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Lather, rinse, repeat

I’m having one of those days where the kids at work are just full-on.  I’m running here there and everywhere, nobody seems able to work out what they’re doing without my constant assistance or constant repetition of things that I’ve told them dozens of times already, and I’m at the point where I feel like I might scream if I hear my own name one more time.  Because I’ve been running around like a demented botfly all morning, I’m utterly stuffed to the point where I literally feel dizzy and sick.  I have no doubt that the kids are wondering why I’m sitting in this chair, looking like death (I’m fairly sure I must look as pale as I feel), but I no longer trust myself to keep upright.  I’m not sick so much as desperately tired, but past a certain point it amounts to the same thing.

The 5am start from Bamm-Bamm certainly isn’t helping matters.  I live in hope that someday, he might actually sleep until, say, sunrise.  I think tonight might be one of those nights when I go to bed straight after the boys do.

Sigh.

Annoyed

So I was supposed to be going on an excursion today, and instead I’m supervising a group of loud, obnoxious Year 9 kids.

Wait, let me backtrack.

I’m not even supposed to be at work today.  Some weeks ago, I was asked if I could come in on my day off to be an extra person on this excursion.  Paid, of course, but still my day off, and requiring me to organise something for But Why and Bamm-Bamm.  But I was asked nicely, and so I agreed to do it for this one day.  After all, a nice trip outdoors, an interesting presentation… it was going to be a good day.  I was looking forward to it.

And then it all got changed at the last minute.  One of the other teachers wanted to take his class, and so everything got shuffled around, and instead of going on the excursion, I was now backfilling his classes – a full, six-on day, no less.  Nobody actually really asked me, mind you, I was very much just informed after the fact that everything had changed.  Typical.  After the screwing over I got last year, why should I even be surprised that it’s happened again?

Thing is, had I been asked to do what I’m presently doing a few weeks ago, I would have answered with a resounding NO BLOODY WAY.  I did three terms of replacement-class bullshit last year after coming back from maternity leave, when I was screwed over after no classes were assigned for me, despite me being present for three quarters of the school year (so they had no excuses there, in my opinion.)  It nearly destroyed me as a teacher, and I’m not exaggerating that in the slightest.  After months upon months of backfilling and wrangling belligerent teenagers who weren’t even my charges, killing time with no classes of my own and no real purpose in being there, I genuinely stopped caring.  I turned up, I sat in the classes I was assigned, I gave the kids the work they were supposed to do, and I sat on my arse, not caring.  From April to December, that was my world.  Turn up, get handed a bunch of class lists, drag myself around like a soggy mop all day, go home.  I stopped bothering with my appearance.  I wore whatever clothes I happened to grab in the morning.  My usual baseline cynicism escalated tenfold.  I was, for all intents and purposes, quite depressed at work for most of the year.  (I hasten to add that this did not extend to home – that was very much my sanctuary.)

And here I am again, faced with a day full of exactly what I hated about last year, and all because I agreed to do a favour.  And a different favour to what I’m actually doing!

I’m so tired of being treated like a thing.

This year was supposed to be different.  I started so well, with energy and enthusiasm.  Things have happened which have served to sap that energy and dull that enthusiasm already, but I’m overall considerably happier in having my own classes again.  I need this year to be positive, because I can already see so many difficult times looming before the close of 2014.  I need positivity, I need things to look forward to in order to get me through the parts of this year that are going to hurt like hell.  I have come to philosophical conclusions about certain things that paint them in terms of this need for positivity.  But I’m still here, sitting in this Year 9 Maths class, resenting every second of it because it just feels like last year all over again, and I want to run away, go home to Ralph and the kids and cry a river because they made me feel these feelings again.

I haven’t had time to write here for some time, largely because I’ve been mired in a series of projects both large and small which have taken over my brain as well as every minute of my spare time.  I’m slowly whittling my way through them, although some won’t be finished until much later in the year (which reminds me, I have a promotions meeting for Peter Pan at lunchtime today).  Last night, I finished a fairly major one – a photobook for my great aunt’s upcoming 80th birthday.  I’m pleased that the estimated delivery date is four days before the party, and sincerely hope that it is accurate.

This is something that I’ve been trying to find the time and energy to complete for several weeks.  There were a number of occasions, as I shut down my computer of an evening because I was just too damned tired to contemplate sitting there for two hours fixing exposures, cropping, repairing and organising, when I wished that I could just handball it to someone else… but that would be giving up, wouldn’t it?  I don’t give up unless there’s no choice in the matter.

But I finished it last night, and though I’ll probably always manage to find fault in it, it’s not bad.  I hope she’ll like it.  Insofar as a woman who is chronically camera shy can like nearly a hundred pages of photographs of herself from toddlerhood to septuagenarianism.  It’s uploaded and ordered, and now we wait.

I suppose my brain was just expressing relief at knocking off a big project with a tight deadline, but I had a very strange dream after finishing the book last night, which is the inspiration for this post.  I think it says far too much about my psyche.

I was in a massive theatre, but with pews like a church instead of seats, and I think that every person I’d ever met in my life was in the audience.  There were familiar faces as far as the eye could see.  Up on the stage, two of my friends were getting married, which I found rather strange because they’re actually approaching their fourth anniversary.

 

I went up to the foot of the stage and found some friends.  “Do you need my help with anything?” I asked.  No, no, we’re all fine here, came the response.

 

My now-married-again friends left the stage, and a production of Wicked started.  I contemplated telling someone about how my defining role was as Elphaba and that I’d been absolutely amazing, but figured that it was kind of arrogant and refrained, even though it was one of the proudest occasions of my life.  I couldn’t remember who had played my Fiyero, though, and it bothered me.

 

I saw an old friend from many moons ago and went to say hello, asking after her little daughter who was born last December.  She glared at me and walked away, and I was hurt.

 

Then I went to a sort of outside-but-in-the-wings area, where I found several work colleagues.  “Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked them.  Again, the same response, no, all taken care of.  Disheartened, I went back inside to the audience, and found an empty pew.  I perched myself on it, feet up on the seat, and figured that if nobody needed me then I may as well watch the performance, although it definitely wasn’t as good as mine by any stretch.  Sitting there, I suddenly remembered that I did still have an important project to work on…

…and then, like shattering glass, the dream was gone as the sultry sounds of Bamm-Bamm calling, “Mummy!  Mummy!” penetrated my unconsciousness and brought me back to reality.

My personal interpretation of this dream is that I have a pathological need to be needed and useful.  This may not be entirely healthy, but that’s my best guess, given that I finished a major project just hours before dreaming the dream, and the overriding theme of the dream was me wanting to help people and nobody needing my help.

Verdict: I am a loony.

But I do still have plenty to do, what with helping with the school production and writing a Term 2 Year 7 workbook and my endless knitting projects and I promised But Why that I’d paint him some jumpers for winter and so on and so forth.  Silly old brain.

“You can wear a dress all you like, that’s not a problem, and on hot days like today I’d even encourage it, but I will not have princesses in my class.”

I found myself uttering these words to the girls in my Year 7 Maths class yesterday morning, and realised that it’s the one thing that drives me insane about teenage girls, conveniently packaged in a verbal nutshell.

I see it every year.  They come in at the beginning of Year 7, no older than thirteen and mostly younger.  They’re keen as mustard, eager to learn and enthusiastic about their latest adventure.  Their uniforms are clean, in good repair, and a sensible length.  They wear the correct socks, little jewellery, and no makeup.

By the halfway point of the year, things are becoming blasé, and some are already showing signs of Princess Syndrome.  By the end of the year, so many of the girls who started out so well have been lost to it.  The skirts become short enough to be little more than long belts.  The socks turn black, pink, purple or spotty.  Piercings abound, and there’s enough makeup on each face to supply the entire cast of a uni theatre production for the whole run of performances.

Appearances aside, there’s the attitude component as well, and that’s the problem.  They can dress like Hugo Weaving circa 1994 all they like, and it doesn’t concern me, so long as they don’t adopt a similarly ne’er-do-well attitude to their studies along with it, but that is what unfortunately tends to happen.  I see two main archetypes, though there are many more minor varieties.

The Pretty Little Drip

“Oh, I can’t learn things, I’m a girl.  I can’t be smart and pretty at the same time!”

I’ve hit puberty, and discovered boys.  Did you know that there were these whole other kinds of people in the world?  Male ones?  Male ones who are suddenly really really interested in me and anyone else with two X chromosomes? (Oh wait, they didn’t pay attention to that part of the lesson and know nothing about chromosomes…)  But wait – they won’t like me if I’m smart.  I have to giggle inanely, bat my eyelashes at them, and wear my skirt as short as possible so that they’ll look at me.  And that means they like me…. right??  But they won’t like me if they think I’m good at anything, so I have to pretend I don’t care and I’m just a dumb, giggly girl.

The Angelica Graynamore

“Would you like to hear one of my poems?”
“Sure.”
“Long ago, the delicate tangles of his hair… covered the emptiness of my hand… Would you like to hear it again?”
“…ok.”
“Long ago, the delicate tangles of his hair… covered the emptiness of my hand.”
- Joe Versus The Volcano

I am deep.  I think I am deep.  I’m so busy being deep that I haven’t realised that I’m actually being quite shallow.  I write soppy poems throughout my diary and am mortally offended if anyone looks at them.  I spend so much time being deep and contemplating my depth that I never seem to be able to pay attention to anything happening around me.

I find both of these quite irritating – the former in particular – and this was the basis for the above quote.  I was lamenting how lovely my Year 7 Maths class was, and how it was all going to change in a few months.  I begged them not to become Neanderthals or Princesses, and stop learning because of some ongoing act of silliness.  “Maths,” I waxed lyrical, “Is as beautiful as a sunrise.”

I’m finding that this year in particular, I’m trying to be a more positive role model, to try to offset the inevitable pubertal learning decline that all kids seem to go through.  I’ve been wearing dresses to work, and on some occasions, downright flouncy ones at that.  Hair up, jewellery on, heeled shoes except when I’m teaching Science classes and swap them out for my Blundstones.  I’ve been dialling up the feminine, and I have to admit, I’m rather enjoying it – as ridiculous as it sounds, walking back to the car after paying for petrol and knowing perfectly well that the guy in that car is checking you out even after two kids is something of a confidence boost.

But at the same time, I’m also being my usual self.  The one that builds dioramas for the sheer fun of it, climbs over toilet walls at the swimming sports because the door is locked to get to the leaking toilet, fiddles with the cistern and stops the leak, puts together flat-pack like a boss, exuberantly tries to make learning academic subjects like science and maths a riot of eccentric educational madness, bites off more that I can chew and still manages to chew it all somehow, and fixes school furniture wherever possible in order to avoid wasting the maintenance guys’ time with minor things like that, because frankly they have enough to do without having to deal with that kind of crap.

That’s my point, kids.  Boys as well as girls.  You can be feminine and still be made of awesome.  Smart is sexy.

In this same Maths class, I noticed that one of the table legs on the teacher table up the front was bent inwards, rendering it unstable.  This isn’t hard, they’re mass-produced and not particularly strong – I can bend the table legs with my bare hands.  It looked like someone had sat on it, or maybe sat and bounced a bit.  In any case, I saw it from the back of the room as I was circulating.  I twitched, and started moving my belongings to the floor.

“What are you doing?” asked one of the kids.

“I’m fixing the table leg.  It’s all bent and it’s annoying me.”  I turned the table on the side and stood on the wonky leg, pushing the table back to bend the leg back into the correct position.

It was at this point that the kids collectively started singing the Bob the Builder theme.  (Have I mentioned that he’s taking over my life?  My kids think he’s absolutely boss, and somehow, even when they’re not with me, he just keeps coming back… But Why even got me to set the theme song as my ringtone.  Still, at least it’s a cartoon I actually like rather than tolerate…)

I laughed and rolled my eyes. “Do I look like Bob the Builder to you?”

“Ha, you’re Wendy!” proclaimed one of the girls, “Oh my God, you’re just like her!”

“Ha!  Just because I have to compulsively fix wonky tables doesn’t mean I’m Wendy.  Now, do your maths!”

When I had the chance to think about it, though, I decided to take it as a compliment.  I mean, when I consider that character, what do I see?  She’s strong, clever, extremely capable, organised, has a good sense of humour, and is equally comfortable in work gear or a dress.  She’s reliable, trustworthy, patient, kind and yet doesn’t take any nonsense either.  These are all really admirable qualities, and qualities which I genuinely aspire to in both professional and personal terms.  If the kids think I’m like her, is that such a bad thing?  Does it mean that I am actually achieving that which I set out to achieve, and being a positive role model that shows that being feminine is no handicap to being capable and intelligent, and that it is actually infinitely cooler to be that way than being a dumb Princess?

Perhaps.  It’s becoming clear to me that I’m developing something of a reputation among the student population – more than one kid came to find me the day after swimming to tell me how cool it was when I jumped that wall (other than the scratch on my hand, I’d actually already forgotten about it until they reminded me) – and bringing our resident snake into my Year 7 Science class earned some respect eyes, I noticed.

That’s how it’s going to be, though.  No degradation to eye-batting dumb-dumbism.  Nothing is unachievable.  Nothing is ‘too’ anything.  You can if you try, and you should never stop trying.

Wear a dress all you like, but no princesses in my class.

It occurred to me today that I’m actually a bloody good actor.  Actress?  Person who metamorphoses into another being for a limited period of time.

I was in my Year 7 Science class – only the third time I’ve had them, so they’re not yet used to me.  Today was the inaugural Be Safe In The Lab lesson, and one that I tend to try very hard to make interesting – I figure if it’s fun, they’ll remember it, and hopefully not do anything stupid or dangerous until at least Year 8.

I tried something new this year, and it seemed to work.  I dressed in the usual lab safety gear of a lab coat, goggles, gloves and closed shoes, and added to this a hi-vis vest, ear protection, a dust mask and a hard hat.  I then went through with the kids and got them to work out which elements were unnecessary in a high school science lab, removing what wasn’t appropriate and leaving what was.  I was on a roll.  I was utterly on fire, in a good way.  I had them laughing, thinking, participating.

I had a moment, though, watching myself as though from outside, and realised that I wasn’t quite sure who this woman was.  She looked like me.  She sounded like me.  She even used similarly unusual turns of phrase, obscure references, Britishisms and hyperbole in the same manner as me.  She was me.  But she wasn’t me.

Then I realised – she was Me, The Teacher.

My hat.  My mask.  My classroom persona.  I even had myself fooled into believing that this person was me.  I walk into the classroom, and I become her for the time I’m there.  And then I’m myself again.  The quieter version.  The more reserved, introspective incarnation.  The one who worries that her happiness means that she’s actually horribly miserable but hasn’t realised yet.  The one who still doesn’t feel like me, but is the best I have.

I don’t have a script, but it’s method acting at it’s finest.  I live the role.  I become the role.

And that frightens me, because it makes me wonder who the real me really is.

And that frightens me, because when I have a kid tell me that her sister has pursued the sciences and is so much like me and still talks about me and what an influence I had on her, I smile and say that’s great and I’m so pleased that she’s continuing her studies in science, and then shake violently all the way home because is it really me that is making that difference to her life?  Or is it my role of a lifetime?  Do I have a right to that level of influence?

And that frightens me, because what if I screw up?

 

I’ve been thinking about this ever so much.  Somehow, a switch has flicked in my head this year.  I don’t know if it’s a result of last year and the crap I had to put up with and the feelings of uselessness, not being wanted or needed, rejection and deep melancholy, the loss of being able to care about what I was doing or the effect it was having on me and the people around me… I don’t know if it’s because of the events just prior to Christmas that shook my world and shattered my innocent trust, forcing me to reevaluate my perceptions of my life and my choices… I don’t know if it’s a combination of all of those things.  Something, though, has happened, and I feel like a butterfly slowly emerging from a chrysalis.  I am becoming… something.  Something more than before.  I feel powerful and strong in a way that I never have before, and at the same time, more fragile and vulnerable than ever before.  I see more clearly, the world has lost the drab grey film it wore for so long, and I find myself behaving in a new and interesting way.  Walking taller, sitting up straighter, asserting myself and making choices about what I do and don’t want to be a part of my personality.

I don’t know what has happened.  I am not myself, and yet I am.

I’m back at work, and all week I’ve had one goal in mind – to pick up the shattered fragments of 2013, change my thinking, change my attitude, and duct tape everything back together.  It’ll never be the same, and will never have the same fragile innocence, but at least duct tape is robust, and will impart greater strength to all that it repairs.

It’s enough.

Image

Please excuse our grotty stovetop; I can’t get that brown grot off and have just about given up trying.

I recall our nephew, three years older than But Why, going through a stage at about three and a half years of age, during which he would only eat pancakes for breakfast.

It’s interesting that But Why is now three and a half, and all he wants for breakfast is pancakes.

He’ll eat other things if I don’t have the time or inclination to make them, but when asked, the answer is invariably, “Pancakes!” after which his little brother repeats in a desperate, breathless fashion, “Cayyy!  Cayyy!!!

This post isn’t about my children and their predilection for pancakes, though.  This post is actually to share my failsafe pancake recipe.  Understandably, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to test this!  I know that pancakes are nothing special, but you don’t want this blog to be just about my kids and my complaints, do you?

The measurements below are for what I’d call a ‘family-sized’ serving; that is, the amount I make when all four of us are at home.  There’s still a fair quantity of leftovers, but this is what I do:

  • 1.5 cups of plain flour

  • 1.5 cups of self-raising flour

  • 3 eggs

  • approx 50ml of apple cider vinegar

  • approx 500ml milk (light milk seems to work the best)

In a cup or container large enough to hold all of the milk, pour the apple cider vinegar, then add the milk and allow to separate.

 

Add flours to a large bowl (sift if you want, I never bother because I’m lazy) and stir to combine.

 

Add eggs and mix in as best you can.

 

Add about half of the milk mixture and stir until combined.  Try to whizz the lumps out before it’s too runny.

 

Add the rest of the milk, or as much as required to make the batter a runny-but-not-totally-watery consistency.  I usually find that I don’t use all of the milk.

 

Fry on medium-hot until cooked.

You’ll notice that I don’t add sugar to my pancake batter.  This is largely because my boys like Nutella on their pancakes, and there’s more than enough sugar in that anyway, but the truth is that they really don’t need it.  The great part about not adding sugar is that any leftovers can then be used for a savoury dish later in the day if you’re feeling lazy and want a pancake sandwich.

What do you mean, you’ve never tried a pancake sandwich?

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