Monster Child.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I encounter a monster. She’s four feet tall, has anime-bright eyes and long, swishy black hair. She’s eight years old and is usually wearing pink and/or something with “Princess’ emblazoned upon it.

Cruel, you say? Inhumanly judgemental, you say? How could I call a poor, defenseless little girl a monster?

Get this: Someone taught this little girl that she can get anything-anything she wants by being helpless and cutesy. Therein lies the beast.

The beast is also an attention junkie. She won’t work unless I am one hundred percent focused on her. If my attention wavers for a second, say, to answer another student’s question, she is on me like a sickly pink and not very ferocious cat. “Teacher, Teacher,” she whines in a voice calculated to make my eardrums try to fold in on themselves in self-defense. Then she bats those baby browns and says, “I like your…” and touches something on me, like me sweater or my glasses.

If she feels she’s not getting enough attention, she complains, “This is too hard, I can’t do it.”

Nice Me: Of course you can. You did this part of the page. Now this part of the page, okay?
Child: (does one question reluctantly, then fiddles with hair for ten seconds.) Teacher, it is too easy.
Nice Me: How can it be too easy? You just said it was too hard. Now, you know you can, it’s exactly the same as these ones. Let’s look. (Watches for 30 seconds then goes to answer another student’s question.
Child: Teacher! Teacher!
Not Quite As Nice Me: Just a moment. I have to finish talking with this student.
Child: (waits 5 seconds) Teacher! TEEACHER!!
Not QANM: (Cold stare)
Child: (giggle)
Slightly Pissed Off Me: You may finish the end of the sheet of problems. I know you can. Then we can check it together, okay?
Child: You have a pretty pencil! (singls tunelessly)
Exasperated Me: Okay, but you need to be quiet, so these students can have help, too.
Child: Can I go to the bathroom? (twirls hair)
Exasperated Me: (exhanges frustrated glances with one of the other students) Okay. But hurry. You need to do some work, like a big girl.

I have reasoned. I have scolded. I have spoken firmly. I have been irrational. Nothing gets through. Because someone conditioned this kid to be a walking, talking stereotype.

Someone has repeatedly whispered in this child’s ear, “Be a helpless little proto-sexbot and everything you ever wanted will happen. Do not admit you can do anything independently. Do not admit you can even think for yourself. If asked to do something without direct authority looking down at you, giggle and sneeze in a stereotypically adorable fashion.”

And she bought it.

What pisses me off most is that she is a very intelligent little girl. She has the ability to manipulate her surroundings to such an extent that reasonable people, people I know have great, working minds and keenly felt feminist principles, say, “Oh, how cute!” when she does her schtick.

She’s intelligent and she’s wasting it, and is instead honing the skills that make her look like sexual prey. It’s killing me.

American Pie.

My mother always hailed Don MacLean as a genius for writing “Starry, Starry Night” about Vincent Van Gogh. However, he gets kudos from me for “American Pie”.

Picture this: One hundred and twenty idealistic teenagers seated on the floor of a fluorescent-lit mess hall of a summer camp, probably sometime in May. Dinner’s over, the dance has yet to start. We are fed. It’s Saturday night, so we know we are loved, we’ve felt it all day from new friends and old. We are young, sleep-deprived, we’ve had our convictions bolstered, and are therefore poised to tip into a preternatural state of being able to love anybody, anything.

Perched at the front of the room on a mess hall folding chair is a young man, blond curly hair escaping from underneath his little Ecuadoreans-wove-this- hat. He’s cradling a guitar in his arms, and there’s a little Fisher Price person lodged on one of the pegs.

He starts. “A long, long time ago…” and we’re off.

The wonderful thing about American Pie is that everyone knows the chorus. If people know the verses, they sing them with Zach, our guitar player. If not, they sing the chorus. We sing through the whole eight minutes, or whatever it is, and although our guitarist hits wrong notes, and we’re not always on pitch, and sometimes someone sings too fast, the crazy thing is, it’s still beautiful!

Sitting there, I realize that it’s because we’re singing together, like we’ve worked together all day. This time, though, we’re not building understanding or relationships. We’re building love. I still don’t know a lot of these people, but we’re singing together, and that creates a community for us.

Owing to the nature of Saturday night at Conference, I’ll know a lot of them before the night is over.

Habit makes me look back to check on my father. He sponsors the Vancouver group to come to conference, which is, of course, wildly embarassing to me, but everyone else thinks he’s the coolest dad on the planet.

I look closer. He’s crying.

After the final chorus, I make my way back to where he is sitting, perched on one of those long collapsible tables. I have clearly been overcome by the spirit of love and understanding, because the specter of my father, overcome with emotion, would otherwise have me tiptoeing away so he culd have some privacy.

“You okay?” I ask.

He just nods.

To this day, I’m pretty sure what he meant to say was, “I love you and I’m so glad you’ve has the chance to feel this kind of love and solidarity, with these people, even if the song is a few decades out of date. I am proud of you, and I am proud of myself for giving you the opportunity to experience this.”

I hope that’s what he was saying, anyhow. Sometimes, with my dad, it’s hard to tell.

Life’s Too Short. Today.

I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, about how a woman I know in the UK lost her husband to cancer on Dec. 8 of last lear. She instigated Life’s Too Short Day in his memory, for the members of the board, but it affected me deeply, so I wanted to share it here.

And it’s today, and I still don’t know what I’m going to do. On the list: Finish the first half of Christmas shopping. Go to the doctor, because I fell over the filing cabinet, what, two weeks ago? And it still hurts. Go to the gym, because I promised Em. As usual, I’ll go to work and then out to UBC to tutor. Then home.

Here’s what I know I’m going to do:
Be cheerful all day.
Tell E I love him.
Phone random friends and give them honest compliments.
Contemplate co-authoring a romance novel with my friend Stevage.

Beyond that, who knows?

I Won’t Make It.

It’s been snowing lately. This was brought to my attention last Tuesday night, when I used my new umbrella up at UBC to ward snow, not rain, but snow, from my head.

It snowed down here near the waterline in a fairly desultory manner the other day, and wet, fat flakes were falling when I went to tutor today.

I was tutoring on high ground. The snow was happily accumulating on the grass, and was even beginning to stick on the sidewalks and roads. I pray the white stuff comes no lower.

I am a child of temperate climes. Give me the incessant drip of rain through the cedars. I have the Gore-Tex to deal with it. If you give me a tarp, I can even construct a place to live in that dripping miasma of green and grey. Give me the mild breezes of spring, and I’ll happily live in the woods and eat fiddleheads. Give me a Vancouver summer, where it’s hot, but not humid, and I sweat, but not so much that I need to shower five times a day. I don’t think I can handle the snow.

How in Heaven’s name am I going to handle Regina? It is currently minus 27, and feels like minus 39. E has just come in and done an evil villain guffaw. He thinks it’s funny that I’m haunting the Weather Network.

To quote Captain Oates, who was lost on Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-starred Antarctic expedition, “I’m just going outside, I may be some time.” Brrrr!


I can’t be as eloquent as Arwen when it comes to the political side of work and women’s work, but it was strange that this is going around the blogosphere on a day like today, when I really noticed my job.

My day started with a discussion of dental hygeine, playing with words so that Professor Jun’s power point presentation, written in Korean and aimed at dental care professionals, was better suited to an audiece of Grade Fives in Canada. (Bonus: I got to teach vital vocabulary like ‘pee’ and ‘poo’) This is enriching. Hanging with Professor Jun always stimulates my brain because we sometimes have to go through medical Latin to get to what he wants to say. (“You are less lipid”= “You’ve lost weight”)

Then I came home and took a nap.

Next, I thumbed through a chapter of Harry Potter to get the hard vocab for one of my students, who is ploughing through it with the aid of my vocab sheets, which help her understand the meanings of different words in context. This is somethng I’m doing on my own dime, but what it means is this girl, whose reading level is about the middle of grade two, gains confidence in leaps and bounds. Three months ago, she was afraid to say anything or write anything. Now, she cheerfully chatters about anything and everything.

Later on, I’ll go to my ‘job’ job, where I will teach kids to read and write. The grammar is boring, but the reward is that they really, really learn. Don’t get me wrong, they do in public schools as well, but it’s easier to learn in a place where the teacher’s attention isn’t spread over thirty-odd kids, some of whom have behaviour issues, some of whom are also recent newcomers to Canada, and almost all of whom learn in different ways at different rates. It’s hard to work at your own pace in an environment like this, particularly when you don’t recognize half the words on the page or being said.

After my ‘job’ job, I’ll go up to UBC, to do some private work with a private student. She’s having some trouble with irregular forms of the past tense, but this is no biggie, considering that two months ago, she was having trouble with the present tenses of ‘to have’ and ‘to be’.

I went into teaching more or less by fluke: I discovered I was good at it, and went from there. But the job I have now has its own rewards:

I work the hours I want.
I have time to see my grandmother.
I have time to do things I want to do.
I make a difference in people’s lives. Every. Single. Day.
I get to explain my culture to people who are often worried and a little intimidated by it.
I don’t sit in an office.
I get to learn about other perope’s cultures and ideas and beliefs.
I create my own curriculum, based ont he needs of the student.

Lots of people in my life worry because I’m not ‘building on anything’, and sometimes even, ‘You’re just marking time’. Some of these are the people who believe that the company is going to be there for them, that on their fiftieth birthday, they’ll get a gold watch. Some of these are the people who feel that unless my life is constantly more corporate, constantly more traditional in the choices I make (“How can you get Mat leave if you’re self employed? You can’t! You are condemning your babies to poverty!”), it counts as nothing.

I am not climbing a corporate ladder, and I have made work decisions that not everyone would make. But I’m happy with the choices I’ve made, because I’ve created a situation that’s tailored to me, and that can grow as I grow. Whatever direction that turns out to be.

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