Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Buy This Book -- It Looks Great!

Now, I don't do this often, but I've been hearing wonderful things about The Silver Phoenix and I'm itching to read it. And there is just the tiniest chance that I might get to do that for free: the author is generously offering to give away copies, and all I have to do is put a link to her book on my blog. She says she'll send the copies anywhere, even overseas!

Take it from me: not that many people will send free books overseas, and when they do, I take them up on it.

Just mention the words 'free books' and my palms start sweating. I've been lucky with free books this past year. First of all, Robin sent me her book, an irreverent take on child psychiatry, and six months later, I managed to win another wonderful book, Tim Tharp's The Spectacular Now, from Tabitha. Then Tanita, another fine writer, sent me a whole box of books that sadly never made it to me, but I'm still very touched that she did this. When I'm feeling especially depressed, I try not to picture Tanita's box of treasures moldering in some Turkish post office, gathering dust. Or maybe by now it's been ripped open and the contents used as -- never mind. Both Robin's and Tabitha's books arrived safely. I probably won't win Cindy's, but I'll give it a plug anyway because you never know.

And it sounds like it's more than worthy of a plug. In fact, this book sounds like it's made for my family and me. It's got an Asian theme, and we do Asian around here; it's got a strong girl protagonist, and we do strong girl protagonists. It's got adventure in it, and I'm seriously into anything with adventures. Finally, I am told that there are also lots of food references, so this is right up my street.

So buy this book. If I don't win it, I'll buy it myself, and if a cheapskate like me says she'll buy a book, maybe you should too.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Candy Face

I don't know about you, but there's a lot of stuff I'd like to put on my resume that I can't. My husband feels just the same way. Once, not long after we'd married, we were visiting my best friend back in the States and her little boy introduced us to his friend. "This is Mary," he said, "she's my mom's friend. And this is her husband. He's wicked good fun."

To this day, he remembers that. He'd like it on his resume, just after Publications and Professional Presentations: I'm wicked good fun. References and testimonies available upon request.

There are a number of things I'd like on my resume. Once a friend of mine commented on my pot-washing skills. She claimed her pots were cleaner after I'd been at them. You know why? I wash not only the inside of pots, but the outside. It's just one of those things about me I can't change. I can't bear pots that are clean on the inside, but filthy on the outside. For years, it's irritated me that I can't note that down, somewhere between Education and Past Experience: When I wash pots, I get the outsides clean too. It has been noted and commented upon. References available upon request.

I'll tell you what else would go on my resume: I have a candy face.

I didn't know about my candy face until two weeks ago. I'd had a tough time in my Wednesday afternoon class; I'd had to yell at half a dozen kids who were yakking away in Turkish, only pretending to write compositions about their home towns. I'd had to bring up the embarrassing subject of their midterm results -- abysmal -- and my worries that they would not be ready for the finals. After class, I gathered up my papers and two girls approached my desk, smiling winsomely.

"Tee-cha, you are okay?" asked Melen.

"I'm fine," I said through clenched teeth. "I'm just a little worried about a few of you." I zipped up my pencil case. "I'm afraid some of you will have to repeat."

Esra sidled a little closer. "Tee-cha, you work hardly for us!" she whispered. "We like this!"

I looked up suspiciously. Their midterm results are done and dusted and they know damn well that nothing they say can change them.

Esra took my whiteboard eraser and began to erase the board. "Tee-cha, when on the weekend, we miss you! We miss your face!"

"Pffft!" I said, flushing. "You miss being yelled at!"

"No, tee-cha!" Esra insisted, still erasing. "You sometimes yelling, but you have sweet face!"

"Candy face!" chimed in Melen. "You have sweet face like candy!"

My hand went up surreptitiously, but no, not a trace of breakfast jam was stuck to my face.

And I cannot begin to tell you how genuinely honored I am. Never mind that I've had a good look at myself in the mirror and know The Real Truth, Melen says I've got a candy face. But where can I put that on my resume? Under Education? Qualifications? Past Work Experience?

Sometimes you just have to hide your lights under a bushel.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Preaching To The Converted

It is a beautiful, sparkling spring day. The university gardeners have just turned on the sprinklers which are making a refreshing tsk-tsk-tsk sound as the water sprays out in crystalline arcs; the mimosa trees are in full bloom, drooping branches groaning under their weight of tiny yellow flowers, the ground beneath them already speckled a bright gold. The temperature is just right, the grass is as green as grass gets, every flower shines like a jewel. But nothing's perfect: the boy and girl in front of me, two stylishly dressed teenagers who have Spoiled Rich Kids practically written all over them, have stopped to light up cigarettes. Even as I watch, the boy takes the empty cigarette pack and throws it over a low wall, right into the middle of the perfectly landscaped university gardens. It lands in a lantana bush and sits there, garish and ugly, among clusters of multi-colored blossoms.

And nobody bats an eye. Nobody runs up to him, outraged and red-faced, demanding that he go back and pick up his piece of trash. He and his elegantly coiffured girlfriend continue their stroll, flicking ash and blowing out smoke.

If I were the Jolly Green Giant, I would grab this boy by his ankles, dangle him over his discarded cigarette pack, and make him eat it. While I was at it, I'd warn his girlfriend to keep a sharp eye on him. I'd be tempted to tell her to go easy on the make-up and not to wear such form-fitting pants too. But I'm a middle-aged teacher who can't get her own teenagers to keep their rooms tidy, so I just walk by, thinking disapproving thoughts.

But this stays in my mind. The beautiful day, the rolling green grass, the scent of lemon blossom drifting across the sun-warmed campus -- all of these are lost to me now as I remember this thoughtless action. The careless way the boy did it showed how little it meant to him. It was one of those tiny things you do so often, you don't even think about -- an automatic reflex, like shifting gears or pouring another cup of coffee. I'll bet if I'd said anything about it, he'd have been surprised.

By the time I've entered my classroom, I'm full of righteous indignation. What if these kids do, by some miracle, manage to graduate, complete their degrees, and enter the World? What then? What if, say, that cigarette pack flinger becomes the owner of a construction company? Do you think a kid who flings his cigarette pack without a by-your-leave is going to think twice about dumping old building materials? What if he is ever in charge of a factory that uses toxic chemicals? So what if all I teach these kids is English; they've GOT to learn that tossing their junk around is wrong.

As it happens, the classroom is in its typical dire state. Some idiot has put a bottle of coke in the waste bin without making sure the lid was on tight; the waste bin is not lined. A quick look around the classroom shows me the usual detritus: shredded paper on the floor, scattered candy wrappers, empty or half-filled water bottles on half a dozen tables, balled-up Kleenexes peeping out of every corner. And it isn't just the students, either: once again the last teacher hasn't bothered to erase the board: every square inch of it is covered with squiggles, figures, diagrams and fulsome explanations in Turkish. Noting my reaction, Özgür and Ahmet -- two of my best students -- leap to erase it, but I wave them back down.

After I've erased the board, I give my students a little lecture. Using easy words. I describe how important it is to clean up after yourself, how anyone can make a difference just by doing their own bit. I point out how irritating it is to have a sticky floor; I draw a picture of a wasp on the board, then a fly, then a cockroach. No one admits to liking these insects. I finish up with a picture of a big smiling world. "Today, after class, we'll all leave this room clean, okay?" I say.

Looking me straight in the eye, they all nod.

But after class, only Özgür and Ahmet remain to help me tidy up. "I hate mess," confides Özgür, who is thrilled to have learned the word. "My room friend big mess, every time."

"My room friend too," mutters Ahmet, lobbing an empty bottle into the waste bin.

So once again, my preaching has failed to reach the right ears. The only people who are committed to helping me are the ones who'd have done it anyway.

Together, my fellow converts and I finish cleaning the room.

Monday, 20 April 2009


I'm a pack-rat. From earliest childhood, I've hoarded junk. I suspect it's in my genes: in my family there are many stories of relatives who have amassed great collections of books, seashells, stamps, and buttons. One of my uncles spent his lifetime collecting books about Robin Hood. By the time of his death, he had the largest collection in the world outside of Nottingham. His library included hundreds of volumes, old and new: first editions, books in Swahili, Serbo-Croatian, Hebrew, Turkish, Chinese. All about Robin Hood. The older he got, the more anxious he became. After he died, who would keep them all? Who would oil their bindings, make sure they were kept at the right humidity and temperature? And who would make sure that no one with grimy fingers got their cotton-picking fingers on his treasures?

Although I can smile at my uncle and his fastidious ways, deep down inside, I have his acquisitive ways. I am convinced that only my peripatetic lifestyle -- ten years here, five years there -- has kept my collections at bay. But I've struggled with this condition all my life.

When I was seventeen, I spent a year in Florida, living with a cousin and working. I can still remember packing to go back to California. My cousin, from the non-pack-rat side of my family, tried to help me. "You're not taking that?" she gasped as I filled my boxes with all sorts of junk. But I was. Dresses I could no longer wear, shoes with broken straps, brochures from places we'd visited, books I'd already read two or three times.

When I opened the boxes back in California, it all looked different. Did I really need brochures for Parrot Jungle and Flamingo Park? What could I do with them? Hadn't I read Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters enough? Would I ever manage to get the straps of my black high heels fixed? I thought about the money I'd spent mailing my boxes. That would come in a lot handier than clothes that no longer fit, books I'd already read, and broken shoes. And nobody ever bought lunch with a collection of used brochures.

That was my first wake-up call. During my next major move, I was a lot more careful about what I took with me. Still, after a year in Japan, I came back to the States with eight boxes of things I couldn't bear to part with. I stashed them in my long-suffering sister's garage, where they stayed for years. On trips back to Southern California, I would agonize over precious items. Old clothes I was emotionally attached to. Books I'd traveled all over Mexico and Guatemala with. Miscellaneous nonsense I would never use, but could hardly bear to throw away.

And I still collected things. Stealthily -- a bit here, a little there. Things built up, but not everything was in one place so I couldn't really grasp the full horror of what I had done.

My husband tried in vain to make me throw things away, but it was finally this last move that shook me enough to do a serious cull. On one of our last days in Scotland, my friend Dina showed up at our flat and took one open-mouthed look around. She didn't even say anything, she just opened a roll of black garbage bags and started heaving things in. My dried flower arrangements, old Easter baskets, stacks of faded dishtowels depicting English castles, used packs of cards, puzzles, cracked pottery -- all the things that had already survived dozens of ruthless trips to Oxfam. We had one spat (over a torn Japanese fan; I know I can fix it), and I cried a little, but suddenly I saw the gift she was offering me -- liberation from possesions -- and I started discarding junk with reckless abandon. I was grateful that Dina hadn't seen the place before I'd started culling. And that she hadn't been with me when those first boxes came back from Miami.

And once I got started culling, I found I could not stop. So what if I'd had those dried flowers since our first year in Scotland? Who really needed a whole stack of torn, faded dishtowels? And the relief this gave me was nothing short of cathartic.

Here, in our new flat, I have managed to accumulate almost nothing. This is a huge breakthrough. I can go to potteries and look around, but buy nothing; I can visit bookstores and browse, but leave empty-handed (it does help that 99.9% of the books are in Turkish); I can go clothes shopping with my daughters and end up with zip-all for myself. Somehow, I have managed to cure (almost) a lifetime affliction, and that is wonderful.

This breakthrough may have something to do with getting older: at some point, you realize you can't take it with you. In the end, everything goes: possessions, wealth, beauty, friendship, memory -- even dignity. All you can do is hope to leave behind the best possible record of your achievements, whatever they happen to be.

I'm thrilled with my new-found ability, but the best thing of all is that what I've managed to do with things, I have also learned to do with words.

For years now, I've struggled with a certain overwritten manuscript. The premise of my novel is good, but it has been weighed down by a meandering plot, extraneous characters, and far too many words. And yet every time I went back to my manuscript with the intention to edit, I found myself bogged down. How could I possibly get rid of the passage where Beatrice confers with her tortoise over the two bullies? Or the one where Herleva manages to cure one of her classmates? Rereading my novel, my heart would almost break as I imagined pressing that 'delete' button and getting rid of my precious words.

But a few months back, after we'd gotten settled, I opened up the manuscript and started reading. And I saw it all: the places where I'd gone overboard and put in too many details; the characters I didn't really need; the meanderings that did nothing to advance the narrative. It helped that I won a free critique of a different manuscript and was given this advice, and it helped that my writing group gave me a kick in the butt. But the thing that really pushed me was the desire to get the thing finished at all costs -- to leave it as good as it could be, whether it is ever published or not.

Besides, I've got all my deleted passages saved in a special file. Like that torn fan, you never know: someday I might be able to fix them.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Getting Away With It

"Tee-cha, why you write children's?" Alper asks me, his brow furrowed.

I wheel around and look at the board where I have written the following sentence: The children's room is the smallest room in our house.

My mouth gapes open. "Why did I write it...?"

Alper makes a vague gesture with one hand. "Why you write--" He turns to the boy sitting next to him and mutters something in Turkish. After a moment of consultation, they look up at me "ah-pose-trph," Alper concludes, the wrinkle still between his eyebrows.

I look at the board again. "Apostrophe?" I ask, pointing to the offending punctuation mark.

He nods vigorously.

"Because the room belongs to the children, so you use an apostrophe after 'children' and before the S," I explain.

"No, tee-cha, mistake!" shouts Aysa. "Apostrophe always after S!"

Aysa is one of those students who make me bring Bufferin to class: she knows it all even if she doesn't. Oddly enough, learning time after time that she is wrong hasn't put a dent in her astonishing confidence. Aysa has corrected my spelling, my grammar, and my syntax, and bless her, she has never once been right. During the break, I'm happy to let her teach me Turkish pronunciation because this gives her a gratifying sense of her own superiority -- but I'm damned if I'm going to let her get away with this now.

"The S comes after the N in children's," I say sternly. "Children is already plural."

She doesn't believe me, but it is time for my break and boy, do I need it. When I get back fifteen minutes later, Aysa has her grammar book open to plurals and she looks suitably chagrined.

I don't rub it in, though. I'm above that.

But two days later, she's at it again. We're doing personal descriptions this week, and on the board I've written the following sentence: What is your boyfriend like?

Aysa is practically leaping out of her chair at this. "Tee-cha, not is, does!" she splutters, pointing an accusatory finger.

Uh oh -- have I made a mistake? It's not unheard of, after all. I study the board, but no: everything's fine. "Look, there's no mistake here, the question is--"

But Aysa is half out of her seat, scrabbling for her grammar book again. "Tee-cha, what do you like to do?" she calls triumphantly, tapping her book with one stubby finger. "Boyfriend he, so does," she concludes breathlessly. "No what IS boyfriend like, what DOES boyfriend like!" The look in her eye says it all: this time she's got me -- victory is hers!

Confused and exasperated, I go to look. What do you like to do in your free time? I read. Now I'm the one with a crease between my eyebrows.

Then I get it. The crease between my eyebrows turns into a tiny flashbulb just over my head.

Back at the board, I write the following: What is your boyfriend like? and What does your boyfriend like doing in his free time? I explain briefly that What is he like? and What does he like? mean different things entirely.

Aysa watches warily, her eyes distrustful. Even now, she suspects I'm trying to pull a fast one.

I don't rub it in, though. I'm above that.

Fast forward one week. I am teaching my last class on my longest teaching day. My feet hurt, my head is throbbing, and one teacher is off ill, so I've got two classes rolled into one, and worse still, I'm teaching a lesson I've had no chance to prepare for. It's standing room only, and the class is about as quiet as Grand Central Station during rush hour.

"BE QUIET!" I roar for the third time, but no one pays me any heed. So I scrawl it across the board in four-inch letters.

An instant hush fills the room. They're never this responsive! I can hardly believe my good luck.

Aysa stares at me, her mouth hanging open. "Tee-cha QUIT!" she practically shouts.



If she were on her feet, she'd be jumping up and down. The boy next to her is pointing to the board, so I turn around.

And I see what I've gone and written in my flustered haste: BE QUIT!

Now this tale could end here. Aysa could have had her Great Victory and I could have ended up with egg on my face. But the fates were with me.

"Open your books to page 58!" I splutter, after correcting the offending QUIT to QUIET.

There is a great rustling as fifty students open their books, and half the class smiles and nods. One boy laughs out loud and gives me an appreciative wink. And I read the instructions to the lesson I so hastily cobbled together: Find the mistake in the text . We're doing a unit on error correction.

Aysa casts me a baleful look. Her arch enemy, Mary the All Grammatical, has scored again.

My very first whopper of a mistake and I've completely and utterly gotten away with it.

I may not rub it in, but I'm damned if I'll ever tell.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Let Me Count The Ways

Planet Nomad, an expatriate mother of three who lives in Morocco, has some wonderful tales. She has also tagged me to tell you five things I like about being a mother, and I am absolutely game for this.

Actually, I'm glad she didn't catch me last week when I was in a less than positive maternal mood, but it probably wouldn't have mattered. My husband and I have marveled at what a weird thing parenthood is: raising kids, you can be tempest-tossed by your (and their) emotions, brought from the highest heights to the lowest depths in no time at all, but the one thing that always remains constant is your love for them. Back in my pre-kid days, I remember watching friends sparring with their obnoxious, spotty teens and thinking that if they were mine, they'd be out on their butts straight away. I watched my indulgent friends taking all kinds of nonsense from their kids, from toddlers to teenagers, and I had grave doubts that I could ever do the same.

And yet look at me now.

So here goes: five random things I love about having children:

1) I love the way having children integrates you into whatever community you are in. Of course, you can get to know your neighbors if you don't have children, but if you do have them your chances of successful integration are far greater. Especially when they get caught climbing the fence into your neighbors' pasture, hanging out the window and asking when the next gift will be forthcoming, or sparring with the kids next door. When my husband and I were double-income-no-kids types, we had no idea what we were missing, and what a good thing that was.

2) I love the sheer zany fun of kids. I love the music of our girls' laughter, their strident voices discussing the latest Japanese rock singer heart-throb or the interesting fact that a Korean pop band, Dong Bang Shin Ki, is the most photographed group of people in the entire world. There are even days when I can sit and listen to their silly nonsense for up to an hour without feeling homicidal. This is no mean feat either. Try sitting in our car sometime on a long journey and you'll get what I mean.

3) I love the way having kids pulls you right out of the box. If we had not had children, I would never have learned to appreciate The Wind in the Willows, Rammstein, Dir En Gray, Pingu, Linkin Park, or Goosebumps. I would not have learned the baby language in Japanese for 'foot', 'snack', 'stomach', 'walk', or 'dog'. I might never have found out that the Call to Prayer has five different modes depending on the time of day (courtesy of our youngest daughter, who is doing independent research), how to get chocolate stains out of cotton, the real pronunciation of hazelnut in Turkish, or the names of every Pokemon action figure.

4) I love watching their personalities develop. True, there are times I look at them and am horrified to see all the worst features of my husband or myself, but there are far more times I see in them infinitely better versions of us. If our Youngest has my husband's quick temper, she also has his forgiving nature in spades. If our Eldest has my awful tendency to procrastinate, she manages to cover this by an ability to BS that leaves me utterly breathless with admiration.

5) I love how versatile they've made me. Because I guarantee you, I did not always use to be like this. Thanks to having kids, I can multi-task with the best of them now. Like I did this morning when I managed to finish and send off a full-length manuscript to an agent, engage in a complex conversation via IM with our Eldest, and eat my breakfast.

I won't tag anyone here because I know that few people besides myself like to be tagged. But if Merry, Christy, Anne, Debra, and Robin want to play along, I'll be well entertained. And so will you.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Objective, Subjective

"Tee-cha, can you explain?"

It's my break, but Alper is standing there, notebook in hand, looking troubled. Alper needs all the help he can get, but quite apart from that, Alper is one of the students I've identified as a trier. He may not be Einstein, but boy, does he do his best. He turns in his homework every time, faithfully writes in his journal, and frequently asks me reasonably pertinent questions. I will do just about anything for a student who tries -- they're thin on the ground around here. Giving up my break is the very least I can do.

"What do you want me to explain?"

"Why this did this one not?"

"I'm sorry, can you repeat that?"

"Why this did, this one not did?" He holds out the notebook. In it, he has written the following two sentences:

Who did Madonna marry? and Who married Madonna?

"Why this one did, this one not did?" he asks.

Okay, now I get it: he wants to know why you use the auxiliary verb 'did' in the first question, but not in the second question.

Fortunately, I'm right on top of this one: I asked a Turkish colleague about it just last month. This is one of those niggling idiosyncrasies that we native speakers of English manage to absorb with our graham crackers and milk, but non-native speakers have to learn explicitly. Fortunately for me, I teach with a lot of non-native speakers of English. I've never met a non-native speaker of English worth his or her salt who couldn't explain this better than I can.

"Okay," I say now, writing on the board Who did Madonna marry? " In this sentence, Madonna is the subject because she is the one who is marrying someone." I point out that the word who here should technically be whom because it is the object of the sentence, not the subject. And that when the answer is not the same as the subject, we have to use the auxiliary did. I then explain how the opposite is true in the sentence Who married Madonna? In this sentence, Who is the subject, and the answer will be the same as the subject, so we don't use the auxiliary.

We go through a few more examples of this until Alper obviously understands. He leaves the classroom with a satisfied look on his face and I feel like doing a little jig on my desk; it's not often that I get my point across. Now Alper knows the difference between the objective and the subjective and one little bit of chaos has been turned to order.

But I've missed my break and I'm more than ready for a trip to the ladies' room after the class. Unfortunately, when I get back to the teachers' lounge, I am irritated to see that the key is missing -- again. I scrawl the following sentence on the board: Will whoever took the ladies' room key please return it?

A few hours later, as I'm getting ready to leave for the day, I see that some idiot has changed my perfectly correct whoever to the incorrect whomever. Shocking but true: one of my colleagues does not know the difference between the objective and the subjective.

On the board, I circle the offending whomever and write the following: Will whoever made this correction please consider a review of the subjective and objective cases?

I know I could have just walked away from this, but I'm all about order over chaos.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

The Gift Of Language Learning

Somewhere in storage, I've got a dozen little booklets, handwritten in Japanese, documenting my daughters' years in nursery school. The booklets were co-authored, half by the girls' nursery school teachers and half by me, poring over my dictionary, chewing my lip raw.

Why did I write them? Because I had to. When you put your kid into the Japanese school system, you have to send him or her off every day with a renrakujo, a journal of your child's' life that is shared between you and the teacher. Most days, you don't have to write anything other than "Good appetite" or "Out of sorts this morning." But when something eventful has happened, like an illness or family upset, you end up writing a lot.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I spent hours over my kids' renrakukjo every single week, looking up terms like German measles, chickenpox, temper tantrum, and teething gel. I documented all sorts of things: baby teeth, rashes, food likes and dislikes, vaccinations, new words, new developments.

Now, I can write Japanese okay. I'm no Haruki Murakami, of course, but I studied Japanese at university and I managed to pass the highest level of the Japanese Proficiency Examination. But I promise you that the renrakujo gave me nightmares and caused me hours of head-scratching misery.

One evening, when I went to pick up my eldest daughter, I found her teachers huddled in a group, laughing their heads off. They were all looking at something: my kid's renrakujo.

"Oh mother," one of them spluttered, wiping her eyes, "what you wrote here--" and she burst into fresh hysterics.

"What did I write?" I asked, the blood rushing from my head. But they were laughing too hard to tell me.

Every language learner makes mistakes, and it's inevitable that some of them are going to be hilarious. When I worked as a waitress at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan, I once asked at least three dozen Japanese businessmen if they would like a dish of pee. I couldn't figure out why they were all smiling and snickering until one of my fellow waitresses caught up with me. "Mary-san," she hissed, "it's not oshikko, it's oshinko."

"Did I make a mistake?" I asked the near-hysterical teachers. "What should I have written?"

"It's not what you wrote," cried another teacher, "it's the way you wrote it!" Which would have been high praise if I'd been aiming for humor, but all I'd been trying to do was describe a bout of indigestion.

Still, even though it wasn't intentional, I gave them a shared experience, a moment of real pleasure. And that is a gift, isn't it? In fact, I would argue that not only is it a gift, it is something that only foreign speakers of a language can do. From a whole sea of appropriate Japanese words, structures, and phrases, I effortlessly picked something utterly hysterical -- something I'm betting that a native speaker of Japanese could not have achieved. Sometimes language learning results in communication and that is beautiful, but sometimes it doesn't and that can be pretty wonderful too.

They nursery school teachers tried to explain what was funny to me, but unlike the pee and pickles mix-up, nothing was straightforward, and the humor sailed over my head. Just like I can't for the life of me explain to the student who wrote it why the following sentence is funny:

It was nice last week, outlined as intense. But this week I wasn't enjoy and intested. I passed dull.

Like I said, it's a gift.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Chameleon Love

There's a new teacher where my husband works. He is athletic, handsome, and still single. All the women teachers have a mild crush on him: he's a dashing sort of guy and he has good manners. I know this: we gave him a lift to school one morning and he held the door open for me. (My husband doesn't hold the door open for me unless I'm sick or carrying something heavy. He knows better.)

On Valentine's Day, this man, Ender, ordered a gigantic bouquet of roses for his girlfriend. All of my husband's female colleagues oohed and ahed over this and made an even bigger fuss over Ender than usual. Such a lovely bouquet -- they only wished their husbands were still so romantic! This irritated my husband. He isn't really a bouquet of roses sort of husband, I'm afraid. He has brought me the odd bunch of flowers over the years, the odd bit of jewelry and box of chocolates, but this isn't really his style.

And honestly, I don't mind one bit. Hana yori dango, as they say in Japanese -- dumplings are better than flowers -- and I'm inclined to agree. Of course, if I could have dumplings and flowers, that would be great, but it would also be asking for too much, which is something my husband seldom gets from me.

"Flowers are okay," my husband ventured, "but wouldn't you rather have a man who can cook?"

My husband, I probably don't need to point out, can cook.

To his surprise, they all disagreed with him. "No! We'd rather have a man who brought us flowers on Valentine's Day!"

"What about a man who can give you a back rub? Or who'll do the dishes when it isn't his turn?"

My husband, I probably don't need to tell you, can do these too, though often not without begging on my part and griping on his.

But the ladies were adamant: they didn't want a man who could cook or do the odd bit of housework or give them a massage, they wanted the flowers. And they gave my poor husband a hard time for admitting that he was the sort of man who didn't think flowers and other traditionally romantic gestures were de riguer in a relationship.

The other day we were out walking when my husband suddenly stopped in his tracks and held his hand out. "Don't anybody move. Do you see that?"

We all looked, but no, we didn't. "See what?" we chorused.


He pointed and we looked again -- and saw it. A chameleon. Sitting right there on the trunk of a tree, far too close to the road. We've seen a few of these run over by cars, and our Eldest brought one home back in October, for a week that was all too short. Ever since our last one disappeared, I've been pining for another.

Gently, my husband managed to encourage the chameleon away from the tree and onto his hand. And he gave it to me. It is now sitting with its tail coiled around the Pakistani Night that I've planted on our porch, a beautiful little creature that changes its color from green to camouflage to lime yellow.

So, although I'm sure Ender's fiancee loved her flowers as much as I hope she loves Ender, I'm not envious. I've got a husband who can cook, do the dishes when it isn't his turn, and manage the occasional neck rub.

And he finds me chameleons.