April 22 2020
During this time, my thoughts have often drifted to memories of the past or hopes for the future- which is ironic because I've actually been trying to work on mindfulness. This beautiful idea of living in the present. Not bringing tomorrow’s worries into today's load/not adding yesterday’s emotional bagged onto today's kind of thing. And while I like to think I've been doing okayyy at the mindfulness thing, my mind still has, well, a mind of its own.
While thinking of the past, it occurred to me that many of the things I now consider some of the funniest during my times of travel are not documented here. Upon further consideration, I realized why.
At the time, they sucked. Sucked in that they were either extremely embarrassing, overwhelmingly stressful, or, in my mind, just not that entertaining. But the other day I found myself regaling one such forgotten tale, and instead of pain or embarrassment showing up as it had in the past, I was actually laughing.
I suppose it's true what they say- time does heal all wounds. (Though this one took three years, so do not take the word time lightly.)
I was an assistant language teacher living in Calahorra and teaching in Arnedo (and all you need to know about that region is that it is the wine region. That is the most important fact in all of La Rioja to know. And also the mushrooms. And peppers. You get it, stuff grows good there.)
Like most language assistants, I took on a series of tutoring jobs with the local teachers and families. Most do decide to take this route because our stipend oftentimes isn't enough on its own if you want to travel (or drink a lot of wine.)
I had three such families that I taught English lessons to after school hours. One family, I adored and they adored me. Another was the mother of a friend, where we drank coffee and held sophisticated conversation. The third was a young student of mine, let’s call her M, who hated me. I mean for a five-year-old, there was some passion there. No simpatico.
Her mother was a teacher at one of the schools I worked at, and because of my hours, it worked out nicely that during our siesta, I would come over to their house and have lunch and then work with said child on her English.
In the beginning, this sounded perfect. Every other week I switched schools, and the schedule at the second school was horrible. I would work from nine until 12, then we would have a three-hour siesta from 12 till 3, then back to school from 3 to 5. I had had no idea what I would do for three hours to entertain myself except wander the streets or hole up in the teachers’ lounge (which did eventually become my life.)
We went for a few months of this semi-working. We would split the time into three parts- the first would be lunch with the family. The second would be lessons in the other room for thirty minutes. The third would be going to the playground and practicing conversation while we were there. Sounds simple, right?
Darling M would try every trick in the book to manipulate me.
We would be going over small words like cat, dog, rat, bat. I would point to a picture and say, "What is this?" And she would go through the first few without issue. Then I would point to rat, and she would say, "Poop." "No, silly, that isn't ‘poop.’ What is it? Starts with bbbbb." "Pooooooop." "Do you even know what ‘poop’ means?" "Poop. Poop. Poop."
Thirty. Minutes. Of. This. Until I stopped. Until I said, okay, we can go outside.
Rule to the wise: Never give into a child like that. Because once they know they can win... oh lord, once they know.
For three months we carried on until one day it was over.
M was in a particularly bad mood. We had done our pointless lessons and were at the playground. I glanced at my watch, noting that it was time to head back to the house if I was going to make it back to school on time. "M, let's go." The child looked at me, stuck her tongue out, and ran across the playground. I walked towards her, asking again. She ran. I asked in Spanish, as she made a point to ignore me in English. She came over and we walked about half a block towards home before she started to walk like a headless sloth.
We had some words back and forth about hurrying, about why she was acting like this. She kept saying, "Mamma. I want mama" over and over again. I grabbed her hand and she yanked it away from me. I tried to lead her by the arm. She sat down on the ground and yelled for her momma.
So I threw my hands up and walked ahead. I stopped at every street corner, pissed, waiting for her to catch up. Then we would cross the street together, and she would begin again.
By the time we arrived at the apartment, I was livid. I had ten minutes to make it back to the school and she was not yet delivered to her mother.
To the elevator, we went. I stepped on, holding the door while she headless-slothed her way in. And then, as the doors were closing, she jumps out of the elevator. I hurriedly press the button to reopen the doors and there she is, smug as hell.
"Not with you," she says, crossing her arms. This child is refusing to ride the elevator with me.
I'll skip to the part where I lose. I walked up eight stories while she took the elevator by herself. A five-year-old.
I banged on the door, delivered the child with a quick, but very upset explanation of why we were so freaking late. The mom didn't say a word, just listened to me, looking slightly stunned. I told her we could talk more about it tomorrow, but I had to go or I was going to be late.
Next day. We have lunch and the vibe is weird. M is smiling at me as she eats her mushroom soup.
Mom gives me a look and says, "We need to talk." M is sent to her room as mom and I walk to the living room and sit on the couch. "I don't know if this is a good fit for us anymore."
"Oh, okay. That's fine, I mean whatever works best for you guys," I reply, initially thrilled! I am, at this point, thoroughly over it.
Mom gives me a very concerned look. "No, it's just, M told me what happened yesterday."
"Ah. I know, it was a weird day. She was clearly upset about something and was just refusing to listen to me. It was a frustrating day for us both, I think."
"Kate, she told me how you hit her."
Mic. Drop. I had been served.
"Excuse me, what? I would never, ever hit her. I would never hit a child." At this point, my adrenaline has kicked in and I'm legit shaking.
"She said you hit her and yelled at her. She said that's why she didn't want to go anywhere with you." I stare at this mother as she stares at me. I am, for the first time in my life, at a loss for words.
"I'm sorry, but your daughter is lying to you. Yes, we had an off day, and I'm fine if you don't want to continue. But you have to believe that I would never hit a child and that I did not hit yours."
And then I left.
But, lucky me, I still saw mom in between lessons. And luckier me, I still had M in my classes. Which brings me to the final showdown.
The following week (so two weeks after this "incident"), I am headed out during siesta to walk the town with my newly found free time.
The kids are on the side of the school, playing together as is usual, waiting for their parents to pick them up. In this side yard, there are olive trees. Please note, olives on olive trees at this time of year are not ripe and they are hard as rocks.
I see M running around with a few other kids. She waves at me. I stare at her and wave back. Then, she waves me over. And like an idiot, I go.
I'm not sure the first one came from her, but the second one definitely did. It took me a moment to realize...this child had convinced a bunch of other children to pelt me with olives.
It went on for about three minutes. It consisted of me yelling at them in crap Spanish to stop. There were parents watching this go down, and they did nothing. It only ended because I legit ran away.
When I got back from siesta, I went and told her homeroom teacher like the grown-ass 24-year old I was that M had convinced a bunch of children to attack me with olives. They got disciplined in front of the whole class and had to write me an apology letter in English.
Morals of the story: revenge is sweet, don't trust five-year-olds, and not everyone is going to like you. I still like olives though. Also, hug a teacher the next time you see one/can because they deal with crap like that all the time.
I hope this story gave you a bit of a laugh during these strange times. Cheers.