Tag Archives: Teenagers

A state of mind address

Yes I have been quiet.

Do you know that I have been writing 3limes an average of two times a week for close to four years? (This is post # 425.)  And in that time I have written about the rain, the desert, Carnival, liming, zebras, lions in trees, car crashes, teaching teens, raising my girls as reluctant expats, the longing feeling for home, the getting used to the new, the craving for shiny shops and culture, the scary driving, the Canadian Lakes, the roads of London. I have taken many photos, sometimes inserted a book review or poem we are studying in class. I have told stories and hopefully amused and given some picture of what this crazy expat life is all about.

But there is a lot I have not said. I have not shared the tears, the heartbreak, and the true aftermath of all the goodbyes. I have not always told you everything about the schools where I teach, I couldn’t. Early on I made the decision that this blog would not reveal the personal, and I would not show photos of my family or tell you too much about them, outside of the anecdotal. I have held back, time and time again. There is an information overload out there; blogs, Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, Stumble On, newspapers, Arts&Letters Daily, photography…the list goes on, the words tumble and crowd and fill me up ‘till I can’t hear the quiet anymore. And I have not been quite sure where I fit into the noise.

This is not a place for cute pics of my kids or the meal I made last night. This is not the place to fill you in with details of my weight loss, marriage, sex life or tearful rages. This is not the place to write about the days when I am too sad to write. So it is a place for stories, observations, a place to mark my days and remember what it was like. To try and find the pretty and keep moving. And recently I haven’t been very good at doing that, because I haven’t, honestly been doing a lot of seeing and doing.

I work. I work hard, hello IB? I deal with lazy students, incompetence, entitlement and bad manners. But I also teach open minded, wise, brilliant students, mainly girls, mind you, that open my eyes more than I open theirs. Teaching in this school has taught me more about the Arab and Muslim world than I could ever imagine and it has spun my ideas in circles many times. But I cannot write about these students, or this school. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right.

I go home and I take care of my lovely girls who work hard and discover and learn and sometimes get sad and homesick but mainly are good and fine and happy. I cook for them, I wash their clothes, and I shop, help with homework and drive them all over the place. I do the Mom thing, the best way I know how. And sometimes I fear it isn’t good enough. Don’t we all?

I take care of my husband and love him up the best way I can. We love and laugh and read and watch movies and sometimes we look at each other and wonder how the hell we ended up here, in this life, living in this country. Sometimes I am in a time warp, driving in Bahrain and suddenly, in a flash I am simultaneously driving down a red dirt road in Kampala with the sun glinting off the rain splattered giant leaves. And there is that woman with the bananas on her head, and there are those children laughing and carrying water as the sun begins to dip. Or I am driving the girls to school in Montreal and the snow has turned to slush and we are listening to our favourite morning show. Or I am thinking about my day in this school in Bahrain and suddenly in a flash my worlds are colliding and I am back in a class room in Port of Spain, bare feet on blue carpet, hum of the air-conditioner, sun pressing against the window panes. And then quick flash, I am back in Montreal in a classroom of 32 girls, chalk on black skirt, wooden desks smoothed by the hands and pens of time. I am talking to a new friend here and then bang! I am in the garden of my dear A, back in her lushness in Kampala and we are sipping Espresso and watching our kids jump on the trampoline. Or bang! I am sitting on the wooden floor boards of my Montreal house with my best girl friends and the kids are tiny, barely toddlers.

Too many worlds have happened too fast. I am shell shocked.

Shall I tell you all this? Shall I tell you about my new exercise regime? My careful monitoring of everything I eat so that it is I who controls my body and what goes in it? My fantastic Latin Dance Class? My battles with teenagers, the constant negotiation and mapping of life with a teenage daughter, the sad, too sad week in school last week when I watched my dear students deal with a grief they are too young to comprehend?  Shall I write about the friends I miss and wish I could see again? Shall I tell you about my worries about the Summer, when I will go “home” to Montreal, to a place that is no longer home, where I have no home and hop from friend to friend in the hope that please can I not offend or disappoint anyone this year? Can I please NOT piss anyone off?

No. I cannot tell you everything that is in my mind, this is not that kind of blog. And I cannot tell you what I do every day because it is, quite frankly, boring. And who wants to hear what I am making for dinner? Or what I taught today? Who wants to see the photo of Princess in her cute new skirt or hear about how much sand we swept up from the front steps yesterday?  There are plenty of blogs like that, this is not that blog.

So where does that leave little 3limes? Faltering on her balance beam, not entirely sure which way to fall.

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Filed under Being brave, pen and paper, personal

What I am learning

Having taught in International schools with their diverse populations for some time, and before that in Montreal with its gentle mix of cultures I have never, until now taught in a school with single ideology. Now my class is full of students of one faith, one culture, one nationality and one common background.  At times it unnerves me, sometimes I am surprised but most often I am quietly jealous of their sense of belonging.

There are things that are certain. Every Friday they will gather with their whole family at the grandparents’ house for a lunch time meal.  Every summer they will leave Bahrain and visit London or the States. Every weekend they will see the same friends and family that they have been seeing for all the weekends of their lives. Each school day they will come and sit beside a friend they have known since kindergarten. They will probably leave for university but then almost definitely return to live close to family. They will marry someone they know, or who is at least known through association.  Each day, at some point, maybe for some during school in the prayer room, maybe for others later in the privacy of their home, they will pray. But for all religion is not only a quiet focus in their lives but a central source of purpose.  During one of my outside duties I observe a number of students, certainly not the majority, but a handful, walk over to the prayer room, remove their shoes and enter for about 5 minutes. And I am always surprised. That they take time away from their already short lunch break, that they find comfort and solace in the simple act of homage and that religion shapes the structure of their days.

My own prejudice led me to believe that living amongst a singular ideology would cause single
mindedness, therefore closed mindedness. But in the majority of cases that is not true. Of course there are some who live with a naïveté that borders on precious. In the words of one student:  “for the high class women bringing up children and cooking are not their tasks, they are the jobs of housemaids”. They are all comfortable; struggle is not in their vocabulary. They have sense of us vs. them, they are deeply proud and protective of their Arab culture and hate the way the Western media portrays them and ‘gets it wrong.’

But there are many who struggle with the daily injustice they see before them, who are thinking and critical young adults, more aware than many I taught back in Montreal. They have an awareness of their culture that rests within the certainty off all it offers them.

Often I feel I am the student. But isn’t that the way real teaching should be?

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A soup made of old and new: African and Arabian skies.

Trooper is drowning already. Homework is piling around her, her bed is covered with papers, her desk has no surface, her face has that “what the hell” look about it.

Princess cooks, between bouts of less homework, she has perfected the art of perfect banana bread.

Both are surviving the change. There are well weathered in this “move around and start all over again” malarky, even though they hate it.  They have fit their shoulders around the feel of their new uniform and are learning the ropes of new hallways, the strange jungle of making new friends and the touch of a different morning routine.

Sometimes I wonder how our heads don’t spin out of control with all this change.  We are nomads who have to jump in and adjust, no matter that the smell of the old mingles with the new. Some days I am living a parallel life, I am in my old house listening to African birds and lying under a burnished African sky and I am simultaneously looking out of my window at a desert and an Arabian sunset.

When I enter the cafeteria here at school and hear the musical Arabic voices I am simultaneously back in the Kampala lunch room, with the Ugandan breeze touching the heads of those I know so well.  As I sit in my classroom and tell the students to please stop talking in class and if they must then please only speak English, I am immediatly back in my old classroom telling the girls to stop their chitter chatter, feeling the heat of the windows press on my back and brushing the red dirt off my black skirt.  When I drive past a cleaner-than-thou mosque, resplendant in marble, I am walking through Bukoto market worrying over the Boda driver who nearly knocked me into a ditch.

I am the old me and the new me. the past and the present mingled with memory and tears, hope and fear all at once.

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Filed under Being brave, How old am I?

Escaping Camp Hormone

It has been a troubling week in Camp Hormone, the gossip mongers have been hurtful, the facebook chat rooms full. There are weeks when I have my overdose of teens, living with one at home and a multitude at work. They are strange and worrisome creatures and there is no handbook, just trial and error, a lot of patience and masses of consistency and consequence.

But I cannot discuss Camp Hormone here; my gag order is in full effect so instead I will tell you about my other life. Do I have another one? Yes, I found it on Saturday night dancing to Salsa in uncomfortable high heels with no Tequila. (I was driving and being sensible. Always sensible.)  I find myself going out so much more now that I am high heeled up and single (well single and married, if that makes any sense at all.) I went out five nights in a row which is a record, really. I am not sure I have not that this decade, though it is only 3 months old.

This past week I have attended an Irish themed dinner party, complete with very interesting Irish folk and a superb Baileys and Mint Chocolate Chip Ice-cream milkshake, a Murder Mystery Dinner where I was given the role of Brash and Aggressive American ( no risk of type casting there then) and featured a divine Pear Martini, a decadent Indian meal, a girls’ night out under the stars, a birthday dinner with my girls and a heavenly molten chocolate dessert, a tea party with pink champagne instead of tea and a hilarious one year old who cleaned the chocolate cake off everyone’s plate and the afore mentioned salsa dancing.  The dancing was fun and long overdue and I was having a great time dancing with the bodacious Latino ladies until a pile of my students walked in and balked.

Nothing like a 17 year old at 1:00 am on a Saturday night to make you feel old.

Camp Hormone. Can’t escape the inmates.

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“Did you hear what the teacher said?”

Well I am back at work and teenagers keep pouring into my classroom.  Funny how one new male student, with reasonable looks and a certain charm can throw all the girls into a tizzy. The whole class is like a mini hurricane and he is the eye of the storm. The girls don’t know where to look or put themselves so try teaching them grammar under such conditions. Meanwhile the boys are all aware of this new rooster in the flock so chests and puffed and struts are strutting. The hormones are a raging.

Now imagine this little scene. We have two text books with long and convoluted names; to make things easier I have decided to refer to them by the name of the author, one being Barr and one Cox. Today I directed them to the attractive steel prison grey cabinets to collect their supplies and once they were all seated, legs splayed and chests out I asked in my best cheery teacher voice:

“Ok everyone! Have you all got your Cox out?”

It’s only day two.

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Filed under Might be funny, Miss Teacher

Miss Teacher is procrastinating

( Photo taken on a recent day off school midweek before the marking marathon began. Uganda has a curious number of Public Holidays, this one was called Hero’s Day. I feel like a Hero at the moment. A teacher Hero.)

In the past 36 hours I have marked 80 exams and written 60 reports. My eyes have the scrawled script of many  teenagers bobbing in a dazed blurred image.

When I am not marking I am procrastinating.

Things I do when I should be marking exams:

  1. Eat chocolate given to me my students that go just perfectly soft in the sun.
  2. Read the final book of the Millenium series. The marathon is finally over and I read all three in a row.
  3. Watch season six of House
  4. Watch season 1 of Glee ( with Trooper and Princess)
  5. Play Hangman on my iphone
  6. Plan my summer holidays and fret over how much I am packing into three weeks
  7. look at the the sartorialist and dream of shops
  8. make lists of all the exams I have to mark
  9. Write lists of what I do when I am not marking exams
  10. Clean my classroom
  11. Excel as a procrastinator

If you don’t hear from me then I have stopped procrastinating and I am back, knee deep in paper.

This week will pass and then we will be facing THE END.

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Kids are Cruel.

The tween and teen years are a time of terrible pressure and also petty silliness. Take these examples of things that make my students said. What is missing here is maturity and perspective, perhaps all that comes from having bigger problems to fry. But in the mean time their little hearts get sore and their heads in a tizzy all from, what seems to us, simple silliness. But to them these things are very real despite being very short lived.

“Jill told Jack to come and tell me my boobs are too big!”

“Frank and Jack were throwing my bag all over the place and I couldn’t catch it.”

“Al flagged me at lunch today.” (This means that he pulled her skirt down to reveal her underwear to the whole cafeteria.)

“Jess looked at me with a mean face and all I did was have lunch with someone different today.”

“John threw a pen at me!”

“Everyone is laughing and saying I love Josh but I was only worried about his face after the ball hit it!”

“Sarah gave me a present and then she took it back! That is why I hit her!”

“Miss, John told me I am ugly.”

The girls tend to make each other cry but the boys are simply crazy. They tease each other so much that their skin grows hard and little bothers them. However they have been taught to pretend nothing hurts them when often it does.  Kids are cruel.

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The Tug of Apron Strings

The times are a changing.

I work with adolescents and I live with an adolescent. Trooper will be 13 in less than a week and she is turning into a woman before my very eyes. I can see her moving gently away from me with her secrets, her ideas, her hidden stories; until she creeps back for the occasional cuddle or late night chat.

She has changed her facebook status. It now reads: “In a relationship.”  Putting that up for the world to see was an heady moment for her and one she waited for. She didn’t want to go first, he had to make the statement public before her, but just seeing it up there is a rite of passage that I never had. So now she enters a new era of scorching heartbreak and searing joy. I can no more wrap her in cotton wool and smuggle her into my bed than protect her. She must tread this path alone but know that I am beside her all the way and always on her side.

A good friend who goes way back into the nether reaches of my past just signed up her daughter for kindergarten and I am sure she is feeling the tug of apron strings as her sweet baby will soon proudly don her backpack and head for the gates. We go through so many steps as parents, each one a tiny goodbye as the strings pull back and forth like a struggling and stubborn fish not wanting to be caught.

To a Daughter Leaving Home

When I taught you

at eight to ride

a bicycle, loping along

beside you

as you wobbled away

on two round wheels,

my own mouth rounding

in surprise when you pulled

ahead down the curved

path of the park,

I kept waiting

for the thud

of your crash as I

sprinted to catch up,

while you grew

smaller, more breakable

with distance,

pumping, pumping

for your life, screaming

with laughter,

the hair flapping

behind you like a

handkerchief waving

goodbye.

Linda Paston (b.1932)

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Filed under I have two girls

Feet in the mud, full throttle, crunch time.

So one ping pong day leads to another and if I don’t write about it and try to make sense of it all then where does the day lead? My weeks fly by so fast; this year, the most difficult year of my life; is nearly over. The year started last June when I left Trinidad and it will end in a few months when Year 1 comes to a close here in Uganda.

I miss my old life.  Not just the people and the school, my job, our sweet dog, my house;  I also miss living by the sea. At the same time I miss my life in Montreal; my friends, the independence of my own car and a house that spilled onto a sidewalk in the middle of town, where I could walk and meet people and do everything I needed to do within a 2km radius. But I cannot dwell on the past. No, I must look forward and look down at my own two feet walking in Kampala mud.

So let’s attack the present shall we?

Princess is terribly sad to see the end of Maria and the singing nuns. Goodbye, farewell. She says that she wishes it would go on forever and not have to end.  I think she fancies the idea of being an actress as a job, where you actually get paid to go onto the stage every single night.

“For how long?” she asked.

“Normally around 6 months and then they change the cast. Sometimes if you are on a break from making movies or are particularly famous they might do an 8 week run.”

“ Oh I like the 8 week one and and the movie idea much better,” she decided.

Princess  had a date with her 10 year old boyfriend on Saturday night.  Ideally they wished to be dropped off at a restaurant all alone for a couple of hours and then picked up and brought home once it was over. I didn’t fancy the idea of two ten year olds in a restaurant alone and neither did his parents. So the big sisters went along to supervise from a distance. They were given  strict instructions to sit at the “other end of the restaurant.”

I feel like saying Oy vey. What lies in my future when dates are starting at 10?

It is seriously cute though.

Trooper is about to turn 13. “’Nuff said.”

Handsome husband, now that his days featuring in The Sound of Music Meets The Pink Panther are over is going to be looking for a new hobby. I am thinking a sport. Something with rackets.

I am full throttle, missiles launching, speeding towards the end of term. I have the nightmare prospect of completing the Yearbook.  (When will I ever learn to say no?)  I have 120 kids who need to be ready to take an exam and then I need to be ready to mark 120 exams with only 2 days spare to write 120 reports.  I am remembering those days when I used to spend hours drinking Star-bucks and pushing a swing.  Fond memories.

But luckily before we get to that crunch time when teachers all over the world start to snap and look frazzled, we have a long weekend. Music to my ears. I am busy planning a get-away which is a good thing because I think I need something other than school and musicals to write about. And don’t you miss pictures? I do. My camera has only be used these past few weeks to snap yearbook photos of administrative staff lined up looking grim and young athletes throwing themselves over high poles.

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Filed under Family Stuff

Living inside a computer.

Not really very much to write to be truthful. So the question begs, why write at all? Well I made a decision, a resolution really, about writing and I must keep to it. I feel it is good for me and in many ways keeps me sane. There are dark thoughts going around my brain, there are school matters proving most distracting and there are matters of a parental nature, more specifically parenting a nearly teenage girl, that are spinning my thoughts asunder.

It seems not that long ago that Trooper was small and wide eyed, eager to learn all and curl up beside me for a good cuddle and a read. Now things have disappeared into a world of cyber possibilities where gossip and love stories zip across the continents, where hearts are spilled on status pages and multiple conversations take place at once, sometimes between Facebook, MSN and Skype. It has all suddenly appeared to be out of control. Perhaps once school is over and the minimal homework that is doled out is completed, there is not enough to do. We have no TV, there are no neighborhood kids with whom to ride bikes or kick a can, no ice cream shop to walk to and how many hours a day can one really read? So the computer has become a world unto itself and I am not sure I like it.

It cannot be banned, it is here to stay and in fact a very healthy and normal part of adolescence, similar to the amount of time we spent on the phone, those many pre-cell texting years ago, with school friends that we had seen mere minutes before. Then when I went to boarding school we were always together, attached through meals, visits to the loo, long homework sessions where novels were written in the form of  “notes” and we didn’t need any devices to keep us connected, only apart!

A plan is needed. Horse riding lessons will be booked forthwith!

In other news the Entourage addiction continues. We are now on season 5 and I doubt I will ever return to watching TV with commercials. It is quite pleasant to sit and watch two episodes without being interrupted by averts for itchy skin, adult diapers or anti-anxiety medication. If there is one sure way to send you into a depression, American ads will do it. Between shiny cars, oozing beef, and dandruff shampoo, it is quite common to find scary legal firms offering us help with law suits and pharmaceutical companies selling us pills for problems were didn’t know existed. It is not a pretty picture of the world. I do not miss the ads one bit. But I did miss the Golden Globes terribly and I must confess to spending my break in front of People.com looking at the best and worst dresses of the night.


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Filed under Teenagers