I actually wrote this post over two weeks ago during a layover on my way home for vacation, but in the course of my travels I never got a chance to post it, so here it finally is. As regards my travels, I have little to say at this moment, but maybe I'll throw something together later.
I’m sitting in the Tokyo Narita airport thinking how tired I am of waiting already and how unfortunate it is that I still have hours and hours and hours of travel before I finish waiting and arrive at my Grandmother’s house in Phoenix. So, to pass a bit of the time while I pray that I get a seat on this flight, I’ve decided to write an entry that I’ve been meaning to write since Monday or Tuesday, when an incident of high drama occurred in class eight.
To begin, I’ll set the scene for you. It’s early in the day and early in the week. Eleven four- and five-year-olds are seated around two oblong desks. Each child has a package of 10 markers and a workbook open to a maze. They are all more or less hard at work. The teacher seems in control, intelligent, beautiful, and likeable at first glance. Upon closer inspection she is clearly very in control, intelligent, beautiful, and likeable. (Lucky kids.)
One of the girls (Sophia is her name.) stands up and carries her book across the room to ask the teacher for help, and this is where the high drama begins.
Ready … go …
Christine found a black marker cap on the table. I watched her check her own markers to verify that it wasn’t hers, and then look around at her neighbors. I knew whose cap it was. Sophia was standing next to me. Her eyes were begging for help. Her maze was begging for help. The layers of black marker trails on the page attested to dozens of failed attempts to get the monkey to the banana. Sophia was issuing a low wailing sound while she waved her book and her uncapped black marker in front of me. Despite months of work, Sophia has failed to learn more then a couple dozen words in English. She has, however, stopped speaking Korean in class. The result is a lot of manic gesturing and frantic facial expressions. Like her maze, Sophia’s hands were covered in black marker.
Christine was still looking for the owner of the black cap. “Christine!” I called, “It’s Sophia’s.” Christine noted the marker in Sophia’s hand, nodded, and set the cap back where she’d found it. Sophia and I began the task of distinguishing between the maze’s original borders and Sophia’s sprawling additions. Then the shouting started.
Ann had mistaken Sophia’s cap for her own and tried to take it. Christine had taken on the role of property defender.
“Christine! My giving!” yelled Ann.
“No!” replied Christine, “No you! Sophia!”
I intervened. I pointed out Ann’s cap lying on the other side of the table, and tempers cooled, but I noticed that Christine didn’t put the cap back down this time. She gripped it in a white-knuckled, left-handed fist while she finished her maze.
I returned my attention to Sophia, the monkey found the banana, and Sophia squealed with delight, waving her marker dangerously close to my face.
I turned my attentions on another student, and missed the beginnings of the commotion that broke out across the room. A few swift strides brought me to the scene where I pulled Christine away from her attack on Sophia. Sophia wore a look of complete bewilderment. Christine was red faced and crying. Sophia was holding her black marker cap in one hand and her still uncapped marker in the other. Christine had a stripe of black marker ink running down her arm.
As I said, I missed the incident, but my guess is that Christine gave the marker cap to Sophia and that Sophia, either overtaken with excitement or clumsiness, accidentally drew a line down Christine’s arm.
No problem, this was easy to fix. I started cleaning the marker off Christine’s arm with a moistened tissue and asked her if she wanted to go to the bathroom and wash her arm or if she was ok. She angrily pulled her arm away and yelled, “No!” Her crying turned to frantic sobbing.
I gave several other suggestions: Do you want to finish your maze? Do you need a drink of water? Do you want to go outside and finish crying?
She grew angrier and angrier, glaring the entire time at the still confused Sophia.
Then I remembered the vehemence with which she had defended the marker cap from Ann, and then protected it until Sophia’s return. After everything Christine had done for Sophia, in what should have been a triumphant moment of returned property, Sophia had forgone gratitude and instead defaced Christine’s very person. For Christine, it was the ultimate act of betrayal.
“Christine, are you angry because you gave Sophia her marker lid and then she wrote on your arm?” Christine nodded.
“Sophia, did you say thank you to Christine?” Sophia shook her head, then rectified the situation with a sincere, “Thank you, Christine.”
Sophia didn’t stop there, though. She is the most motherly little girl I’ve ever met, and as soon as Christine had stopped swinging at her, she’d gotten a tissue. She walked up and placed the tissue over Christine’s nose and nodded her head as if to say, “Blow,” which I’m sure she would have said if she’d known how to in English.
“Sophia, can you say I’m sorry, Christine?” She did, and Christine said it was ok.
Then, glad everything had worked out, I watched Sophia use her marker-blackened hands to wipe the tears off of Christine’s cheeks, leaving wide gray streaks from Christine’s eyes to her chin.
At that moment I had three reasons to be grateful:
1 – Sophia didn’t seem to notice that she’d just war painted her friend.
2 – There are no mirrors in my classroom, so Christine didn’t notice either.
3 – Everyone else in the class was too intent on finishing their mazes to bother with pointing it out to Christine.
I decided to just leave it alone. A few minutes later we had our bathroom break. I’m sure Christine was surprised and bewildered at her sooty reflection, but she came back to class with a clean, smiling face, all drama apparently forgotten.