Of Lice and Pen(s)

Image result for child scratching lice in red hair cartoonMy  children  are sufficiently removed in age now for me to smile (tentatively) about those horrific (and I do not use this term lightly), emotionally desperate cataclysms in my household when they had lice (whispering) … Just writing this elicits a visceral shudder, automatic head scratching and implicit feelings of remembered shame.

And yet almost all children at some time have fallen prey to these nasty little parasites. As we speak, some mother is expressing dismay with angry, Anglo-Saxon words and screaming for the other parent to sort ‘this disaster’ out, while blaming ‘that’ school or ‘those’ urchins with whom Little Princess has had the misfortune to be playing.

I know I did.

I shall always remember with dread that moment in the middle of the July holidays, in my small kitchen in Batten Bend when my 8-year-old daughter came in for a snuggle and I looked down at the teeming plain of wriggling larvae that was her once-beautiful head of red hair.

I confess I leaped away in horror.

Then I realised in one of those ooh-vrek-I’m-the-mother moments that it was my job to fix this invasion. So while privately (actually not so privately) cursing the mother who according to my infested child, sent her daughter who sat alongside mine, to school on break up day even though she had goggas in her hair because the family was moving house and she didn’t want her daughter to be underfoot, I assessed the unspeakable misery of my crisis:

  • One 7 year-old with an army on the move in her hair
  • Her 5 year-old brother with several nits in his
  • a 9 year-old son with curls so tight anything could have been living in there undercover of a silent incursion
  • a 2 year-old who couldn’t sit still long enough for me to examine her Annie ringlets and
  • a brand new baby.

And then I washed. Everything.

Over and over for at least three weeks, I de-loused everyone’s hair, twice a day, combing through all those thick tresses meticulously, trying hard not to show my disgust in case the victims of this family disaster were scarred for life by my assumed maternal rejection. My own hair proved to be a bit of a challenge because my squeamishness convinced me that I too was infected (I wasn’t) and the night I attempted to apply the shampoo, just in case, I ended up with an allergic reaction which caused burning in my eyes and on my face so bad that I had to ring my sister to come and stand in for me in the middle of the night so I could go to the emergency room.

And I washed and ironed ALL the bedding every day and forbade the children from reusing towels. Thank heavens this was pre-Cape Town’s water crisis, or perhaps this frantic laundering is what caused the depletion of Theewaterskloof Dam.

And then my long-awaited, lounge suite arrived (sixth months after returning to the country without furniture). And no one was allowed to sit on it, such was my aversion to the risk of loathsome re-infection. My girls’ buns were the tightest after that.

Of course by the time, the youngest was in Grade 1, and he and his fellow gangsters took turns in being off school with lice, I was fairly prosaic about such things, only shuddering occasionally. I sent him along fairly regularly to visit his father, who had hair clippers, for a #1, although I suspect that it was the girlfriend in situ who ended up doing the trimming. We still chuckle at certain photographs and can tell by Liam’s haircuts what had been going on at the time.

Primary School and Nursery School teachers do not bat an eye at what for high school staff is worse that diving with sharks – the lice test! they nonchalantly pick up two pens and confidently check their charges’ hair on a regular basis. The biggest problem schools have is parents’ assumption that one shampoo and combing will cure you of the nasty critters. You have to remember to do it again every week or so after an infestation or else the ‘cooties’ return. Our standard letter takes care to address the embarrassment that comes with the unwelcome missive and gently advises how to remedy the detestable situation, without making parents feel bad.

It’s the social stigma associated with having lice that is bothersome though. The fact that lice love clean hair should have removed such thoughts, but I suppose we feel unkempt and dirty and somehow ashamed that this could have happened to us – we’re decent folk after all. However, I bet that even those hoity toity playschools for the rich and famous have a lice policy. Even someone called Beckham or Windsor might have to be sent home from a posh school to do not nit harvesting from time to time. Forget that knighthood, darling, if your offspring infects a royal head, mind you.Image result for shame meme

Funny how language evolves: take the word ‘lousy’ – it comes of course from the meaning ‘lice-infested’ – perhaps we should remember that when we say our meal or the service at a restaurant was ‘lousy’ – perish that thought!

Next time you say that the weather has turned ‘lousy,’ thank your lucky stars it actually hasn’t. Eeeuh! The thought of that makes me need to go and scratch my head a little and thank the Lord for metaphors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crocodiles, Librarians and Unicorns

Image result for pictures of librarians and crocodiles cartoons

Driving with Shannon is always a treat. When she is not fiddling with the radio or air conditioner, she asks truly random questions. Today, for instance, as we were sailing past Milnerton, out of the blue she asked what kind of animal I would be if I were a beastie. She was not satisfied with my instinctive ‘a dragon’ response, but I managed to appease her with ‘okay so a big cat – one of the big five so when I get to the waterhole all the other wildlife gets out of my way, unlike in my very own kitchen, where ungrateful buffalo stampede past, steal my kettle water and I am forced to wait for my tea…’

Methinks she might have zoned out during the kitchen rant because her eyes glassed over behind her dirty (as usual) lenses. However she must have been listening when I went on to say that as a predator I couldn’t just lie in wait quietly with only my eyes on display like a lurking croc, because she came back at me with gusto by suggesting that librarians are like crocodiles: they pounce on you from nowhere and snap, ‘Quiet!’

Now I am not surprised that one of my children should be admonished for noisy behaviour. I have done a fair job of raising socially acceptable humans, but my own school reports were littered with far too many  ‘Colleen talks too much in class’ type comments for me to moan at the saplings for volatile volume. So I was more amused by her accurate description of what for me are the scariest of professionals: the keepers of books.

Perhaps this description resonated with me also because of my guilt about unpaid library fines and the tongue lashing I received recently for a book so long outstanding that I needed to pay R220 for it. And Library week with its attendant fine-amnesty is long gone. The librarian who confronted me though was a six foot Idris Elba lookalike so I was sad to have disappointed him (very sad) rather than afraid, but still. Ironically the book in question was hiding in plain sight on the bookshelf of my travelling companion’s bedroom; even more ironically it was named Indulgence in Death, something which should stand as a warning to all children who do not put their books back on the library shelf at the front door.

But I digress. I was contemplating the concept of kids saying the ‘darndest things’ like those clangers the two year old drops, used succinctly and correctly in front of either your maiden aunt, the local priest or in the middle of Woolworths.

The funniest birthday card I received this year, notwithstanding my (older) sister’s (paltry) attempts to age-shame me, was one snuck into a pack of cards from the Grade 6’s at school without the teacher’s knowledge, I hope. It read:

Sugar is tart

Lemons are sweet

I love you more than a unicorn’s FART.

So odd; so inappropriate; yet so funny it made me laugh till I couldn’t breathe. The poor educator would be mortified that this slipped through the censors and was delivered to the head’s office.

There is something so remarkably life-giving in the creativity of children and I love spending time with young people to hear a fresh take on the jaded, clichéd world. Some might call this sass. I like to think of it as originality in a society that takes itself too seriously.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still believe there are two kinds of parents in this world: those who think the little boy on Youtube debating with ‘Linda’ (his mother) is cute and those, like me, who believe she is making a rod for her own back by encouraging him. Generally I am not amused by cheeky children, but this one at least attempted the rhyme.

Back to Shannon: she thinks of herself as a fox (cute and furry – probably because she hasn’t shaved her legs again) and suggested I am like a bunny (sweet and hopping). Hopping mad after that! I mean really, bunnies just sit there and wiggle their noses. I am way scarier. At least as much as spinster librarians, surely.

Maybe children should be seen and not heard after all.

A to Z of Pedagogues

A quick guide for new teachers, or students on practical training attachment, for navigating the perilous staff room waters, with an indication of the type of wild animals that lurk there. Genders are inter-changeable.

(Note that these are not based on anyone currently on my staff, just mosaics and amalgamated parodies of some of the weird and wonderful educators I have encountered over the 30 (gulp) years since I graduated )

A
Ambitious Anthony Has his sights set on the top job. Meticulous and diligent, he has no time for fun, or people.  Connected to the union and knows the law.
Amiable Annette Sweet and caring. Notices when someone is struggling. When she retires there is a hole of generosity in the staffroom. Brings flowers.
Artful Arnold Always MIA when chairs are to be stacked; dodges break duty and cluster meetings. Often a good teacher, but is not a team player.
B
Backstabbing Barend Has one special focus – himself. Don’t tell him your secrets and watch out if you apply for the same promotion post. Boring teacher.
Bitter Betty Been passed over for promotion twice, but can’t see it’s her. Don’t speak to her before she’s had coffee or get sucked into her negativity
Brenda Brittle Cries easily; probably in the wrong profession. Can’t cope with ‘those difficult Grade 9s’/any class with learners.
C
Compassionate Connie Knows the back story to each person on campus; looks for excuses even for Granny Grumble; passes the tissues in the staffroom;
Cool Calvin Streetwise and dapper, speaks the students’ lingo; has their respect and his classes are fun  #goals
Cynical Cynthia Well-read and politically aware. Very bright. Enjoys philosophical discussions. Often teaches English or History.
D
Dodgy Duncan

 

Always has a shady side business. Don’t ask where he got that cheap perlemoen he’s selling in the staffroom.
Dramatic Daisy Makes large gestures, loud entrances and powerful exits. Stay away from her around deadline times. Children love her or hate her.
Diehard Dieter Taught staff members and their parents. Remembers when the foundation stone was laid and ‘things were better run.’
E
Eager Edgar Volunteers for everything especially when management is around. Can be annoying, but generally a good egg.
Earthchild Imogen Gets to school early because she travels from Noordhoek; eats lentils and couscous from well packed lunchbox. Has numerous degrees
Equity Esther Takes men to task for patriarchy and challenges school traditions. Feisty and smart. Removes Jo’s sexist cartoons from noticeboard.
Extra mile Emily She’s a gem – nothing is too much trouble. Can be relied on to help out without fuss. Sometimes takes on too much
F
First Year Fiona Has many faces; can be talented, almost always unprepared for the ignorance of learners; overwhelmed. Needs a mentor and/or a drink.
Fitness Fazeka Dresses in tracksuits and eats rice cakes. Disapproves of your chocolate cake and sedentary lifestyle. Runs outdoors club. Scary.
G
Granny Grumble Old before her time; fault finding and negative. Dislikes people. Do not sit on her chair or leave your Tupperware in the wrong place.
H
Hipster Hannah Spends her salary on clothes. Drives a yellow Mini Cooper; Instagrams her clubbing exploits. Too friendly with learners.
I
Iceberg Irene Watch out for this sociopath whose glacial manoevering will undermine your most innocent intentions. Resign if she is promoted.
Ignorant Ilsa Has ‘been teaching for 30 years’ and has nothing left to learn. Says she has no favourites in class. Has favourites. Never notices irony.
Incompetent Irvin Went into teaching because he couldn’t think of anything else. Makes the post office seem efficient. Complains a lot.
Inspirational Iris Is able to draw talent even they were unaware of from her students. Celebrates her charges. Humble.   Learn from her.
J
Jocular Jo The staff room clown. His jokes can be off colour, but he keeps the room from being dull; students love him because he knows his stuff.
K
Kick-ass Kallie Loud and enthusiastic. Always raring to go. Will jumpstart your car when you leave the lights on all day.
Knowledgeable Nicki Has read every book on every subject ever written and has multiple degrees. Can make you feel inadequate if you are insecure. Has cats.
L
Laidback Lwazi Nothing phases him; reads the newspaper in admin periods. Re-uses old exam papers each year if he can get away with it.
Last Minute Larry Unprepared for class. Mostly to be found at the computer when the bell rings. Panics when Photostat machine is broken
Lecherous Lenny Can’t keep his hands to himself; laughs heartily at sexist jokes. Makes a beeline for new staff.
Loskop Lottie Loses classroom keys/ textbooks/piles of scripts all the time. Better hope she is not your exam relief when you need the loo.
M
Maestro Max The Music or Art Teacher: defies description. Brilliant and popular, the kind of inspiration you’ll remember forever. Not always patient.
Moody Maureen Well-intentioned but inconsistent with her learners. Her bipolar swings are confusing. You may need help if she is your mentor.
N
Neutral Nigel No personality. Goes through motions, but doesn’t make waves. You find yourself imagining what secret life he may have. He doesn’t.
O
Old school Oliver Good teacher with great track record of results. Can be reluctant to try new technology.
P
Poisonous Pam Pammy sits with Backstabbing Barend; is no one’s friend. Knows the dirt on everyone and whispers it behind their backs. Avoid her.
Professor Pauline Very bright and an excellent staff resource. Pupils will complain she can’t explain properly. Probably should be lecturing at university.
Q
Quixotic Quintin Always driving a new cause. Can upset management and sometimes does counselling when he shouldn’t.
R
Religious Rita Devout and prayerful. Is shocked by Jo’s antics, but loves him anyway. Has the respect of everyone.
Rightwing Rene Rita’s twin sister who wields her faith like a club. Joins GG in reporting Arnold and Jo to  management and patronises the maintenance staff.
Rugged Ryan Runs up the mountain before or in between classes. Cycles to school. Hope for a view of his abs.
S
Seen-it-all Sal Jaded and uncreative. Needs a sabbatical or career-change. Can’t afford to retire.
Sissy Spoilsport Reminds staff the bell has rung. Takes the ball away from kids in the quad; warns you not to eat in workroom.Reports others for swearing.
Simon the Sociopath Outwardly charming. Tells colleagues, learners and parents what they want to hear. They wrote ‘Snakes in Suits’ about him. Not your friend.
T
Trendy Tendai Hails from Zimbabwe. Viewed with suspicion by locals and frustrates management because no EE points are possible. Fabulous clothes.
Trevor the Tyrant Instils fear in his students; is unreasonable and inflexible. Sadly all too frequently to be found in management offices.
Thor Has the loudest voice on campus, but secretly a pushover. Girls run rings around him because he doesn’t ‘get’ them.
U
Ubuntu Una Social conscience of staffroom; champions students’ right and supports important causes. Friends with Connie.
Unctuous Albert

 

Hand-wringing, arse creeping, yay-saying suck-up
V
Vocational Vuyo A natural: instinctive and born nurturer. Creative and reflective. Sometimes falls foul of Barend and Pamela. Shares his lessons.
W
When-we Winston Misses the ‘old days’ when caning was possible. Only knows middle part of anthem. Decries government. Waiting for passport for Perth.
Welcoming Winifred The first person to greet you. Ask her where it is safe to sit and how the photocopier works.
X
Xbox Exton The techno kid. This is the one to ask if your laptop is on the blink; just don’t ask about FPS or how FIFA cheats unless you have time.
Y
Yardarm Jan Hang ‘em high approach to teaching. Not interested in positive discipline. No one speaks in his class.
Z
Zany Zoliswa Free spirited; Attends all cultural festivals; Thinks outside the box; sometimes forgets there’s a marking box.