy?"
"Why does he want to be a netballer and wear purple?"
"I love how you've written that you've found five kilograms of gold, but how did you sneak it out of the mine?"
"Does your teacher realise that you're a ghost if you're still in class doing algebra?"

The trouble is, Thursday afternoon at 2:30pm is a bullfrog's arse-of-time to get kids ready to write. They're tired, a bit 'ratty' after a warm lunch time and have a small window of freedom away from their all-knowing class teachers to sit back and goof off.

I realised all this. However, I also realised that we only had two more sessions left; a principal who insisted on them all producing a printed novel by the end of term and had announced that goal to all and sundry; no IT person around to help the kids with recalcitrant laptops and the same two little blowflies who continued to bother everyone around them. Noise, movement and heat started to rise and my smile started to hurt. Damnit, I was catching Sapphire's lurgy.

Several times I tried tackling the two blowflies individually. "L, I like what you've written here, but that was from last week and we'd already talked about how you'll need to put in a few more descriptions, like what country you're in, why you're mining gold and who the actual natives are. How about you put your seat back by the desk and start handwriting - yeah, I know the computer's stuffed - some quick ideas?"

Blowfly two, E, was busy giggling, with her back to me. I tapped her on the shoulder. "Have you got the computer working yet, E?"
"What about your writing book, did you bring that?"
"Well, while you're waiting for the computer to start, I'd like you to borrow a sheet of paper - here's some, take it - and start jotting down the plan of your story."
"Your PLAN. The thing I've now mentioned to you four weeks in a row now. Writing one sentence in size 72 font isn't what I call a story plan." I do my best to meet her eyes and smile at her, hoping I look friendly and she can't see the red veins starting to refract against the tired green in my eyes.

The next twenty minutes were eaten up getting five other boys - usually really good and enthusiastic kids - to sit down and write something. Five girls started to giggle and chat about the lacrosse game they'd played earlier in the day and yet all of their computers were working. I decided to walk the floor in order to have an encouraging word and a quick read of each child's work.

Eventually it was E's turn as she leaned over her desk trying to hit young S with a ruler.

"Hey E, have you written anything beyond your single sentence from two weeks ago?"

She smirked at me. "Nope."

That was it, I decided. I needed to let her know who was boss. "Right then. I'd like you to pack up the laptop, return it to IT and head back to your class. I don't need you in this workshop."

E dissolved into tears, shoulders hunched over the desk, hands covering her face. I softened, but not much. "Come into the office with me, because we need to talk." Out of the sight of her classmates, she looked at me, tears nearly gone. I explained that she was one of only twenty kids hand-picked by the principal to do the workshop. Selected because they were talented, creative and willing to work. "I'm really disappointed that you haven't tried and, honestly, I don't need to give up my time to make you."

She begged forgiveness "I'm so sorry, really sorry, I'll try, honestly," and I agreed to let her continue as long as she showed me her writing before the end of the day. She grabbed at the paper in my hands and headed back out into the fray.

L was running around the room, with kids A to M rocking back in their chairs, laughing.

There was no green left in my eyes; it was all red. "HEY! THAT'S IT!"

Stricken and silent, they slowly sunk back into their seats.

"You kids are lucky to be part of this workshop. I am giving up my time to help you and I don't need - or deserve - to have it wasted with you guys mucking around." A pencil clattered to the floor.

"You have TWO MORE WEEKS left, so if you're not prepared to put the work in, raise your hand and you're free to quit and go back to your class NOW."

No-one raised their hand. I was pretty sure that their reluctance was mostly due to fear rather than want. I didn't dare look at Sapphire in the corner. "So, who wants to stay and behave?"
"I do..." they all replied, sing-song-like and obedient.
"GOOD. Now let's get to work!"

To cool down, I walked over to Sapphire, pretending to read over her shoulder as she typed. "They all hate you now," she hissed, "and I do too."

Muttering something like, "That's not important", I turned away and started my rounds again, spending a minute or two with each child, helping them. The class had forgiven me and behaved.

When we get home, Sapphire rings her Dad at work, and I hear, "I hate her."

This hurts so much that I cry when I'm out in the cold evening wincing at the car lights and picking up squashed kebab wrappers in the darkness. She may hate me, but she'd despise me if I'd let them muck around, make a fool of me and let her witness the humiliation.

That's what I tell myself.


Helen said...

I must be really hard teaching a group with your daughter there. I have to scare my students into working sometimes and it's never fun, but at the end of the day it's ok, because I'm not there to be their friend, I'm there to educate them.

But having your daughter in the mix has to be really tricky! I'm' sure she'll feel more understanding when she gets better

Marie said...

Oh Kath! I am sure Sapphire will understand when she is not feeling so miserable and unwell. Especially if she realises that without you putting in the hard yards with the kids now, then they would get a much much harder time from their teachers and Principal later if they don't produce something.
As for the other kids, I have no doubt that they will remember you fondly for the rest of their lives as a strong positive influence on their creative thought process.
Keep your head up proudly and don't compromise your beliefs.

Elisabeth said...

This is so poignant. I know the feeling.

You do your best and still the children, in my case daughters, resent your feeble efforts.

You're an embarrassment. You're a failure.

Sapph's fear of losing face among the other kids is palpable but I agree with you, she'd have hated it more if you hadn't taken things into hand.

Most times I find these things - these dreadful periods of angst and pain - pass.

At least your daughter can let you know she hates you, at least for a moment.

It's a sure sign of the opposite. She's confident enough in your love for her and hers for you to be able to express the negatives.

Cat J B said...

Oooh, Kath, that's harsh from one of your beloved family members. It's got to be hard though, having your mum dealing with your school peers, no matter what she does. You're a brave gal and I like the way you dealt with blowflies and the group.
She'll come round.

Wally The Walrus said...

You done right. She also knows that, its because you're MUM and in the same room, and the peer thing will be a heck of a worry.

You still done right.

Kath Lockett said...

I'm ashamed to say that it didn't even occur to me for a second that Sapph would be feeling 'trapped' in an awful quandary of feeling as though she could be blamed for the actions of her crabby mother.

We've had a few chats to sort things out now, and I've had to admit that 98% of the time I speak to her as an equal, but when we're arguing I shouldn't keep going because I'm not going to get her to change her mind. I decided to tell her that there will be times when we disagree, but from now on I won't get us both upset by trying to convince her. Instead I'll play the parental, "This is my decision and we're not going to talk about it" card.

I am, however, dying to find out if she got any heat from the other kids at school today.

ThirdCat said...

My parents were both teachers, plus my dad ran regularly in elections, and my childhood was one of lurching from one mortifying moment to another. It's funny isn't's only over the last few years I've realised how difficult it was for my parents to have me constantly embarrassed.

She'll forgive you.

Vanessawith3 said...

Tough one for both of you. You did a great job resolving it though. I am imagining all the pain will be gone when 20 kids have smiles plastered across their faces as they hand in their completed novels.
I still remember the day I told my Mum I hated her at age ten. (Can't even remember why, just how bad I felt for saying it).

River said...

You're right Kath, a few moments of hate are definitely preferable to your humiliation at the hands of her peers. I'm convinced you did the right thing making them knuckle down and work. Because you're not a regular teacher they've probably seen this as an opportunity to goof off a bit. Now they know better, and who knows? you may have started one of them on a lifetime of writing, whether it be journalism, magazine articles, fiction novels, even movie scripts could lay in their futures. As soon as they stop buzzing around the room that is....

佩慧娟樺 said...

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Baino said...

You did the right thing. I read up to half of this thinkning 'c'mon Kath time to throw down the gauntlet' and I'm glad you did. It'll be a bit embarrassing for her but when the class is acknowledged for their work at the end of it all, you'll be lauded as the amazing mentor you are. Tough love works as well with a class of 20 as in a family of 1! Stave off that lurgy!

Nicole said...

You poor thing. You and everyone else are right though. If you'd let them walk all over you it would have been worse. I'm sure she will look back and be proud to have a mum like you.

Rowe said...

Exactly, Kath. Those cheeky little rugrats. It's not always easy being the big-bad-adult to the kids but you are so right about them respecting you and not treating you like a pushover, especially in front of your daughter. My eyes got watery when you were out in the cold dark picking up kebab wrappers with tears. Hugs - you are a sweetheart.

Benjamin Solah said...

I can kind of relate to having to be the bad guy, or needing to and not quite being able to.

Had to baby-sit the other week and they ran me in circles.

Jack42 said...

If you get just one of those kids turned on to writing then it will have been time well spent. Chances are that more than one will respect the craft a bit more.

I have to get heavy with my two boys when they are doing homework sometimes and they forgive me eventually. I think it is the nature of children. We like to treat them as little people but that model of reality is not right. Their little brains are just developing and sometimes you just have to "assist" them in remaining on track.