School Camp

Both of my boys have been on school camp already this year.  Youngest son returned the other week, tired and hot, but bursting with stories to tell of adventures enjoyed, fears conquered, and – even though it was held on the Adelaide Plains in the middle of a heatwave – happily declared he could have stayed longer.

Eldest son was not so ebullient.  He returned from camp in the first week of term declaring he “hated it with the fire of a thousand suns”.

(Full disclosure: those are actually my words.  Or more correctly, Shakespeare’s.  Or, you know, that geeky guy talking to Heath Ledger in “Ten Things I Hate About You”(wink emoji) 

His words were more like:

“It was shit.  I hated it.  Worst camp ever.  Don’t make me go again”)

Chalk and cheese, right?

But while my boys are very different people, with their own personalities, I can totally understand their position, as I have experienced first hand how some camps are great, and others……….not so much.

My first camp experience as a teacher, I was teaching at an all girls Catholic school in the city.  We took our Year 8 girls to a lovely, well optioned campsite in the Adelaide Hills and spent our time going on walks, roasting marshmallows around a camp fire and – I shit you not – literally singing ‘Kumbayah’.  Yes, the girls stayed up late, but that was because they were having so much fun doing each other’s hair. 

It was a thoroughly relaxing, civilised three days.

Buoyed by this experience, twelve months later I eagerly embarked on another three day camp, but by this time I was teaching at an all boys school, and I was accompanying my Year 9 home group on their “Wilderness Adventure”.

It didn’t take long for me to realise that this camp experience was going to be a little different to the last.

Even though the boys were sleeping in dorms on the first night, predictably, there was not a lot of sleeping.  In fact, when I went to check on them, the boys were not in their dorm at all.

It seems several of the boys were so eager to try out the high ropes course, they thought they would have a go – at night.  But first they had to make it look like they were fast asleep in bed.  Most of the boys clearly thought a sleeping bag and pillow hastily shoved under the covers would actually resemble a human form, but two clever young men had earlier performed a reconnaissance mission of the campsite and “borrowed” the first aid mannequins from the equipment shed and placed them in their beds.  Their plan may have worked, but they hadn’t counted on me being a child of the 80’s: I have seen ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ so many times I can recount every word of dialogue.  So the old mannequin in the bed trick?

They didn’t stand a chance.

Once I rounded up the boys and herded them back to their dorm, then patrolled the area for what felt like eternity (but realistically was until the early hours of the morning), I then returned to my dorm and collapsed into bed, pulling the covers over me and praying for sleep.

Except sleep didn’t come, because when I say covers I am talking about a scratchy as sandpaper, prison issue grey blanket that had a warmth factor of zero.

How do I know it was prison issue?

Child of the eighties, remember?

In addition to my love of Ferris Bueller, Dirty Dancing, Grease and every John Hughes film of teenage angst starring Molly Ringwald, I also binge watched every episode of Prisoner.

I had seen Doreen wash enough of those grey blankets under the watchful eye of Bea Smith on the steam press, to recognize their origin.

I’m guessing those scratchy, thin blankets serve a purpose in prison: they don’t allow you to sleep too deeply and therefore you can be on alert in case your cell mate decides to stab you in the middle of the night with a home made shiv.  In a camp dorm though, not much purpose……..

The next morning, not at all refreshed but ready to go, we packed our kayaks and headed off up the river in search of our campsite.

Just under eight hundred hours later* (*time is approximate based on my memory of it taking a bloody long time), we pulled our kayaks up the river bank and began to make camp.

After setting up tents, cooking dinner on Trangia stoves and telling stories around the camp fire, I was looking forward to blissful seep.  Looking at the exhausted boys around the campfire, I was pretty confident they were too.  Soon I was tucked up safely in my tent, utterly relieved I was not on supervision duty that night.

About a millisecond after my body carried my brain off to sleep, my subconscious told me there were footsteps outside my tent.  In that haze between sleep and wakefulness, I heard the whisper through the canvas:

“Mrs B.  You awake?”

It turns out a group of boys had come to tell me that one of their tent mates had been regaling them with his plans to stab me and throw my body in the river.  So they had come to warn me.  But it was ok though, as they had told the supervising teacher so I could go back to sleep now.

(** It is probably pertinent to mention here that while 14 year old boys have a reputation for being generally unlikeable, I loved every single one of these smart, ingenious and often hilarious young men.  The only thing is, not all of “my boys” (as I called them) felt the same way.  While many young men of that age expend their energy hating the world and raging at injustice, one of my students chose to focus all of his rage and hatred solely on me.

This was not news to me, nor to the other boys.  All year, whenever I would question this particular young man on his late arrival at school, he would announce loudly: “I was late because I figuring out ways to kill you”.)

#FriendlyBanter

Knowing that I was definitely not able to go back to sleep, I got up and went to find the other teacher, as well as the student in question.  We found him on the edge of the river, lighting pots of metho (that he had secreted away from all of the other boys’ Trangia stoves) and trying to sail his home made bombs across the river to set the houseboats on fire.

Needless to say parents were called, and he was driven home that night.

That meant I got to sleep blissfully for at least two whole hours before I got up and walked 15 miles so that I could go to the loo without any spectators (this was in the days before phones had cameras, but I wasn’t taking any chances).

You will be relieved to know the final day of the camp passed without incident and we were soon headed home.

Well, if you don’t count the boy who became lost in the bush for several hours during the orienteering activity. 

Or the other boy who unknowingly squatted on a nest of fire ants to defecate and was bitten on the testicle, which then swelled to three times its normal size.

But what happens on camp, stays on camp, right?

Why I Love Teenage Boys

The media is not kind to teenage boys. They portray them as inarticulate, lazy, grunting beings who like to sleep all day, eat all of your food and play video games. They are stereotyped as being loud, smelly, entitled and self-absorbed.
Having taught teenage boys and now living with a teenage boy (please send wine), I can attest that SOME of the generalisations are true:

Teenage boys do stink.
The fug emanating from a teenage boys room (or from the boy himself after 3 days on camp) has to be experienced to be believed. The smell is a heady mix of boy sweat and body hair and hormones.

And farts.

Sweet baby Jesus, teenage boys can fart.

Nothing can destroy a moment of blissful silence more effectively and completely than a meticulously timed, well executed teenage boy fart.

Teenage boys fart like they live their lives: with reckless abandon.

Like their farts, teenage boys are loud and can be physically intimidating.

They exist unapologetically. They take up space: lots of it, and are seemingly unaware of where their body ends and others begin.

They eat. So. Much. Food.

At times their physical presence can assault every single one of your senses.

And yet.

They are SO MUCH MORE than just the stereotype.

Teenage boys are hilarious. (Honestly, they are hands down the funniest human beings on the planet).

And sensitive.

And fiercely loyal.

They forgive quickly and completely. (Having also taught teenage girls, I cannot tell you how much this statement deserves a Hallelujah!)

Teenage boys are a mass of contradictions.

Even if they seem to be unaware of where their bodies end and others begin, put them on the football field, the basketball court, or at the end of a cricket bat, and you will witness the most amazing synergy as their bodies perform superb feats of athleticism.

They will barely blink an eye in response to their uncanny ability to lose a school hat, shin pads, their left footy boot and a ridiculously expensive blazer all in one week, yet their reaction can be off the scale when they lose a game on PS4.

They are growing into their bodies faster than their brains.

They are realising their strength, while still being incredibly vulnerable.

They have a keen sense of justice and moral outrage, matched only by their ability to loudly burp the alphabet.

They are spectacularly bad at explaining how they feel, but extremely good at showing you.

They possess so much love, even when they don’t like us very much.

They respect clear boundaries, even if they constantly push against them.

They crave human connection, but prefer to punch and shove each other than to hug it out.

It is their physicality that makes them look intimidating from the outside, while making them feel connected from within.

For as they are pushing and shoving and jostling their way through each day, they are simultaneously walking the fine line between “boy” and “young man” and “bloke”.

They are growing into their masculinity just as surely as they are (slowly) growing into their brains.

Yes, they are growing into men in a world that privileges men, that is true. But at the same time they are being bombarded by warnings against toxic masculinity and feeling that the world hates them nearly as much as it fears them.

What a tightrope act, eh?

So when I look at the teenage boys around me, those I know and those I live with, I do not see the stereotype. I do not judge them on the teenage boys they are; instead, I look into their eyes and see the good men they are in the process of becoming.

And that makes me smile.

There Is A Fire Inside Of Me

There is a fire inside of me.  I don’t remember the moment the spark was lit, possibly because it was so long ago.  I suspect the moment two X chromosomes fused and deemed me female, was the moment the flame flickered into life.

For 40 years it has been a slow burn, with the exception of four years in my late teens / early twenties when I discovered Women’s Studies at university.  Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Laura Mulvey’s essay on The Male Gaze were profoundly life changing.  I even wrote my Honours thesis on Angela Carter and her subversion of patriarchal gender norms in her fiction. 

But it was all a bit of a theoretical exercise.

It is easy to parrot feminist theory and rage against the patriarchy while reading the current issue of Elle Dit in the safety of the Women’s Room.  It is another to leave the liberal, free thinking borders of the university and cross the road and exist in the “real world” as a young female.

As a 19 year old who desperately needed to keep my Christmas casual job I was in no position to stand up to the Santa who kept entreating myself and my fellow elves to sit on his lap, or try to pull down our elf costumes. 

At 20 I simply smiled politely at the knob cloud at an engraving booth in the city who gifted me with this enchanting conversational gem:

Me: “Hi, how much do you charge?”

Knob cloud: “For what, love?”

Me: “Um, for engraving.  I mean, is it per letter?”

Knob cloud: “Oh (chuckles heartily).  I thought you meant making love”

What the actual fuck?

When I was 21 I was chastised by the football coach at the school I was teaching at, telling me I was “making the boys soft” and “sucking the toughness out of them”, presumably simply by existing as a young female in a heavily male dominated environment.

Each time I was rescued by other people: Santa was sacked, my boyfriend gave the knob cloud a mouthful, and coach was forced to write me a letter of apology.

So yes, fucking #MeToo.

But now, I want to say, I’m ready to #BeMyOwnFuckingHero.

There is a fire inside of me.  The slow burn has turned into a bonfire.  A combination of my age, the momentum of the #MeToo movement, and the “outing” of celebrity after celebrity who have felt it is ok to use their fame, their influence, their gender, to exert power over women and intimidate, harass and ultimately assault them has me seeing red.  No longer do I need anyone to come to my rescue.  I will be my own hero.  I will call men out on their unacceptable behaviour. I will not smile meekly and try not to make a fuss.  If a fuss is warranted, expect this rage bubbling inside me to rain down on your head.  So much rage.

I will not laugh it off.  I will not make excuses for any man based on his ignorance or his age or his “sense of humour”.  A dirty old perv with a sense of humour is still a dirty old perv.

I will fulfil my role in the sisterhood: to lift other women up.

Support them when they need it.

Be their rescuer if they need it.

Although I suspect my wonder woman wrist cuffs won’t get much use because I see it in the women all around me: in the supermarket, at school pick up, at sports training.  Women of all ages, shapes and sizes, with a fire in their belly; flames flickering in their eyes.

I am not alone.

We are fed up.

We will not be silent.

We will support each other, lift each other up and link arms as we collectively say: #NoMore.

There is a fire inside of me and it is spreading like wildfire………………………………..

Good teachers can change the world

My son’s teacher has a reputation.

Last year my little man emerged from his half hour meet the teacher session with a smile on his face and a spring in his step.  Simply uttering the surname of his new teacher evoked random high fives from other parents within earshot.  This thirty minute glimpse into the future was enough to see us through the entire eight week break without a moment’s hesitation about heading into a new school year.

My son has a teacher who knows him.

By the end of week one of first term his teacher had spent enough time with him to work out the kind of kid he is, what makes him tick, and more importantly, what lights a fire in his belly.  He has then used that information to teach him in a way that he knows will hold his interest.

My son has a teacher who nurtures his passion.

From day one the football banter began, and has developed into an ongoing conversation that includes my ten year old and his thirty something teacher addressing each other using the nicknames of old football legends. 

My son has a teacher who cares about him.

There have been a few instances where I know my son has been a bit flat or unwell and all it takes is a kind word from the teacher to lift him up.

My son has a teacher who believes in him.

While my son is an inherently kind, empathetic young man who cares deeply about other people, he is also a ten year old boy.  So when he laughs a little too loudly or a little too long with his mates instead of concentrating on the task at hand, when he joins in a dare a little too enthusiastically, and even when he googles “exploding cats” and tries to argue his way out of it by claiming that is the name of a new band and he is “researching” them, his teacher is there beside him, calmly guiding him back on track, believing in the good, kind young man he knows him to be.

My son has a teacher who challenges him.

He sends him home with twenty vocab words instead of fifteen.  He asks him math problems he knows he will have to think about to solve.  He cajoles him out of his safe, happy comfort zone, encouraging, and gently pushing him further, urging him to test his wings, so that he will one day be able to spread them and soar, all the while walking beside him like a safety net, ready to catch him if he stumbles.

My son’s teacher has favourites.

Everyone knows the favourite students always get special treatment.  The teacher is nicer to them, they can joke around with the teacher more, and they receive more positive attention.

My son thinks he is the favourite. His table partner thinks she is the teacher’s favourite.  The child on the opposite table is convinced it is him.

In fact, if you question them, every single child in his class will proudly declare themselves the favourite.  That’s because they are.  He makes them all feel special.  He listens to all of their stories.  He has time for all of them.

My son’s teacher has a reputation.

For being the best.

Because of this, my son’s teacher has a class of students who adore him.  They chant his name, and in their sing song voices loudly proclaim that he is the best teacher in the school.  Their parents do too (although not in song): in conversations over coffee, at school pick up, at sports training.  It is universally understood.

My son has an inspirational teacher.

Being a teacher is not just what he does, it is who he is. This class of children will become adults, who will always remember how he believed in them, encouraged them.  These children may not remember everything he has said, but they will never forget how he made them feel.

I wish this sort of teacher for every child.

Learning can happen in any classroom.  Magic happens in this one.

#BlessedWithFlabs

In my quest to go from fat to….well….less fat I have been trialling a number of different exercise classes.  I frequent one the most because it is cheap and cheerful.  (Just to emphasize that point, it is run by a group of super young mums and they are super cheerful.  God love them, they are awesome, but even a hundred years ago when I was their age, I don’t remember being half as perky and smiley as them.  But then again, I am 40(ish) now so my memory may be failing me). 

At the end of today’s class, the instructor reminded us that even though it still feels cold, Summer is on its way, and we really need to keep exercising so we can have abs for Summer.  “Because we all want abs, right?” she stated (super cheerfully) as if it were a rhetorical question.

As I looked around me at the other young mums nodding enthusiastically I was perplexed.  I realized that perhaps they are just too young for me to feel an affinity with them as part of my tribe.  Or maybe they simply don’t like Tim Tams as much as I do.  But when I glanced over to my exercise partner in crime (who most definitely is of my tribe) and saw her looking skeptical, I knew she was having similar thoughts to me.  The commentary in my head went something like this:

“No Susan.  I honestly couldn’t give a fuck about having abs for Summer. I mean, if God was handing them out like Smarties I certainly wouldn’t refuse, but abs are so far down on my list of things that I care about, it’s just not funny.  There are so many things on that list of wants before abs.  Things that I genuinely consider to be a million times more important than a few sticky out muscles showing the definition of my stomach.  For example: 

I want to be able to give my exercise partner a magic wand to take away the pain and grief she is suffering over the death of her mum; to be able to put some of the colour back into her world as I know that several months on, she is still trudging through shades of grey. I want to do that for so many of my friends, as we seem to be “at that age” now where we are losing our parents and it just fucking sucks.

At the same time, I want to embrace others in my tribe, some of them so incredibly close to me, and take away their struggles with fertility and trying to conceive because apparently, we are “at that age” now when it all becomes more difficult.

Honestly, this circle of life thing shouldn’t be so fucking hard or feel so unfair.

I want my kids to be happy at school.

I want them to be able to convey that happiness to me on the way home from school.  But quite often they don’t, because apparently they are “at that age” now where it is easier to simply grunt.

I want to follow up that after school happiness with a restful evening where I don’t have to race around in the car, travelling 3,000 fucking miles just ferrying everyone to 5 million sports trainings and activities.

I want to then sit down to a lovely, healthy family dinner which everyone eats without any complaints or faux vomiting noises or tantrums.

I want.

I want.

I want.

Oh God, I want so many things.

I really want to wake up in the morning and not feel so completely overwhelmed at all of the items on the list of things that NEED to be done, that I rarely ever get to turn the page to even glance at the list of wants.

So no Susan, everyone DOES NOT want abs for Summer.

Besides, I passed Year 12 Biology (on the second attempt, but nevertheless, a pass is a pass) and I know that we all have abs.  I affectionately call mine “flabs” because they are conveniently hidden under several layers of fatty tissue, but that doesn’t mean they are non-existent.

Ultimately, I think what I really want is to go back in time to a place where “wanting abs” was a perfectly legitimate wish and an attainable thing to strive for.  A time when life was a little less complicated.  And I wish this for Susan too.  That she doesn’t turn 30 or, you know, 40ish, and stumble head on into a world of cray cray commitments and heartache and day to day bullshit.  I want her to keep wanting abs.  And keep believing that everyone else does too.

Oh and next week?  I’m going to bring Susan some Tim Tams.

#Susan is not her real name

#I don’t know her name

#Apologies to all the Susans I have just offended

#Not a sponsored post

#Need 1,000 followers to gain advertiser’s attention for sponsored posts

#Share the blog with your friends to get more followers so we can all get free Tim Tams

#Have I told you how much I hate hash tags

#Using hash tags makes me feel like a pretentious wanker

#Can’t bring myself to leave out the spaces between words because

#English teacher

#Summer bodies are made in Winter

#Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels

#Except Tim Tams

#So blessed

#Blessed with flabs

Urticaria: WTF?

School holidays really are the gift that keeps on giving, aren’t they?

Usually, they gift me with a two week long migraine and empty pockets.  But this time, before I get any of that joy, I have been given the gift of Urticaria.

Or, for us non-medical folk: hives.

Hives.  Sounds innocuous, right? Maybe even conjures up the image of a group of sweet little honey bees buzzing around in their beehive, hard at work for their queen.

Now imagine those bees are buzzing around under your skin, tattooing you from the inside.

Hold that thought.

Do you remember your teenage years when you lathered yourself with a little too much Coppertone (dark bronze, SPF minus 50), and stayed out in the sun for a little too long?

The memory is literally burned into your brain, right?

Now.  Mash the two images together. Imagine your skin feeling completely fried, burning and stinging, but also itchy as fuck.

You’re cringing now, aren’t you?

I haven’t even mentioned that the hives are also on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.  Or the fact that your wonderful, diligent, organised brain can’t cope with the mindfuckery of the pain and the burning and the stinging so it sends in reinforcements…which makes the skin swollen.

At this point in my happy little tale, I feel we need a public service announcement for the GP’s, pharmacists and pharmacy assistants who are loyal followers of my writings.  (I know who you are).

The next time you encounter an unfortunate soul who has hives, this is what you should not say:

“Don’t worry, it’s not Measles.  Just hives.  Nothing serious.”.

JUST hives.  Nothing SERIOUS.

Honey, I will JUST seriously stab you in the face with a fork, my nerves are that on edge.  That is, if my stubby little swollen, itchy, burning fingers can hold a fork long enough for me to hobble over to you on the swollen stubs that are currently painful excuses for feet.

What else should you NOT say to a person with JUST hives?

How about: “gee, that looks itchy.”

Thank you Captain fucking obvious for such witty repartee.

Or: “Try this cream.  It SHOULD help”.

Should? SHOULD? No.  I am now on day 3 of wanting to peel my skin from my body, a la John Travolta and Nicholas Cage in Face Off.  You had better give me a tried and tested remedy or I will jump over that counter and rip YOUR face off.

Oh, and do you remember the psycho in Silence Of The Lambs who stitched a full outfit made of human skin? If you even think of using me as a guinea pig for a new lotion you are giving me because you get generous kickbacks from some pharmaceutical company, don’t be surprised when you end up down a deep fucking well, obediently “rubbing the lotion into one’s skin”, while I am upstairs, surrounded by butterflies, spooling the thread into the sewing machine……

While on the topic of psychopathic stalkers, I have never identified with that crazy hives guy in There’s Something About Mary as much as I have the last three days.  You see, when Mary was stringing him along, it triggered him, a traumatic reminder of his doctor informing him she doesn’t know how long the hives will last, but it is possibly up to six weeks.

Six weeks?  Christ on a cracker, if I survive a week I will be organising my own ticker tape parade down the middle of Rundle Mall.

You may need to send wine.  And chocolate.  And a pallet load of Pinetarsol, as well as some kick arse painkillers.

On second thoughts, maybe all I should do is watch reruns of the Barnaby Joyce 60 Minutes interview, or the current season of Love Island and I will be so brain dead I will be oblivious to the pain……..

Only 18 Summers…..

By now I’m sure you have seen the quote about only having “18 delicious Summers” with your children?  Attributed to Jessica Scott, it says:

“You only get 18 delicious summers with your kids.

This is one of your 18.

If that’s not perspective, I don’t know what is.”

Yep.

When I first read it, the perspective hit me right in the chest, like a lead weight in my heart.  It was the same feeling I have whenever I realise I have just experienced something with my children for the last time.

Last time I need to buy nappies: check.

Last time I need to move the booster seat in the car: check.

Last time he will reach for my hand when crossing the road: check.

Last time I will drop him off at primary school: check.

Cue tears.

But as the holidays have marched on, I saw the quote pop up in my Facebook feed a second time, and a third.  Suddenly I realised it wasn’t resonating with me anymore.  Rather than giving me perspective, it was just giving me anxiety.  The lead weight on my chest started to spread, until it felt like it was hanging around my neck.

By the fifth or sixth time someone shared the quote, it just made me pissed off.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand the sentiment, I truly do.

And if it encourages parents to look up from their phones and be present in the moment with their kids, to really enjoy the time they have together, then I am behind it, 100%.

But on the flip side, it feels like a lot of pressure, with a side serving of guilt.  I feel like I carry enough mum guilt around with me every day, thank you very much.

In the same way the women smile at you in the supermarket and entreat you to “savour these moments, they grow so fast”, while watching you wrangle a toddler climbing out of the stroller to reach the checkout chocolates with one arm, and simultaneously comforting a screaming, hungry, overtired baby in the other, Jessica’s dose of “perspective” is not actually helpful.

Do her words make me want to really savour every moment of the 18 “delicious” summers I get?

Well, maybe.

But not as much as it makes me want to punch Jessica in the face.

I would love to invite Jessica to Australia to test the validity of her words.  Obviously in America the children do turn 18 and move away for college, whereas given the state of the housing market here in Australia, those 18 summers are likely to number well into the twenties.  And I am confident Jessica would not use “delicious” as an adjective to describe an Adelaide Summer of consecutive 40+ degree days.

Still, there have been many moments these holidays when I have looked at my kids and wanted to capture the moment forever, my heart full to bursting with love and gratitude that I get to spend such precious time with them.  There have been just as many other moments when I have wondered whom at school I can bribe to take them back earlier.

Often these moments occur in the same hour.

So you see, Jessica’s words are not helpful.

They are not helpful to me as I flip flop between hugging my kids and not wanting to let them go, to looking up how much I could sell them for on Ebay.

They are not helpful to working mums who have to schedule the school holidays with military precision, knowing it is a physical impossibility to spend every day of the holidays with their children.  It only makes them feel “less than” and heaps on another dose of mum guilt.

Her words are most certainly not helpful to the mum I read about today, whose 5 year old son filled up his Nerf water gun with his own urine, and proceeded to spray his entire bedroom with it.

As the mother of boys, let me tell you this made me snort laugh in solidarity.  But I was not surprised.  The only thing that surprised me was that neither of my boys have ever thought to do it.

Now, if THAT’S not perspective, I don’t know what is.