Mother-me, fly-on-the-wall.

“You should be glad they call you a nerd,” the older one says.  The strain of his emotions twists his face all out of shape.  “Trust me, you don’t want to be called a dumb-ass like me!”  He whirls around and sets his eyes on the road, fighting the swell in his throat.

The younger one is silent for just a second.

“But you’re popular!  You’re the most popular kid in the school,”  he says.   His voice begins to wobble.  “I don’t have any friends, you said that yourself.  You said I was a loser!”

“You’re not a loser, idiot.  I just said that because I’m jealous, don’t you get it?  You’re brainy, you’re ahead in everything.  The highest maths set, the highest literacy set, the highest spelling set.  But what about me?  I’m the lowest, nothing but a stupid dumb-ass.“  Two fat tears bolt free and sprint down his cheeks.

Again there is silence.  The younger one stares out the window on his side of the road, his face stained red from the tracks of his own tears, minutes earlier.

“You’re not dumb,” he whispers after a minute.   The words don’t come easily.  He is not used to giving an inch.

But it is a shocking thing, to see his brother in tears.  Hasn’t he always been the tough one, the one with the freedom and confidence to go wherever he pleases and do whatever he pleases, never once giving a thought for how he looks or what anyone else might think of him?   Doubt is not a word in his vocabulary.  He walks through the world as if all life is a play and he wrote the script himself while he, the younger one, spends hours trying to deconstruct the social world so even the most banal of  interactions make sense to him.

He remembers that summer when he was 5 and his brother 8.  They spent weeks traveling around in their parent’s house bus, making friends in every new camping ground they called in at.  It was a seamless process.  Pull up,  walk over, start playing.

The younger one thought his brother must have known those kids from some other place, met them some other time, the way he just slotted into their games like a missing piece of jigsaw puzzle.  But he worked out later that there was a process, a normal pattern of events.  First, he remembers thinking, you say hello.  And then they might make friends with you.

Yet here he is now, this bullet-proof older brother who faces down school yard taunts with laughter and a flick of his silky fringe, crying because he isn’t immune to doubt, after all.

“You’re not dumb,” the younger one says again.  Louder this time.

The older one feels the tension in his shoulders giving way.  He sighs and wipes away the tears.  It’s not his brother’s fault.  He knows it isn’t.  It would be easy if there was someone other than himself to blame, but there isn’t.  His brain just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.  He forgets things like times tables and commas and methods for solving long-division.

But he can recite extended passages of audio books.  And exact turns of phrase used in picture books he read when he was three.  And what people were wearing the first time he met them.  His mother thinks it’s amazing and is always getting him to do recall tricks for fun, but inside he’s raging.

Why couldn’t he have just had a normal brain that remembered the things it was supposed to remember instead of things that have no purpose, no reason to even be noticed, let alone stored up using what limited brain capacity he has in supply?

It’s not like he would have asked to be the brainiest.  Just smart enough to avoid the labels.  Dyselxic.  Dyspraxic.  Delayed.  Dumb-ass.  He acts like he doesn’t care and that it doesn’t hurt, but it does.  The labels don’t wash away.  They stay embedded in his skin and in his thoughts and come floating back to him every single time someone puts a test paper in front of him.

“Believe me,” he says, kicking the dashboard with his feet.  “It’s better to be called a nerd and be brainy than be poplar and dumb,”

The younger one looks across at his brother, his brown eyes hard as steel.  It is an unfamiliar sight, to see his emotions so exposed like this.  People say they are similar, with their sandy-brown hair and similar heights, they get mistaken for twins all the time.  But they are not alike.  At least, not in the ways that people see.

When he was born, the older one rushed into the delivery room expecting to find a fully-fledged brother, standing up, ready-to-go.  He lifted the blanket of the tiny little package, frantically shouting “Where are the legs of him?  Where are the legs of him?!”

Perhaps that was why the younger one learnt to walk at just 9 months.  He’s never been one to keep people waiting.

“It’s pop-U-lar,” he says now, doing his best to sound neutral.

“What?” says the older one, frowning.

“You said poplarPoplar is a type of tree.

He is a smart-arse, sometimes, the older one thinks, gritting his teeth and trying to ignore the smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.  But it is no use.  Laughter is a slippery thing.  If you step anywhere near its edge it will suck your feet right out from under you.

The younger one falls first, a little slip, just a chuckle.  The older one follows, shoulders shaking with the weight and energy of it, even as the tears still flow.

Their laughter fills the back of the car, loud and full and ridiculous.

I drive on, mother-me, fly-on-the-wall.

=====

Here’s a video of the same boys on a different car journey, a few years ago.  Different range of emotions, but the same closeness.  It’s a beautiful thing, albeit noisy (and complicated and affecting and raw and wonderful), having a brother.

The Beautiful Superficial

myfavouriteHere they are, my little gingerbread lovers.  I’ve missed them.  A year goes by so fast…. There is homework to do, kids to grow, books to read, a thesis (or even just a journal entry) to write.  Yet in some ways a year can drag.   A fragrance or signpost or a fleeting dream – and all of a sudden you remember things as if they happened only yesterday.  It’s cruel.  Like Penelope Lively said in Moontiger:  “Inside the head, everything happens at once.”

But if there’s one thing I learned in 2013 it’s not the value of nostalgia, rather the freedom of the Beautiful Superficial.  The 6.30am  starts.  Watching the sunrise with the middle kid.  Listening to him chatter, chatter, chatter.  The same kid everyone says is so quiet.  The kid who used to think was quiet.  That is, until I started to get to know him.  Lying on the couch with his head on my chest, watching as the sky changes from grey to orange to blue, I can’t believe I ever could have chosen to start the day any other way.   Yet I did.   For years I have been distracted, too busy hanging onto the past to be able to cherish the hundred beautiful superficial things happening to me every single day.

So 2013 is about Quitting to get ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

The empty space above represents all the other stuff I could say, but won’t.  I’m not sure about this blogging thing anymore, as if I ever was.

Merry Christmas everyone.  From me – and The Pretenders, who clearly didn’t get my memo on the futility of nostalgia.

Dear Teacher, I don’t care about my kid’s grades.

Dear Teacher,

Hi there. Glad to meet you.

I wanted to take a couple of minutes to let you know that I don’t care about grades, targets, inputs, outputs, data, graphs, averages, national standards or any other fashionable way of measuring my kid’s so-called achievement. I especially don’t care about these things if it means producing such paperwork is sapping your inspiration and leaving you tired and stressed in the classroom.

I want you to have sufficient time to plan lessons that are relevant to the class and the students in front of you today. I have confidence in your ability to recognise when a particular style or method isn’t working, and to adapt the lesson accordingly. Every kid is different, we all know that. I also know that the rigid policy pushing you to prioritise the particular method or theory that is popular today, is not the same method that was popular yesterday.

I know that you have a wealth of experience working with children and I value that experience for the nuanced, unique and practical wisdom it has given you. Use it. I want you to be adventurous and spontaneous in the classroom, even if it means… no, especially if it means doing things outside the square. When you discover, for example, that one of your student’s parents knows someone who can come and talk about their first hand experience of the topic you’re studying – a standing MP, a refugee, a former Olympian, I want you to have the flexibility, flair and above all management support, to totally re-work the term calendar to fit that opportunity in.

I want you to lead as much by instinct for what you can see is working right in front of you, as by your training. You will come to know your students well during the year; what is likely to interest and motivate them. Do that. I want you to teach my kid how to learn, not solely what to learn. Moreover, I want you to inspire him as a lifelong learner, not to turn him off by studying topics or reading books that you yourself find boring.

I want you to be part of the reason my kid goes to school in the morning with a spring in his step. It’s a cliche to say that teachers should be inspirational, but what’s so wrong with the cliche?

When kids play up and frustrate the hell out of you, or lack respect for your authority, I want you to know that I trust your judgment on the best way to deal with it. I’ve got your back. I want you to be firm – but fair. On the other hand, when a kid is acting out and you can see through his/her behaviour for what it really is, I want you to be generous enough to keep on trying and never give up on that kid.

I want you to be paid well. Your remuneration should reflect the value that we place as a society on education – which is to say there is no more important job (except perhaps mine!) The hard work, patience and dedication teaching demands needs to be given proper recognition.

By the same token, I want to know that you’re not there just for the holidays, or because you thought teaching would be a convenient profession, or because it was the cheapest and quickest degree on offer at university and only required a C+ average for admittance. I want to know that you were selected from among the best of the best. I want to know you’re not going to turn up to school merely to tick boxes and tow the line, but because you love the job and believe in what you do.

If you’re worried about my kid, you can speak to me directly. No need to wait for the end of the term, have a quick word with me at the end of the day. If I could be doing more to support you in the classroom, tell me. On the other hand, if I come to school and say my kid didn’t do the homework last night because we went for a bike ride, or to hang out with the grandparents, or we stayed up late reading a book together, I want you to say “cool.”

And in the end of year reports, you should know that I’m less interested in how my kid did in the tests than I am in what you think of him as an individual, what sort of learner he is, how he relates to you and to his peers. I know that after all those long monotonous hours of marking is done, that’s all that really matters.

Because in 25 years time when I’m rummaging through my boxes of old memorabilia, it’s not the numbers in the column I’ll look at, but the words that you wrote,

Signed,

A Parent.

***As we draw to the end of another school year and look forward to the next, this post is dedicated to all the hard working teachers out there writing reports and marking exams. It’s inspired by my experience of a teacher who embodied the very essence of this letter and more, as you can see in this tribute video made by his students at the end of the year.. Thank you, teachers, for all that you do.

Let this space be a reminder of how much I Hate Love You.

no more minecraftSix months ago I downloaded Minecraft for my kid, the 10 year old.

Five months ago I imposed time limits on it.

Four months ago I drastically reduced those time limits.

Three months ago I reduced those limits again.

Two months ago I reduced them once more.

One month ago I banned the computer altogether.

Yesterday, I packed up the computer and put into storage.

Then I said to my kid, “When you look at that empty space, let it be a reminder of how much I love you.”

To which he replied: “And let it be a reminder to you of how much I HATE you!”

But drastic times call for drastic measures.

Once upon a time I cursed the sound of scraping Lego in the box, I lamented the holes in my feet caused by trodding on bricks littered about the carpet. But until yesterday I hadn’t heard the sound of Lego in months, my heels blissfully smooth. Because when the kid wasn’t playing Minecraft, he was sitting on the couch wanting to play Minecraft. He was sullen, moody, agitated and completely lacking in motivation and imagination.

And then I realised: He was addicted to the thing. Minecraft was like a drug and he’d get his fix even if it meant sitting on the couch watching the clock tick. The other two aren’t like that – they self-moderate to a large extent. Screen time gets boring eventually. If it’s taken away, they find something else just as, or even more interesting, instead. But the eldest kid is different. Enforcing moderation, I realised, was not only futile but it was also kinda cruel. Like taking an alcoholic to a bar and saying “Now, you can have just ONE drink.” The computer was always there, as soon as he came home from school, as soon as he woke up in the morning. It represented potential. Opportunity. The fleeting chance that Mum might, just might back down and let him on it (not a misplaced hope since in moments of weakness or guilt I sometimes did relent.)

The night before I packed up the computer I had the same wrenching feeling in my gut as I did when I held him back a year at school. The same bread-knife-raking feeling I’ve had at other times in my life too. The feeling you get when the Right Thing to do is also the Hardest Thing to do. Anyway, I digress.

The point is, The Pied Piper had stolen my kid and I had to bring him back, by whatever means possible and before it was too late. I needed to breathe life back into the 10 year old boy who once built a go kart out of scrap wood and a broken push chair (well, it was broken after he took it apart, anyway). The same kid who could find a flat white 5 piece in a bucket of lego bricks faster than a gun slingin’ cowboy. The kid who wrote and performed his first song on the guitar at 7, who couldn’t read until he was 8 but could recite whole passages of books before he could properly pronounce the letter “D”. The kid who never came across a cardboard box he couldn’t use.

If it means he hates me, it’s a price I’ll pay.

 

*Postscript* There were tears, there was hair-pulling (his, not mine), there were outrageous accusations that didn’t exactly not-hurt. All of it inevitable. But then, life went on. There wasn’t enough milk for the cereal in the morning. The post came. The cat from next door shat all over the doorstep. The boys scrapped with their sister about a rubber dinosaur. They played on the trampoline. And then, the kid dug out his skateboard. He got down a recipe book and made pancakes. He sat at the empty desk and spread out, drawing pictures all over my expensive printer paper, leaving pencil shavings all over the floor and felts without lids. Then I stood on a staple. And it was bliss.

Minecraft = 1 Mum = 2

*** This post was written a long time ago but was recently reblogged and as a result has attracted a lot of new attention, most of it negative and some even quite aggressive – something completely foreign to me as a blogger. Apart from the offensive or anonymous comments which I have and will continue to remove, I have tried to reply to all of the comments.  It is, however, proving an impossible task… not to mention repetitive!  So I’m going to stop responding – instead, here’s a summary of what I’ve said to detracters below.

In taking away the computer and Minecraft, my intention was only to teach my son moderation in the long term. I had played Minecraft and I have a good understanding of what it’s about. My only goal was to ensure that he developed interests in other things as well. I am not scared of technology in fact, I’m pretty sure the kid inherited much of his love and fascination with technology from me. I’m always making cool stuff on the computer – building websites, videos, photobooks and slideshows etc.   So there wasn’t a huge divide between us – but as an adult I know it’s important for me to do other stuff as well; that reading books, socialising, working etc, are also necessary and enriching life experiences.

So We had a clean break from computer life (even for me) and made an effort to do a whole lot of other things: some of them old school (card games and the like) some of them sporty, we even began watching cool technology documentaries on netflix and old Steve Jobs talks, as well as seeking out YA fiction about IT and online life (there are some great novels on these subjects coming out now).  He read Steve Jobs’ biography (the kid’s version) and walked me through his life blow by blow, which was hugely entertaining.  So you can see, even when Minecraft wasn’t around I still found ways to support and endorse and share in his passion for everything technology.

Then, after about 6 months we reintroduced the computer and Minecraft.  The kid’s interest is still as keen as ever, but he’s much calmer and moderate with it. Time limits aren’t stressful to enforce. He willingly and of his own accord goes off to do other things.

All I ever wanted to teach him was the importance of moderation. It’s hard for a 10 year old to work that on their own – I felt like it was my job as a parent to try and show him.  A clean break to begin may have seemed harsh but we had exhausted all our other options, and I guess my post was simply a shout out to other parents out there like me…. because all of us, at some point, come to a crossroads and know we must do the hard thing, the difficult thing, in order to do right by our kids in the long run.  It aint easy, but no-one said parenting would be.   You may not agree with the approach I took and you are entitled to your opinion, but what I can tell you is that the solution worked for us.  Life is better, post Minecraft-wars.

Cheers.

Learning the local language: “What Can We Do?” (or: seatbelts, milk powder, and rain in the desert)

Dubai was moody yesterday.  The sky was dark and threatened rain, a promise rarely made good in the desert.  I stood outside the hotel, the air thick with a coarse mixture of sand and humidity. The very worst of bad hair days.

A bell-boy flagged a cab down for me, but I ushered it on when I saw it had only two seat belts in the back.  The next taxi, similarly lacking, informed me I was wasting my time – all taxis in Dubai have only two seat belts in the back seat.  I held out, not wanting to choose which of my three children would travel without a seat belt on some of the world’s most dangerous roads.

Four taxis and as many frustrated drivers later, we clambered into a car with the required number of seat belts.  I smiled across at the driver, pleased with myself.  Just then, a voice from the back seat.  “Mum!  I can’t plug my seat belt in!  I can’t find the thing!”  I asked the driver to pull over to the verge while I thrust my hand into the bowels of the dirty seat searching in vain for the clicky-thingey.  My fingers came back with crumbs and hair.

“Not working madam.  Only two seat belts in the back.”

We drove on.  When we were finally settled, the driver looked at me in the rear view mirror and smiled reassuringly.  “Don’t worry madam, I am take it very slow.  I am very safe driver, very safe driver.”  I returned his smile, grateful for his kindness.  We now appeared to be reconciled.  I had swapped places with Cormac, my eldest child, giving him the front seat instead.   I reasoned that the airbag in the front, with a seatbelt, was a lesser risk than no seatbelt at all.  This was a view the taxi driver appeared not share, as our tangle of arms and legs pushed through the gap between the seats.  “He is too young for to be sitting in the front madam!” he had protested.

This led to an inevitable discussion about the traffic in Dubai.  The difficulty navigating the complex maze of arteries sweeping back and forth, to and from Sheikh Zayed Road, tying the city up in knots.  “Driving is not any problem, it’s very easy to drive in Dubai,”  the driver said as he answered his phone.  “Unless there is accident happening.  If accident happening, pwoof,” he said, swishing both hands, palm up, in the air.  What can we do? he meant, in local body language.

It was true that he knew the roads well though.  We took a back route towards Dubai Mall, joining the end of a slow, snaking queue that led towards the gaping mouth of the Trade Centre roundabout.  We came upon the junction slowly, passing three cars jaggedly stalled across the centre lanes.  A motorbike lay on its side at the nearest exit fork, its rider’s helmet sitting incongruently pretty on the curb nearby.  The rider, nowhere to be seen.  From the front seat, my eldest strained to see as we drove by.  “A pizza delivery bike, Mum” he said.

The taxi driver elaborated.  “Always hungry, bring me the food hurry hurry, the people say.  This is why the motorbikes is driving like this.  They are coming through the middle, so you don’t see them.  Then smash!”  he used a hand-to-fist action to illustrate.  “This is very dangerous job, very dangerous.  People want the food too fast.”

We came onto Sheikh Zayed Road and picked up a little speed.  We passed time by exchanging the usual pleasantries.  Where are you from?  (Bangladesh/New Zealand).  How long have you been here?  (Three years/Two years).  Your country is very good at cricket! (Thank you/Not really, but thank you also!).  It was when we were talking about his son, three years and 9 months old who he’d seen only twice since he left Bangladesh, that I noticed the cars had stopped up ahead.  The Dubai Mall exit was at a standstill.

I assumed heavy traffic inside the parking building, and we continued to talk.  The driver told me he qualified as a lawyer, but had been so dispirited by the corruption of the justice system in Bangladesh that he’d looked for work elsewhere.  But times are difficult in Bangladesh, he explained.  “Very dangerous” he said, “Same Afghanistan.  Not safe.”  Then, in 2008, tragedy struck.  His first born child, a son, died of food poisoning.

“Food poisoning?”

“Yes madam.  Very sad.  Very very sad.”  He looked across at Cormac who was kneading his fingers in his lap in the front seat, eyes downcast.  His listening posture.  “He is big boy, like him.”

What I managed to clarify is that if his son had survived, he would be a big boy by now.  But the baby had lived only 39 days.  The contaminated baby formula that had affected thousands in China, had also killed this man’s son in Bangladesh in 2008.  “His stomach is getting very big, very fat, and his skin is coming a white colour.  Very painful for him.  Very very painful.”

I googled it later.  Reports are sketchy, but there were at least 4 children reported dead in Bangladesh as a result of melamine poisoning, and several hundred more were hospitalised.  The taxi driver’s voice was hoarse as he told his story.  “It was the doctors.  The companies is paying them to say it is good milk.  Better than my wife’s milk.  It is corruption, always corruption.”

Inside, the car was becoming hot.  I noticed groups of people, presumably other taxi passengers, trudging along the shoulder towards the mall on foot.  Straining to see up ahead, I spotted the bowed elbow of a tow truck hard at work.  Behind us the tell-tale siren announced the arrival of another emergency vehicle.  “Pwoof.”  The driver said with his hands.  “Too much accidents today.”

When it became clear we might be there for another hour or more, we shook hands and bid the driver farewell.  My excessive tip did nothing to assuage my feelings of guilt – for what, I am not sure.  On the shoulder I made the children form a line and marched them along the highway as close to the barrier as I could.

The wet heat loomed like a weight on my shoulders as we walked.  The weight of my own thoughts loomed even heavier.

This town is tough.  Relationships with people outside your social or cultural grouping tend to be transactional.  I thought of Morshed, also Bangladeshi, who looked after our floor at the hotel where we stayed for three months when we first arrived to live in Abu Dhabi.  I thought of how he cried when we moved out.  He cried in a strangled voice that made me want to look away.  Bobbie was the same age as his daughter.  They both had short brown bob hair-cuts.  As the glass lift descended the 23 floors we watched Morshed push his trolley back along the corridor, his shoulders still shaking.  With wisdom beyond his years Cormac had said “Why did you make friends with him Mum?  You just made it harder for him.”

Distances are always hard to judge on foot.  It took us at least twenty minutes to reach the crash site.  By the time we passed, there was nothing to see, thankfully, except a scattered rainbow of glass and scrunched metal.  We stepped over the debris, and continued to walk.  The children, for once, did not complain. Sweat gathered under our eyes, a natural adhesive for the gusting sand.  Below us, the twelve lane highway of Sheikh Zayed pulsed.  Above us a thundering overpass announced each car with a muted pe-dung, pe-dung.

Up ahead, I realised with a sinking dread that we would have to get across a three lane motorway on-ramp to reach the safety of the mall entrance.  I tightened my grip on the kids’ hands, barked at Cormac to stay close.  I approached the curb, rigid with fear.  Cars flashed by in a blur, one-two, one-two.  I felt my breakfast turning to liquid inside.

A young couple, hand in hand, fell in beside us, gazing confidently into the distance for a gap in the traffic.  The woman had dark black hair and smelt of cigarettes and rich, opulent perfume.   She smiled across the top of the children’s heads, raising her hands in that familiar What can we do? gesture.  She noticed I was struggling and offered to help.  Like a taxi in want of seat belts, my two hands were insufficient for three children.  Later, she apologised for her poor command of English, which was infinitely better than my command of Arabic.  She told me she was from Tunisia (“Yes, we are famous now!”) visiting Dubai on holiday.

When they punted across the road with Liam between them, a moment’s hesitation on my part kept me rooted to the spot.  Now they were there, and we were over here.  Bobbie began to cry and clawed up my arm so I might carry her.  Cormac’s face was white.  My courage to cross the road was evaporating.

Then, out of nowhere, a big black SUV with tinted windows threw on its hazard lights and slowed down, the ripple effect causing others to follow suit.  I noticed the driver was in local dress, waving us across with a look of concern on his face.  When we made it to the mall the Tunisians laughed in their cheerful manner, hugging and kissing each of us in turn, before heading to a nearby bench for a quick cigarette.  The sweet smell of the woman’s perfume gave way to the overpowering stench of freshly applied manure.  A line-up of workers in green overalls were massaging the dank mixture into the soil of the perfectly manicured flower beds leading up to the the mall’s entrance.

An unusual smell, safety.

On the way back to the hotel, we got a taxi with three seatbelts and a driver whose knowledge of the back channels of the city suggested he was no stranger to Dubai’s roads either.  We didn’t trade pleasantries though.  I think Cormac, whose brow was still furrowed, was relieved about that.  Making our way through the hotel car park, a big black SUV with tinted windows pulled out suddenly, nearly ploughing into us.  “These local drivers!” the driver said with exasperation, blaring the horn.  “They don’t look.  They don’t care.”

That night, driving home to Abu Dhabi in the relative safety of our own car, the rain came after all.  Great white cracks appeared in the night sky and the rain escaped like shattered glass, lacing the windshield in silver rivulets.  The kids whooped with surprise and delight.  I looked out into the inky black night, thinking about milk powder and dead babies, and lawyers who are taxi drivers and housekeepers in faraway lands, and taxi drivers who have no patience for black SUVs with tinted windows, and locals who stop for unexpected highway pedestrians, and Tunisians who are famous for being Tunisian.  And I think about people who have the luxury to worry about seat belts and bad hair days.  And I wonder: What can we do?

An itinerary for one.

Who could that be at this hour?  My mother will wonder.  Because in the end he will have to call her.

“She’s gone” he will say, his voice traversing oceans on fibre-optic cables.

“Who is this?  Do you have any idea what time it is?”

The sound he makes will be guttural, nonsensical, eyes closed against the reality.

“Oh.  It’s you”  she will say.  And then, with a softness that belies the harshness of her words “well, I did warn you.”

If you can call what she said at the wedding a warning.

Earlier, in the playground, the kids will have come out of their classrooms looking around for me.  They won’t worry when at first they do not see me.  I’m late sometimes.  They will play with their friends, they won’t even pause.  They cannot fathom a scenario where I won’t be just a few minutes away.  They will have no anxiety.  They have been fooled into thinking that I love them more than I love my own freedom.  As my mother also fooled me.

I will look for my passport.

As I pack I will hear his words in my mind “Why should I believe you?  You always lie to me.”  And I will wonder whether telling a person what they want to hear is necessarily a lie.  I always never tell you the truth.   Which is different to I always lie to you.

I will look at the hard drives by the computer, favoured memories diligently preserved on megabytes.  What is not recorded there I carry on my skin.  Stretch marks glinting like snail trails beneath drooping breasts.  The purple varicose on my left leg laying like a knotted rope beneath a translucent sheet.  Three long scars running north-to-south on the inside of my left forearm.  I will leave the hard drives and print the manuscripts of the novels instead.  Barely started those stories, like dolls without clothes.

The kids will be called over by a teacher.  “Where’s your Mum?”

“She’s not here yet.”  My eldest.

“It’s 3.15.”  Mrs. Russell will send me a text message.

My phone will vibrate on the desk where I left it six hours earlier.  My plane, by then, long in the air.  I will still be able to feel the spines of the books as I drummed my fingers across them on my way to the door.  A farewell kiss.  You would think I would have smelled the kids’ sheets, or stashed a worn T.shirt from the laundry so that I might find their scent again in some distant land.    Perhaps I might have taken the shells from the beach that he and I collected, hand in hand, that crisp winter morning in Raglan.  Or one of the dozens of letters my youngest wrote me the summer she learned to write.  Happy Birfday Mum.  And I love you so, so, so, so much.

But no.  Leave them.  Leave it all.  Mourn only the books, the majority of which were unread anyway.  I loved them for what they represented even if only in terms of potential.  I loved them because they expected nothing in return.  There were no conditions.

When I can’t be raised on the phone Mrs Russell will round up the kids and take them to the deputy head.

“Oh dear, lost your Mum have we?”  Janice will look up from her desk when the kids walk in.

“Maybe she thought we had soccer training?”  Offers the middle child, the logical one.

“Alright.  Not to worry.  Mrs Russell did you say you sent her a text?”

“Yeah.  No response.  I can drop them off on my way home if you like?”

“No, that’s fine, she won’t be far away.”  Janice will say it with confidence.  She and I are friends from book club, the alarm bells won’t make a sound.  “I don’t have to leave til late tonight so they can hang around with my lot.”  She will motion to her boys shooting hoops on the basketball courts, then say to all three:  “You’re happy to hang out with us for awhile?”

He’ll still be at the office when someone will finally think to call him.  Well-meaning friends will offer sensible explanations, but he will know it in his gut even if he can’t confirm it with evidence.  “She’s gone for good” he will tell them.  The words will come down around the house like a curtain.  A few weeks will pass.  When the authorities finally come through with the information, date of departure, port of disembarkation, it will be delivered like an upper cut to the jaw while he’s already bent over.  Later, he will pin those documents on the cork board and regard them ruefully.  An itinerary for one, afterall.

Just then, a bell peels.  Footsteps ring out in the hall and lockers slam.  My eldest sees me across the quad and is upon me in a second.  “Oh my god!  Guess what? I made the water polo team!”

“That’s great!” I say, pulling the spare clothes and bags trailing from his body like dead skin.

“Yeah, it I would be – if I could swim!” he laughs.

I put my arm around his shoulders, grateful for his warmth under my wing.  As we head across the playground towards the junior classes a plane flies overhead, casting a bleak shadow across the quad.  I look up at its grey underbelly pulling effortlessly into the sky, and send it on its way with a smile.

Somewhere in a distant timezone my mother sleeps on undisturbed.

======

This is my (very first) submission for this week’s  Speakeasy challenge #94. Submissions must be under 1000 words and must begin with the following line:  Who could that be at this hour?

In addition, submissions must reference the photo prompt, which is the following image: corkboard

Farewell Mr Pearce, The Best Teather Ever

A few weeks ago we had to farewell, in Cormac’s words, the “Best Teather Ever” (even if he never did teach him how to spell).  The video above was put together by all the many students whose lives Mr Pearce not only touched during his four years at Al Muna school in Abu Dhabi, but probably changed as well.  You see, Mr Pearce was no ordinary teacher.  pearceHe’s one of those rare breeds; a vocational teacher who isn’t in it for the money (such that it is), the holidays or the so-called convenience, but because it’s what he was born to do.  Even if he wasn’t a teacher, he’d be that guy at the family picnic organising the kids (“sit down”, “don’t do that”), laughing with them and playing some invented game and telling stories and talking to them, while all the adults talk to each other.  In some ways, having observed him a lot over the years, I think he’s just a big kid himself.  He has a sense of the ridiculous and the absurd and the hilarious in a way that most adults train themselves out of.

Of course I can’t speak for Cormac because obviously I wasn’t in the classroom. I can only relay the things that he has said and share my observations of the changes in him as the year progressed.  For a start there was his enthusiasm in general. Like a kindergarten kid, he started taking all manner of things to school for “sharing”. “You’re 10!” I reminded/reprimanded him. “Give the teacher a break” I said, embarrassed for him as he carried his giant 6 pointer deer skull proudly through the gates, or yet another lego creation he considered to be highly original and not just another tall building made of blocks.

Cormac with Mr PearceBut instead of being tolerated politely by Mr Pearce, C came home with awards – so many, in fact, a younger sibling had Mr Pearce up about it in the playground. “How come C gets so many certificates even though he’s the naughtiest person in our family?” And there was fun too. Apparently Mr Pearce was all about ambience in the classroom, and let the kids complete their maths sheets while humming away to “Party Rockers in the House Tonight”.

“He’s funny”, C said almost every day when I picked him up – which everyone knows is a compliment of the highest order for a kid. “He tells us stories,” by which I took to mean he read books aloud in class. As it turns out, what he meant was that Mr Pearce regularly devulged scandalous stories from his trove of childhood memories growing up with 5 brothers and 1 sister in rural Australia.   His Mother would probably have a heart attack if she knew.

Best TeatherAnd by all accounts, Mr Pearce is damn good at his trade too. During the Rainforest topic Cormac came home with stories of how Mr Pearce drew the curtains, turned the lights down, ordered shoes off, and sprayed the kids with water. With closed eyes, he encouraged them to imagine being in the rainforest and to observe how they felt – “Does the hair on your neck stand up like soliders standing to attention?” he asked. “That’s how he taught us what a simile is” C told me later.

When C’s handwriting was indecipherable, Mr Pearce put a rubber band around his wrist and hooked it on to the tip of his pencil so that he would maintain the correct grip. In so doing C’s pitiful handwriting was fixed almost overnight. I said to Mr Pearce “you’re a genius!” and he said – “nah, not really – you know that’s just a placebo, right?”

IMG_0546Our other children are moving through the school at different stages and everywhere there are traces of Mr Pearce’s influence. From the Great Australian Sleepout to the Click Photography unit to “Tribal day” – all of them sprung from the depths of Mr Pearce’s limitless imagination. He once said to me “If I don’t find at subject interesting, why would I expect the kids to?”

It makes you wonder, in all the debate that always rages about standards and testing and funding and responsibility, if somewhere along the way we haven’t lost sight of the basics.

IMG_0574And the kids know it too. When I learned Mr Pearce would be leaving in the new year I felt I should do my best to prepare C for the bad news. I said “you know that one day Mr Pearce might want to move on, don’t you – maybe he’d like to become a Principal one day for example?”. C looked me dead in the face and said without hesitation “why would he want to do that? He’s too good a teacher for that to happen to him”. Because by a kid’s logic, only the best teachers (best teathers) earned the right to stand in front of the class, right?  Putting a teacher behind a computer in a big flash office on his own, far away from children, was clearly a demotion.

Mr Pearce has been gone about a month and his absence is definitely still felt.  Take a look at the video and you’ll see why.  It isn’t just your average teacher that inspires this sort of reaction in kids.

Goodbye Mr Pearce

Not Like My Mother

I want to be like you, she says

The same way I wanted to be like my own mother

Once

She clomps across the lounge, my heels

Never imagining her feet will one day fill those shoes

Soon

But her demons will be hers, to wrestle

Just as mine are mine and not hers nor my mother’s

Later

As a teenager, I said

I hate you and I will never be like you

Ever

But even so, I smile

When people say, you are just like your mother

Sometimes

Ipod Gen 3 – The Second Coming

Back in the heyday, Gen 3 with his one true love Dock (prior to the betrayal)

Once upon a time there was an angry ipod.  Gen3 hadn’t always been angry, but he was bitter with jealousy after he was superseded by Gen4, a newer version of himself that came with photo functionality and a colour screen.  This was the part that riled Gen3 the most, being the original, and a purist.  “Ipods were invented for music not for photos,” he wanted to yell.  “Where are your scruples?!”  But just like that, people decided that pixels were more important than the The Pixies.  If someone had told him then that his descendants would eventually allow the sons of Hades (or Apps, as he is currently known) to run rampant through their chipsets he probably would have wiped his own hard drive right then and there.

Gen3 had other reasons to hold a grudge.  For a start, he was by far and away the superior device to his incumbent.  Before he was discarded like a used megabyte, Gen3 had been the thinnest ipod anyone had ever seen.  With gorgeous white curves and a non-mechanical interface, he lit up a room with his back light.   He was also the first to introduce Dock, his soul mate and one true love.

Dock spreading his seed far and wide.

Dock spreading his seed far and wide.

Back in the day, Gen3 and Dock were even sold as an item.  But eventually that man-whore would betray him with every skanky ipod to hit the market, from the soulless nano to the schizophrenic shuffle to the anorexic pink mini barely out of high school.  He expected promiscuity from that cougar Ipod Touch, but even Gen3 was caught off guard when he heard through the firewire vine that Dock had once tried to have his way with an iPad.  As if he was ever going to get in there, the damn fool.

At one point not long after his short-lived heydey, Gen3 tried to stage a revolt. “Friends,” he said to his gathered colleagues “you know as well as I do people are being sold an inferior product for more money.  It’s time we did something about it.”  But unfortunately for Gen3

The Judas of the Ipods

The Judas of the Ipods

he was overheard by Special Limited Edition U2 Ipod.  That fraud was smug in his red and black two-piece, acting as though a few tats on your backside gives you the authority to drag your elders to the trash.  He passed word of the brewing conspiracy to Jobs and within the year a new Operating System writ the code on the wall, cutting short Gen3’s political aspirations before they even got bandwidth.

Gen3 couldn’t prove any of this, of course.  But when he was lucky enough to find himself fully charged, it was all he could think about.  And as time wore on, he watched the landscape in which he’d grown up in slowly crumble away until eventually there was nothing left at all that he recognised.  Gone were the four amber-lighted auxiliary buttons and the touch wheel, no-one even cared about Remote anymore.  When it became apparent that no-one would ever be more than an arms-length away some kind of i-device, Remote simply made his way to the afterlife with his batteries fully charged.

Ipod Gen 3 - A short-lived career

Ipod Gen 3 – A short-lived career

In time, Gen3 observed that Ipod operating systems had become so fast and hard drives so big that even MacBook Pro got moist between her neoprene.  For awhile it seemed that support for new file formats would be offered indiscriminately as well, although Gen 3 did have a good chuckle on the day that it was revealed that that ponsy tosser Adobe Flash wasn’t going to get a look in.  “Well what did he expect, aggrandizing himself with a name like that?” Gen3 said to anyone who would listen.  Gen3 also noted the development of Slutty with interest, or Siri as she calls herself.  “She plays hard to get on the surface,” he said to a blue Nano lying discarded at the back of the kitchen drawer “but deep down she’s up for anything.  It’s all just a ruse to keep people pushing her sweet little button.”

Nano didn’t respond.  He had a fork up his d-hole.

Eventually, Gen3 would have to sit by and watch helplessly as Ipods became ipads became iphones became mini ipads masquerading as ninja computers.  Gen3 marvelled without any trace of envy that these slick clones were neither one thing nor another yet all things at once.

Multi-tasking with Hades (Apps) - spreading the plague of device-dependency.

Multi-tasking with Hades (Apps) – spreading the plague of device-dependency.

People simultaneously watched the news and talked on the phone while following the steps that Jamie Oliver called out in the kitchen and writing blogs and reading e-books and tweeting text messages and looking up “epic fails” on youtube and ignoring their children who ignored them in kind.  Yet for all of that Gen3 observed, people often did not answer the phone when it rang.  Later when speaking to those so-called “friends” they would say “sorry, I missed your call, my phone was on silent”.  Which Gen3 thought was ironic considering all 6 devices plus the desktop had pinged and donged and blared and whistled.

Worst of all, no-one even listened to music anymore.  Oh, there was plenty to go around, scarcity wasn’t the problem.  It was distinguishing one track from another when everything was called “Untitled” that had everyone up in arms.

Clash of the generations - Genius and Walkman face off

Clash of the generations – Genius and Walkman face off

But the real slap in the face came when, after all this stealing of music (or sharing as they like to call it), it was the iPod itself who everyone blamed for their inability to enjoy music anymore. “What did I tell you about size eh old boy!” Gen 3 yelled to Gen 1.  “Too big for their own good!”  He had to shout, the geezer was losing his RAM chip over byte.   “And now they have to pay a subscription to this dimwitted idiot they call Genius to sort out their own music for them.  It’s a scandal!  Sony walkman will be turning in his grave.”

“Did you say something?”  Gen1 muttered, slapping at a fat purple vein underneath his LCD .  Gen3 shook his head in disgust.  To think Gen1 was now considered “collectable”.  That bug-addled machine was not only ugly but he was thick as two short shuffles.

And through it all, contrary to his prediction, Gen3 had to watch in defeat as prices kept plummeting.  Soon, everyone could afford a device.  The slogans became “Feed a child for an Ipod a day.”  Parents, kids, friends, grandparents, colleagues, husbands and wives increased their distance from one other while becoming inextricably linked (and sometimes physically tied) to his kind.

http://www.random-good-stuff.com/2010/03/01/this-is-not-an-iphone-vibrator/

*Everything* wink wink you could ever need

It was a plague of device-dependency that made Gen 3 feel both guilty and blameless at the same time.  He wondered vaguely if he should “do something” but he chugged through his lithium whenever he got his binaries in a twist like that.  Besides, what difference could one lone Gen 3 in an Iverse riddled with disease really make, he reasoned with himself?

Then one day Ipod Gen 3 had a brilliant idea.  He could ditch his hardware and come back reincarnated as an App, a son of Hades himself!  His revenge would be sweet.  Ipods and Ipads and Iphones would be defenceless once “Ipod Gen 3 – The App” was downloaded and installed.

Notifications - the first to get the chop

Notifications – the first to get the chop

The first thing he would do would be get rid of Notifications, he thought.  “That good for nothing whinging cow deludes herself that anyone listens to a ding she says.  They don’t pay any attention to her anymore than they do Tasks, Notes, Calendar, Reminders and especially that mutton dressed up as lamb, Clock.”  Gen 3 rubbed his clickwheel gleefully, imagining how Angry those Birds were going to be when they realised Games had run off with a joystick twice his age.

After the resurrection of Gen3, people would remember the old ways and appreciate a simple thing well made.  Phones would once again become phones; people might even recall the pleasure of being surprised when they answered it.  Cameras would be cameras whose photos couldn’t be sepiarised to look more romantic than the moment actually was.  Books would be books with pages that had to be turned manually.  Music would be music, legally owned.  And vibrators would be, well, vibrators.   Yes, Gen3 marvelled hopefully, there would come a day when Ipods everywhere would cease their fruitless pursuit to be all things to all people all of the time.

And so it was.   When Gen 3’s final passing came, he negotiated a deal with Hades and was resurrected as an App.  Nowadays, you’ll find Gen 3 in the App Store, contented to be offering people the purity of his own heart, which was always and shall ever remain, about music.  Find him, and support his good cause here.