Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Spoken In Jest

I have a problem: my deadpan delivery often gets me into trouble when I attempt to make a funny or ironic comment. What I am positive can only be taken as a witticism, often ends up striking others as the Truth, and I worry that I'm coming off as unbelievably crass or a phenomenal liar.

Two of my colleagues are Russian women who look as much alike as beets and cabbages. One is small-boned and delicate and the other is tall and buxom, and their personalities too are completely different. The only thing these two women have in common besides gender and nationality is the ability to speak fluent English. But for some reason, everyone seems to get their names mixed up, and to my endless shame, the other day I too did this: I referred to Katya as Nina. Within her hearing.

Katya (full of justifiable righteous indignation): "I'm Katya!"

Me (blushing and horrified): "Katya! I'm so sorry, Katya. Of course your name is Katya!"

Katya: "Really, I don't see why people have such a hard time getting our names right!"

Me: "You're so right -- I don't know why we can't get your names straight! It's ridiculous!"

Katya: Hmph.

Me (unable to help myself and desperate to lighten up the situation): "Maybe it's because you and Nina look so exactly alike!"

Katya (spluttering angrily): "We do not!"

Because of course she didn't get it.

So I had a lot of explaining to do. And after all that, I'm not sure Katya still doesn't think I'm daft as all get out, and half blind to boot.

A couple of years ago, my friend Dina gave me three huge bags of surplus candy when her husband decided to quit his vending business. It was just before Halloween, which was handy: I was able to practically fill the bag of every trick-or-treater who came to our house.

"Wow!" a pirate and a vampire exclaimed, their eyes popping at the handfuls of candy I was passing out. They looked about thirteen and I recognized them from my daughters' school.

"You're really nice," they murmured appreciatively.

"I'm not really nice," I told them, beckoning them closer and lowering my voice conspiratorially. "See, I've got a deal going with the dentist."

They stared at me, suspicious. "What kind of deal?"

"For every 100 grams of candy I pass out, I get a 1% discount on my next root canal."

"Really?" breathed the pirate.

"You bet. So far he's knocked off 5%. I'm going for 20%; I think I can make it, too." I peered over his shoulder. "Are there still a lot of trick-or-treaters out there?"

"What's a root canal?" asked the vampire, his eyes narrowed.

"It's something you need when you get old," I informed them. "After a life of over-indulgence in candy."

I thought they were smiling behind their masks, so imagine my surprise when my daughters told me it had gotten around town that I had a deal going with the dentist.

It was ages before I worked up the nerve to go back for that root canal.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

My Daughter, The Librarian

"I don't have anything to do here," our Eldest grumbled back in November. "Everybody here has something to do but me."

Unfortunately, she was right. Everyone else here is either learning formally or teaching formally, and while Eldest could learn any number of things here informally, she has not been inclined to pursue any of them. My mother was right: you've got to live a little to know how many things you don't know, and most people have to accrue even more years to want to do anything about their ignorance. I wasn't an exception to this rule and neither is our Eldest.

"You could volunteer in the library," I suggested. The small expatriate-run library here never seems to have enough volunteers.

"Doing what?" she scowled.

"Serving people. Shelving books. Organizing things."

This last one, I hoped, would capture her imagination. While her own room is virtually a no-go zone, our Eldest has a passion -- and a real talent -- for organizing things.

"They don't really need me," Eldest scoffed. "You're just looking for something for me to do."

Sadly, this was true.

"Think of how good it would look on your C.V.!" I implored, but to no avail. There were two things wrong with my suggestion: number one, it hadn't been her idea to begin with. Number two, it reeked of motherly interference and make-work phoniness.

In December, I happened to visit the library and, while looking for a book, got to talking to one of the volunteers.

"I know we've got the book you want," she told me, "but I can't tell you where. This place is a total mess. We really need to get organized."

"You need a few more volunteers," I said, thinking about Eldest lolling about the house, watching Korean soap operas and Japanese dramas all day long.

She sighed and shrugged.

"If I only had the time, I'd volunteer myself."

She smiled sadly. "The only people who have the time don't have the interest. The people who have the interest, don't have the time."

"My daughter has the time," I found myself saying. "Oodles of time, in fact."

The woman perked up. "She reads English?"


She narrowed her eyes. "Does she know books?"

"Yes, and she loves them." Way before Eldest got hooked on Korean soap operas and Japanese dramas, she was a serious book addict.

"How old is she?"

"Seventeen, but she's been accepted at a good university."

The woman put down what she was doing and gave me her full attention. "Do you think she'd be willing to help?" she asked, clasping her hands.

"It's possible," I half lied.

"Please ask her!" the woman said, scribbling down her phone number. "Tell her she can phone me anytime."

"Of course."

I took the phone number the way I would put a wish in a bottle and cast it out to sea. The way I write queries to agents. I knew now that Eldest was really needed in the library, but it was still my idea.

Eldest took the number from me and heard me out, but she was skeptical. "She said she really needed someone?"

"Honey, she was desperate. She practically followed me out of the library when I told her about you."

"Hmpph. You're exaggerating. You always exaggerate."

"Not this time, I'm not." Please oh please oh please.

"I'll think about it."

A week later, I asked her if she'd gotten in touch. She nodded. "I'm going down there on Monday." She shrugged. "We'll see how it goes."

She's been volunteering at the library for a month now. She started with non-fiction, moved on to travel, then children's, then classics, then fiction.

"We're almost finished," she told me the other day. "And it looks so much better!"

There are huge benefits: she brings us home duplicate books, which we all happily devour, and the librarian is so pleased that she actually bakes for her. Eldest has something good to put on her C.V. now, but best of all, she knows she is really needed. And she is doing something she loves.

The other day, Eldest disappeared into her room for half the day and not even the promise of internet time could winkle her out.

"This book is incredible," she sighed when she finally surfaced. "I couldn't put it down."

It's her work and her passion. So what if it was my idea?

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

That'll Teach Me

"Excuse me, are you our new teacher?"

This question catches me off guard as I stand in the empty classroom. "What class?"

"Pre-intermediate 3 at 8:30."

"Then yes, I'm your teacher." I survey the two boys in the doorway. "I must admit, I didn't think I'd have any students today."

"Will we have a class?"

"Do you have textbooks?" The bookstore can't be open yet.

"The bookstore isn't open yet," one of the boys confirms. They promise to get their textbooks before our next class meeting.

Now if these boys were last term's kids, this would be the point when they would clear out like greased lightning. After all, they know that there's no class and they've got an excuse -- they have to go to the bookstore and wait for it to open. But the boys don't go anywhere.

"She's our new teacher," I hear one of them explain -- in English -- to another boy who has just arrived. The new boy looks at me with interest and no sooner have they all entered the classroom than a few more arrive.

"Where are you from?" one of the boys asks shyly.

"California --" I smile -- "I mean, America."

The boys trade happy, incredulous smiles as though they've just learned I'm Secretary of State. They want to know where my hometown is and how long I've been teaching here. I tell them, and they ask still more questions.

I can't get over this: we are actually having a conversation, in English. One of the boys has an amazing fund of knowledge and remembers that the earthquake which caused part of the Oakland Bay Bridge to collapse was in 1989, not 1988. He manages to correct me firmly but respectfully. The other boy is equally impressive, and obviously keen on learning as much as possible. They might as well be Secretary of State and Treasurer of Turkey; that's how unusual these two are, compared to the majority of the kids I taught last term.

"You already speak English," I say, trying not to look too gob-smacked.

"We try to," one of the boys says, "but our English isn't very good yet." He flushes and ducks his head. "We need to learn more."

Flipping heck, I've hit a gold mine here: I'm teaching kids who actually want to learn! Humble, polite kids too! When I tell my colleagues about my lucky strike, one of them tells me I've inherited a lot of his old students. "Best class I ever had," he confirms. "Nothing to do with me, either. Luck of the draw."

This is too good to be true. What will it be like, teaching kids who really want to learn? It's been so long that I can hardly begin to imagine this. Every morning I'll wake up, thinking of the fun I'm going to have in my classes. The communicative exercises we'll do, the songs we'll learn, the vocabulary we'll whiz right through. And -- if I'm honest -- the test scores these kids will get too! They'll be the stars of the department, kids like this! In no time, I'll go from being Mary, the teacher of dunces, to Mary, teacher of the kids with the highest marks! I feel one tiny glimmer of worry: with kids this good, what will I write about? Writing about a class of paragons isn't as much fun as writing about a class full of dunces... But I'm prepared to accept this.

My next three classes are not quite as impressive as that first group, but they are all far more studious and attentive than last term's students. In each class, I have a real minority of back-row smart alecks and a whopping majority of shining-faced front row swots who hang on my every word and carefully write down what I say. It's so unsettling at first that I almost find myself tongue-tied, just watching those spellbound faces and rapidly moving pencils.

In one class, half a dozen kids have not yet bought their books, so I give them time to do this. Now, in the last classes I taught, a trip to the bookstore would take a kid at least an hour. These students take fifteen minutes and come back to class. In another class, they tell me that the bookstore has run out of books. Because of this, I tell the kids they don't have to stay for the last hour if they don't want to -- and they choose to do so anyway. They actually ask me if I mind. No, I do not mind.

I teach them things and they learn. They even seem to like it!

I spend the next few days walking around like I'm a dream. Kids who want to learn, for a change. Kids who actually pay attention in class. This is just wonderful! It's too good to be true!

And so it is. "Have you heard?" a colleague murmurs this morning just as I pour myself a cup of coffee. "Our schedules are going to be scrapped."

I think she's joking until I see her face. It turns out the powers-that-be have decided to redo the schedules. We'll lose all our classes and get different ones.

Ah well, it looks like I'll have plenty to write about now. No cloud without a silver lining.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Write Stuff

Tufan is sweating blood, huddled miserably over his answer sheet, scribbling and erasing, chewing the end of his pencil. Tufan hates writing. He chews his lower lip and wipes eraser rubbings off his desk, then casts a look of pure agony heavenward. Sighing deeply, he bunches up his lips, then tries again. And erases. And starts afresh.

Write to your good friend Barbara and tell her about the things you did during your first term, the directions state.

I slide on my glasses and unobtrusively read what Tufan has written over his shoulder: To My good friend Barbara, I am Tufan, Turkish boy goes to university and studying English. I has have twenty years old. I am like first term too much.

I try not to sigh. How many times have I told him that if you're writing to a friend, you don't have to introduce yourself? And we've covered simple present for habitual actions versus present continuous for current ones time after time, and yet look at what he went and wrote! Why in God's name can't he learn?

Two rows behind him, Esra is squirming in her seat, her forehead creased in concentration. She has finished her e-mail and moved on to the mock job application she is supposed to fill out. Her writing is nice and bold, so I can easily read what she has written. I almost wish I couldn't.

In the space marked Occupation, Esra has clearly written Yes.

We've covered what occupation means more times than I can count. She knows it's supposed to be student. Will she ever learn?

After Describe a person you know very well, I am heartened to see that Unsal has already written an entire paragraph; normally it takes her ages just to come up with an idea. On closer inspection, however, I find that she has written the following: My best friend Fatma and I have known each other from earliest girlhood. She is a kind and generous person and I consider myself very fortunate in having her as a friend.

This is beautiful English and if Unsal produced it herself then my name is Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I don't have to read much further to find the limits of her memory: I like my best friend, Fatma, too much. My best friend talk many times to me. We visit together and share. We go harbor. We eat somethings.

And yes, she knows exactly how I feel about plagiarism. She's done it before and she has been read the Riot Act. Clearly, she doesn't think I'll be able to tell the difference between the two styles.

There are times I feel like I'm beating my head against a brick wall. Will they ever learn?

So I go home and I spend hours revising my own endless manuscript. I sweat blood, I scribble and erase, metaphorically speaking, and sometimes I find it utter torture. I write, I erase, and I write again. And a week later, I go back and read what I've labored over, hoping against hope...and I find telling instead of showing. Long, drawn-out yawn-worthy scenes. Redundancies. Inconsistent characters. Information dumps. Embarrassingly obvious plot devices. Non sequiturs.

But I have every intention of learning...

Wednesday, 11 February 2009


On Sunday night, I got a frantic call from my daughter not long after she and her friend had left the house, on their way to the local supermarket to buy themselves some chocolate. A cat had been hit by a car right in front of them, and left there to die.

"I've got her by the side of the road now," my daughter said, her voice thick with tears, "but she's hurt. What should I do?"

"Did the car go right over her?"

"Yes! The driver was speeding -- he didn't even stop!"

"How bad is it? Are a lot of bones broken? Is she bleeding?" I hated to tell my daughter this, but my first thought was to put the cat out of her misery. A stray cat run over by a car is fresh out of luck, but having it happen on a Sunday night makes it just about hopeless.

"It's bad," my daughter all but whispered. "She was trying to get away, but she could hardly move."

I felt like crying. "Honey, is there anything heavy around like a shovel or a big rock...?" I could not finish the sentence. My daughter is squeamish. I closed my eyes and waited for shrill protests, but none came.

"At first I thought I might have to do that -- when I saw the car go over her -- but she's not bleeding. Do you think she might be okay?"

I didn't, but I gave my daughter the emergency phone numbers for the local animal rescue center and hoped for the best, but ten minutes later I got another anguished call.

"No one answers!"

"Try one more time, okay?"

"Please mom," my daughter pleaded, "if you come here, you'll know what to do!"

I didn't. Still, it's been a long time since my 17-year-old assumed I knew what to -- or admitted it to me -- and there was no alternative. I woke up my husband and we drove down to where the cat was. A middle-aged man was waiting with the girls. He'd seen the accident, the girls reported, and had spoken to them in Turkish, then gone home. Five minutes later, just as they'd given up hope that anyone would stop to help, he'd come back with an old sheet to cover the cat, and he had waited with them by the side of the road -- at a respectful distance -- until we came.

We took the back cat home and I hardly expected her to last the trip. She had no obviously broken bones, but she was shocked and disoriented and although she could move, you could tell she had internal injuries by the way she held herself. We covered her well; we tried to give her water and chicken broth, but she would not take them. So my daughters knelt by her side and petted her gently; they told her that she was a beautiful and brave cat and that we would all do our best to help her.

The cat responded: she stopped trying to get up and run away. And then she purred. I almost wish she hadn't.

Our acquired daughter managed a small miracle: she found an English-speaking veterinarian who was prepared to open her clinic and treat a stray cat, so we all got back into the car and my long-suffering husband drove us to the vet's, taking every speed bump at five miles an hour to spare the cat any undue movement. The vet gave the cat painkillers and put her on a drip, and her own cat happily settled on top of the injured cat's cage to keep her company.

I did my best not to think about how much it would cost us, even with my daughter's assurance that she would use her babysitting money to help pay.

The doctor was wonderful and she did the best she could , but the cat died on Tuesday morning. The vet refused to accept payment.

I had a friend in Tokyo who claimed that no matter how much she loved animals, she couldn't help loving people more. Friends of hers, she said, tended to like animals more as they grew older. Their husbands had grown cold, their children didn't need them so much, and, eventually, even friends proved false, but their pets were forever faithful. "I love my dog, but still, he's just a dog," my friend said. "Even if friends turn against me, even if people don't return the kindness and generosity I show them, I can't help it: I always prefer the company of people."

Part of me feels the same way. I love people. Even those I don't get along with well can be charming and inspiring and endlessly entertaining. But any student of history, anyone who follows the news, anyone with half an eye open, knows that we can be a hateful, brutish lot. We can be cruel to our own species, and cruel to the animals who enrich our lives in so many ways. And although I don't know the man who saw fit to leave a cat he'd hit by the side of the road to die in agony, when I think about him and others like him, any cat or dog I've ever known wins hands down. We saw a dog a week ago that had obviously been chained to a post and left without food. Her neck was rubbed raw and bloody all the way around; her ribs were showing, and yet she was friendly and loving to us and happily accepted the pretzels my daughters offered her. When I think about the person who mistreated her, I am certain that I would vastly prefer the dog's company.

Why can't we just be kinder? Why are there so many people who so thoughtlessly mistreat helpless animals -- and so many others who are far, far worse to their own species? Too often 'humanity' has a very hollow ring.

"The man who gave us the sheet was so sweet," my daughter reminded me. "He brought it back from his house, then he just stood there, waiting, but he stood far enough away so we wouldn't think he was hitting on us." A good man.

I picture the vet, leaving the warmth of her home on a cold, windy night to take care of a stray cat whose treatment would garner her no income. Whose clinic was full of redeemed and rehabilitated strays. And I picture my daughter and her friend, all too often as selfish as your average teenager, 100 meters away from the chocolate they desperately wanted, but unable to walk away from an injured animal.

And I think that there is always hope, even for us.

Monday, 9 February 2009


During the last week of classes, I gave my class a treat. An American girl we know, the daughter of two of my oldest, dearest friends, would be coming to stay with us for a few days after a short trip around Turkey. I thought it might be fun for her to meet my students and give them a chance to use their English to talk to a genuine native speaker roughly their own age. The one thing my EFL students lack is motivation. Perhaps meeting a young person like Leah would make them see that English is, above all, a communicative tool, and not a hateful punishment devised to keep them from fun activities like football and drinking.

The day before Leah was due to arrive, I told my class a little about her and asked them to think of some good questions to ask her.

"How old are you!" bellowed Ahmet immediately.

"As I just said, she's a university student--" I began.

"Where you from!" Ahmet interrupted. Ahmet likes to be first. He feels the need to pre-empt others from answering the more obvious questions.

"Tee-cha say American girl from California," Fatma interjected, making a face at Ahmet.

"Tee-cha, what is she looks like?" asked Ahmet, getting right down to the nitty gritty and asking the one question clearly on every boy's mind.

"What does she look like?" I murmur rhetorically, hoping to reinforce the proper grammatical structure, but also irritated. "Why does it matter what she looks like?"

Ahmet leaned forward, his eyes glittering. "You know," he said, his voice husky with lust. "Nice girl?"

"Very nice," I said severely. "Her parents are my good friends."

"Pretty girl too?" demanded Mustafa, trading side-long looks with Ahmet.

Ignoring them, I turned back to the board. "Let's have some more questions. Come on: can't anyone think of anything besides how she looks?"

"What she studies?" asked Hakan, a shy boy in the third row.

"Yes," I said, "that's a great question." On the board I wrote What is your major?

"Teecha," roared Tufan from the back of the class. "How many boyfriend she has!"

I had hoped that we would come up with twenty good questions in half an hour, but in the end, it took us an entire class period. How many boyfriends do you have? did not make it onto the list.

When I saw Leah at the arrivals gate, I realized what a huge hit she was going to be. Not only had the little girl I knew grown into a bright and personable young woman, but she was also drop-dead gorgeous. When I took her into school the next day, I almost felt like throwing a veil over her first.

The minute Leah stepped inside the classroom, I gave up trying to coach my students on what to say. They only had eyes for Leah. And you could almost smell the testosterone in the air.

"Do you like Turkish people?" asked Ibrahim, one of the few boys in the room whose mouth wasn't hanging open.

Leah answered that she liked them very much. Every face in the room seemed to shine at this news.

"Where you are living now?" asked Kemal, amazing me. Kemal is shy and he tends to let the others speak for him.

"Paris. I'm studying there."

An oooh went up around the classroom and even the girls perked up at this. Özgül, who is lazy and spends most of her class time biting off her split ends, suddenly sat up straight and began to pay attention.

"There is a saying, Anything a man can do, a woman can do better. I wonder, what do you think of this saying?" asked Anthony, the show off. Anthony is my lone West African student. With his superior fluency and vastly greater vocabulary, he regularly wipes the floor with the others.

Envious eyes turned towards Anthony as Leah answered him. "Yes, I believe that." She smiled. "I'm a feminist."

Quickly, I wrote feminist on the board, followed by A person who believes that women and men should have equal rights, but no one paid it -- or me -- the least bit of mind.

"What is your ideal mate?" asked Emine, reading carefully from a piece of paper in her hand, and this time my mouth dropped open. Emine doesn't speak, period. She sits there looking like a sphinx and has a habit of shying away when I come close.

Leah considered this carefully. "Well, he'd have to be honest. I really value honesty."

Two dozen male faces suddenly seemed to radiate honesty.

"And he'd need to be kind, too, because I definitely value that in a man."

The two dozen honest expressions suddenly melted into tenderest compassion.

"And I'd want a man who was smart. Intelligent."

I had to hide my smile as tenderly kind suddenly morphed to shrewd and sharp -- something I don't see a lot of from my students.

Suffice it to say, Leah's visit was a huge hit. Students asked questions and tried to comprehend Leah's answers. Her pictures of Turkey fascinated and delighted them -- the things she had found compelling amazed and pleased them no end; the things that had bothered or irritated her bothered and irritated them too.

The lesson I attempted after she left fell flat on its face, but it didn't even matter. Motivation had been achieved.

A few days after Leah flew back to Paris, I came back to class and announced that Leah was happy to share her Facebook user name with everyone in the class. For the first and last time, I had the undivided attention of every single student.

My couldn't-be-bothered-to-learn students now know English words like feminism, empowerment, cultural anthropology, folklore, and honesty. And I couldn't get over how many of them wanted me to help them with compositions for a change. For the next week, I looked at a good two dozen 'compositions' that went roughly like this: Hello Leah. I am Ahmet, a Turkish boy. You came to my class. I am study engineering. I like football too much. Please write to me. But you've got to start somewhere.

And now I know how to motivate my students. Or, at the very least, my male students. Wish I knew Orlando Bloom...

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Things My Teenagers Can Do That I Can't

In the interest of fairness, here are twenty things my teenagers can do that I cannot.

1) Spell U-Tube. I mean YouTube.

2) Figure out how to use any mobile phone. In, like, seconds.

3) Dance skillfully without unwittingly amusing spectators.

4) Turn heads when we go downtown (without falling down, spilling the contents of their purses, or otherwise making spectacles of themselves).

5) Sit down in the midst of Great Turmoil and Chaos with a perfectly clean conscience.

6) See a sink full of dishes without feeling oppressed and culpable, even when they generated most of the dishes.

7) Math.

8) Sit for hours looking at a computer screen. It is true that I sit for hours when I write, but when I am by myself and thus not in danger of having my internet access snatched away, I have to get up and walk around frequently. My kids can sit still almost entirely motionless for hours at a time -- I've seen them.

9) After sitting for hours on end, arise without moaning, "Oh, my poor back!"

10) Lie convincingly, most of the time.

11) Apply eye liner without smearing it.

12) Handstands (Eldest).

13) Go back for seconds, third, fourths and fifths and never gain as much as an ounce (Youngest).

14) Remember how to get to a place after only going there once (Acquired Daughter).

15) Watch Japanese and Korean soap operas without snorting in irritation at the stupidity of some of the plots and poor quality of some of the acting.

16) Use any floor as a clothes depository without the least bit of embarrassment.

17) Read the labels on packages without the aid of glasses.

18) Fall in love with items of clothing without looking at the price tag first.

19) Immediately tell the difference between CDs and DVDs without making the mistake of inserting them into the wrong piece of equipment first.

20) Go to sleep at night secure in the knowledge that someone else will lock the doors, check the windows, and turn off all the lights.

Now maybe they will forgive me for my last post...

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Things I Can Do That My Teenagers Can't

What a big difference a few decades can make! Just the other day, I came up with this list -- inspired by my Youngest, who struggled to understand my ignorance of all things related to cellular phones -- and it filled me with such awe that I just had to share it. And why have a blog if you can't do things like this from time to time?

1) I can reach into a drain and pull stuff out of it. I don't just mean the odd bits, like a day's worth of stray noodles, scraps of vegetables and tea leaves, either; I'm talking about the gunk that accumulates after a whole month. Slime, hair, age-old crud, food that's been in there since Clinton was president.I can reach right in, pull it out, and -- after giving the involved hand a good wash -- still use it again. (Umm...the hand, that is.)

2) I can leave my house within minutes -- seconds even, if need be -- of getting out of bed.

3) Further to number 2 above, I can actually get ready to leave my house in a matter of minutes. I can pull on jeans and a sweat shirt, shove my feet into shoes, rake a comb through my hair, slap on some sunscreen -- and I'm good for the day.

4) I can take out the trash when it has old fish bones in it. Or rotting vegetables. Or fruit that has been left to go moldy. I can do this even when the bags are leaking.

5) Further to number 4 above, I can identify all the places where the bags have leaked, go back to them, and clean them up.

6) I can -- and do -- remember to make my bed every single morning, even when I have a headache.

7) I can go to work for an entire day, help with the shopping, come home, and cook an entire dinner for five, then wash up after it. (What I can't do is restrain myself from whining after this, but hey, I'm human.)

8) I can show someone how to do something, like how to read English or use past perfect correctly or distinguish between two different modals or remember the stroke order for a particularly difficult character, and not feel upset when they forget how to do it later and have to be shown all over again.

9) I can tell which items of clothing will, if washed with brand-new, snow-white items, turn them a different color.

10) I can feel whether a pot is clean just by running my hands over it. I can immediately spot the half inch of cooked-on oatmeal that has been left encrusted on the lip of the pot.

11) I can hear something unpleasant that has been said about me and refrain from denying it immediately and saying something bitchy about whoever said it.

12) Further to number 11 above, I can reflect about what was said about me and consider whether there is perhaps a grain of truth in it. Sometimes I can even be thankful for having heard it.

13) Upon walking into a room, I can spot -- within seconds -- the items that do not belong in it. I can see socks only just visible under sofas; coffee cups hidden in corners; prune pits left under papers on tables; empty bottles placed strategically for decorative effect.

14) I can get out of bed when I have a fever and headache and care for someone who is worse off than I am. I can cook with a bad back or a sore throat or stomach ache.

15) I can listen to an anecdote my husband has told fifteen times with every sign of enjoyment (admittedly because he is a good storyteller and his stories always change a tiny bit every time and I have to remind him that he has strayed off the path of truth). I can (usually) laugh at his terrible puns, time after time.

16) I can, albeit grudgingly, compliment someone on a job well done even when it was not done properly, as long as I know that it was done in good faith. (Sometimes I fail on this one, but I am only human.)

17) I can walk down the street, singing, and not feel the least bit embarrassed.

18) I can walk down the street without make-up on, my hair all ahoo, and not feel the least bit embarrassed.

19) I can be fifteen pounds heavier than I'd like to be, put on a bathing suit, then go outside and be gazed upon by complete strangers, and not drop dead from mortification.

20) I can look at my teenagers and see quite clearly the fine human beings I know they really are.

Any other parents of teenagers with lists they'd like to share?