Friday, July 30, 2004

Jaden The Crying Jedi

I have this 20-month-old Jaden who has been gifted with an exorbitant amount of energy, as well as huge tear and mucus ducts. I am both envious and exasperated by how he can wail for the full two hours that he is dumped at the centre. He is a new boy, and probably the youngest too – perhaps that explains his unwavering persistence to “teacher, teacher, open door, open door” every time he grabs hold of my skirt. When he does so, he concurrently leaves some of his goo on my clothes and arms. When I wipe up the goo that has dripped onto the Dettol-mopped floor, he can even disrupt his crying for a while to help me point out the glob of goo that I missed out.

I have mastered how to sneak in short periods of audio relief – lock him in the classroom with me as I sweep the biscuits dribbled with saliva on the floor before the next classroom session begins. I try to do and extend doing all sorts of mundane tasks in order to keep Jaden darling’s “open door” focus at bay. He has helped me to wipe the tables, sweep the floor, rearrange furniture and throw away the soiled tissue I use to clean his face.

When I finally got him to sit down quietly and observe a class with Mrs Rajan singing tone-deafly and flashing alphabet/number cards, he placed his hand – four times smaller than mine – so casually and unknowingly on my thigh, the way Ly does when we sit next to each other.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

My First Encounter With The Little, Male Peeing Contraption

Having urine from more than 20 bladders, homogeneously mixed, splashed on my face, sweeping and mopping floors and cleaning mucus are included in the unwritten job scope of the noble profession of teaching. Pre-nursery children that is.

Recently, I took on a part-time relief-teaching job. Feeling economically under-utilised, no thanks to the uncertainty of my near future due to MOE’s slow processing of applications, I went on a Classifieds job-seeking and/or skill-developing course rampage. Classifieds became the most utilised component of The Straits Times during those 2 weeks.

Anyway, my first day at one of the company’s (whose name I shall not disclose publicly for reasons you shall see later) three child-development centres (they are not the equivalent of kindergartens; these centres take children from 18 months to about 4 years old) began with the Indian-national teacher telling me to clear up a cockroach corpse and remove another live one, wiggling its 6 insect legs on its back, from the classroom before the children came in. I did not know how to refuse her instructions on my first day. I was wondering, though, whether she was simply taking advantage of me, and whether I should succumb to that exploitation simply because it was my first day.

(To give you some idea of my fear of roaches, Ly would probably tell you about how I cried hysterically when a tree cockroach landed on my arm several months ago.)

Well, thankfully, either by virtue of sympathy or impatience at my obvious hesitation, Sungetha did it herself.

Shortly after, the tiny humans entered in a steady stream. There were three 2-hour sessions in all. From my first day alone, the racial behavioural pattern among that age group was already obvious. The Chinese toddlers were the uninteresting, forgettable “teacher teacher” ones, the Malay girls were extremely non-participative and reserved and the Indian ones were what made the classes both memorable and backbreaking. There was quite a huge Indian population among the students at this centre (probably because Sungetha the authentic Indian was there). The Indian children were often the ones who were hard to manage, but equally endearing with their eyeball-sized eyes and natural Indian curls.

Sungetha asked me to bring one boy to the toilet. I was stunned. I had totally no idea at which age little boys had any sense of their water hose.
Apparently, this one didn’t. Sungetha relieved me by holding his mini-he through the entire performance.

I watched and learned.

By the second 2-hour session, Sungetha was telling the children, “Teacher is very tired ah. Head paining, back paining, stomach paining. Everywhere paining.”

She sang some songs too. One of them was (to the tune of “One Little Duck Went Out One Day”), “One elephant went out one day, climbing a spider web to play. He had such e-nor-mo-rous fun, that he called another elephant to come.”

Exactly a week later, I was to take on another relief job at a different centre. Carol, my interviewer, supervisor of the centre and teacher I would eventually relieve for a 3-week stint, made the second experience so much more enjoyable. This centre was definitely way better-equipped and had more semblance to a children’s playschool then the first one. This one had play mats, a huge variety and amount of toys, clean floors, no cockroaches and three separate rooms. The first was only one single small room with two tables, no floor space and no toys.

This week opens the 3-week stint I’ll have at the better-equipped centre. I’m working with another Indian teacher, Mrs Rajan, on a daily basis from 9am to 3pm (my usual tuition sessions from 3.30pm onwards). Here, it’s a morning 3-hour session with 30-odd mini humans, and another 3-hour afternoon session with a smaller but more energy-draining group.

I have never seen so many little dongs, or dongs alone, in my life than I did in twenty minutes.
I did not know they could vary so much in size, proportion and shape. There is even one boy with a badly-situated hose that grows downwards, parallel to his legs instead of at a slight angle away from the crotch. He keeps peeing all over his legs because I cannot get the potty under his thing before he releases the warm liquid down my hands.

I’m usually a hygiene freak, but the casual lip service paid to hygiene standards here have made me unwittingly compromise my own standards for the sake of my happiness and sanity.

There isn’t a toilet attached to this centre (which is an appropriately-furbished room on the top floor of a community centre). That means we bring the children to the backyard among the air-conditioning units to find relief in two colour-coded (blue for boys and red for girls) potties. Mrs Rajan cannot be bothered about the colours. She lifts the potty up to the boys’ wee-wees and the girls sit on the same half-filled potty, with boys’ pee around the edges, to “pass urine” (as we very properly tell the children).

At the end of the day, I have two dangerously half-filled potties to empty. Once, I jerked as I was carrying one potty to be emptied. The yellow liquid made a little splash onto my cheek. Thankfully, children’s pee does not seem, at least in my adaptable and sanity-preserving mind, that revolting as the adult version.

Before each session’s snack break, we wash their hands with water from a pail. The back-torturing process ends with spraying anti-bacterial sanitisers on their hands, but that is not before we dry the hands with a piece of rag used for 50 children and which I have never seen being washed since I began on Monday.

We stop the children from eating off the floor, but we serve them biscuits on used plastic and paper plates. These plates with oil-markings are, if Mrs Rajan has the time, given a wipe before being stacked and stored in the refrigerator till the next use.

I had considered quitting upon the fatigue that suddenly overtook me at the end of my first day (since the hourly rate of $5 was closer to an allowance than a pay for such a job scope and my MOE letter of appointment had arrived). Unbecoming of my usual self, I actually decided to stay on for the sake of experience. What convinced me was the experience I would gain by working with this age group (for both knowledge’s sake and my possible future as a mother), having a hands-on with what goes on in a child-development centre and to actually serve the obligations of being employed (even on a temporary basis). Furthermore, the tasks I have to do on the job being sometimes so menial and demeaning for a teacher, is also humbling and eye-opening to my youthful pride and ignorance. Thus, I thought, as long as it does not kill me, I shall continue.