Things I’ve lost and the art of growing down


I am one of those people who sometimes puts things down and can’t find them again – lesson plans, cheques, small children. I once left my  son in the meat aisle in a supermarket while I popped round the corner for salad, then couldn’t remember which meat aisle (Chicken? Beef? Delicatessen?)  He turned up eventually, in Cold Meats and Pies standing obediently exactly where I’d left him, looking a tiny bit resentful.

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I confiscated a watch from a child in class. It was one of those bleeping ones that goes off randomly every few minutes and has a touch screen that is tempting to play with rather than listen to your very engaging teacher (you could probably go on-line with it too). I put it on my desk and carried on extolling the virtues of fronted adverbials until Break. After Break it had disappeared. Now this kind of thing happens to me from time to time – with money for school trips or offerings for the Tooth Fairy – and things always turn up so I wasn’t unduly worried. Until a week had passed and it had not reappeared. Even after the Robbery talk ( “I’m not accusing anyone of taking it, but if they had, it would of course be stealing”) Or the Accidental Robbery talk (“We all understand how a person could try on a watch, admire it on their wrist and then, on the spur of the moment, almost without meaning to, just…slip it into their pencil case. But it’s still stealing.”) A bit like the difference between manslaughter and murder, I always think. Anyway, I had to go grovelling to the – fortunately very lovely – parents, insisting that I pay for it and to let me know the make/brand etc. Another two or three weeks went by and nothing happened. The child came into school with a new, rather less sophisticated watch, for which I was grateful. When confiscating other things, I made sure to put them safely in the bottom drawer of my desk, behind the defunct stapler. Then it rained one day and the watch turned up! At the bottom of the Wet Play Box between a a piece of Lego and a one armed action man. It must have fallen off my desk into this unexpected place.

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I apologised to the child about the watch. I felt bad about it having been missing so long. It turns out it had been a birthday present.

“I only intended to keep it ’til Home-time,” I told him, “Then it went missing. It must have fallen into the Wet Play Box…” He gazed back at me seriously, “You know…at Wet Play,” I added. He has brown eyes, this child, the size of rolos. They looked straight at me for a while, considering. Then, very slowly, he put out a hand and touched my arm.

“It’s alright, Mrs Jenkins,” he said, “You didn’t mean to do it. It was an accident. And you say we learn more from our successes than our failures..” He stared meaningfully at my bottom drawer where I currently held two friction pens and a ball. “Anyway we’ve found it and now I have two watches!” His eyes lit up with the pleasurable realisation, “I never thought that could happen!” And off he went happily, to meet his Dad.

This is why I work with children. Their faith in human nature is remarkable. It drives me to write lists.

Things I often lose during the week

Combs, cardigans, my sense of humour, the art of forgiveness

Things I find at weekends

Baking beans (under the kitchen units), jewellery (in hidden places), a sense of perspective

Things I’ve never lost

Buck teeth, coffee-love, a fascination with children

I went into teaching because I love children – they are the funniest, craziest, wisest little people, who put a smile on my face every day. They are trusting, forgiving and kind. They see the best in things. God made me like that too, but I sometimes wonder whether I’ve allowed life to squeeze it out of me a bit. They say that as you age, your child-like tendencies re-emerge. I’ve seen this in older people who burp loudly and laugh a lot, forgive quickly and are grateful for small things (“Now I have two watches!”). God planned this rather well I think. Forget growing up – been there, done that. Now it’s time to grow down.

Must remind my child inside to live a bit – lie on the floor with the cat, let things go,  laugh inappropriately. I might even join in with a game of Tag on playground duty.

And stay alert, in case some of the things I’ve lost turn up in unexpected places.                             .

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Play


You know when you get a trolley with a dodgy wheel? The realisation sort of creeps up on you, doesn’t it? First you’re scrabbling for a pound (Is that one? No, it’s a franc or a token for the Belarus metro).  Then it won’t fit in the slot unless you press down, applying your full body weight. Then you try to pull the trolley out but it’s stuck so you have to heave, bruising your own leg and that of the old lady behind you. Finally, having apologised to everyone in the queue including someone who might be your boss – you’re flushed and studying the ground at this point- and a librarian who you once shouted at, you limp away with your trolley and immediately veer off into a stack of paddling pools. You have a sudden urge to stab somebody.

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This happened to me the other day.  I finally managed, with great huffing and puffing and pumping of arms, to manoeuvre my trolley into the fruit and veg aisle. Gasping into the lettuces, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something that cheered me immensely. I wasn’t the only one with a dodgy wheel. Two lads were having the same problem. Aged about 8 and 12, they had been consulting a list, all serious and responsible. Should we get a big one? No, she said a small one. They lifted lettuces, smelled herbs. Is this parsley? Dunno. Smells like grass to me. Oh look, it says…

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Then the wheel jammed. The older one pushed a few times. Then they both leant on it before trying to turn it manually with their fingers. Finally the younger one put his foot on the bar and climbed up, leaning his body forwards while the other one pushed. The trolley whirled round. The boys let out a shout of pleasure. The trolley went faster, this time in a straight line. A few shoppers leapt out of the way. Others looked disapprovingly round, mainly at me since I was the nearest adult and possibly in charge. I, typically, was just fascinated at their absorption in this new game. As the list drifted, forgotten, to the floor, the boys began to play, pushing each other, calling, seeing if they could do wheelies. Of course it was only a matter of time before a supervisor, face like a spatula, came to break it up. He was not happy.

“Excuse me Madam!” I’m picking over carrots at this point and don’t realise he’s addressing me, “Ex-CUSE me Madam!”

“Yes?”

“I’m afraid we can’t allow this sort of behaviour in fruit and veg…” He had glasses and a nasal voice. I looked down at a misshapen carrot I was about to reject and wondered if he meant that.

“It’s simply not safe,” he continued, “People could get hurt. Just saying…” He motioned towards the boys. A man in shorts was giving them a wide berth.

“They’re not mine,” I said, replacing the carrot. He appeared to ignore me.

“Well, it’s an issue of health and safety,” he said, “Just saying…”

“I understand!” I said more loudly, “But they’re nothing to do with me. I’m just doing my shopping!” He stared at me for a second as though he didn’t believe me.

“I don’t know them!” I repeated as forcefully as I could without actually appearing rude. He eyed me severely.

“Just saying,” he repeated enunciating each syllable as to a child. Then he spun on his heel and marched off.

When they saw the supervisor, the boys suddenly came to their senses. Shame-faced, they listened to him meekly, then slunk out of the store, leaving their unbought purchases for the staff to sort. They even left their list. I nearly ran after them, but I didn’t like to leave my trolley with its carefully chosen cache of fruit and vegetables. Despite its dodgy wheel, I felt unable to leave it. We were in a relationship now.

And the moral of this story is – when life gets stressful, maybe we should be more like children, and learn how to play…

So next time you go into a West London supermarket and see the backside of a “middle aged” woman, whisking past you and hooting loudly, pursued by a supervisor, well, it might be me.

Just saying…

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