Writing Report Card Comments: My Experience

The toughest part about report cards are the learning skills and comment sections. Such little space in which to express an individual’s abilities, achievements, and things to improve . . . I waffle back and forth over what to say for various students, trying to figure out whether his Independent Work has been Excellent or Good, or just Satisfactory; whether her Self-Regulation has been overall Needing Improvement or advanced to Satisfactory or Good; why a student whose final mark is 57% also demonstrated good Responsibility or not. 

I weigh the options, going back and forth, adjusting here and there until I think I’ve got the most accurate picture of each pupil’s performance in the course. Sometimes, in the morning, I end up changing a few again. It’s just a cross-section, but I know so many parents will be scrutinizing these things, I can’t be too quick or callous.

It’s the same with the comments. I can fit maybe four sentences in the little box provided. When I first started teaching (fourteen years ago this fall!), the administration wanted us to follow a certain formula, using certain wording from the ministry of education’s guidelines, and I’ve followed that template closely ever since. There have been some changes I’ve seen lately, such as a few years ago when admin requested that we start the comments with an outline of what students had done in the course. So I do that, plus identifying what content or ability from the course he/she needs to improve, and suggesting next steps for improvement. The final report card also has to include the mark that he/she received on the Final Evaluation. 

Once all the marks and comments are done, the last thing that has to happen is printing off a hardcopy for checking over for errors and typos. Colleagues help with that (use a second set of eyes, people!), and once the hardcopy is signed off as ready, the papers are submitted to the office for approval.

So at the moment I’m finishing up the Learning Skills, and in about 15 minutes I’ll hopefully start on the comments. Once I get going on them, I might get them done by 1 am, maybe. Already starting to feel a bit unwell because I’m overtired again. But there’s a dim light at the end of this tunnel. And tomorrow my son is moving out of grade 8 into the next phase of his education. 

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Ravings and rantings on blockages and teenagers (really just another Tuesday night)

I have broken my rule on writing breaks, and lost some momentum in the snowmobiling story. I didn’t make my word count yesterday, and I’m out of ideas and steam for tonight. The best I’ve got so far is another animal threat — a lynx, this time — and I might work on a conversation between Adam and the old man. Try to find some answers.

One of my students (I’ll call him Benny) wanted to know whether I blog about their antics in my writer’s craft class — I’ve shared with them this 365 Days of Blogging project I’ve given myself — and my response was no, not usually. See, by the time I get home and transition back into mom and partner, and then into writer mode, much of what has happened in the day is tucked into a file in my head, unless it’s something upsetting or troubling (in which case my anxiety is heightened and I have a hard time letting go). However, since I said I would talk about shenanigans, here are a few for your enjoyment:

  • One day, a few months ago, Benny found my stash of Hallowe’en decorations and props from the haunted house in October. Included was a broomstick / mop handle without bristles or mop head, which we’d thought about using for the Snow Queen performance. He rather enterprisingly found a way to poke a hole in a prop severed hand and pushed it onto one end of the broomstick. It has stayed that way ever since. Very interesting, too, as the mop handle has white and black polkadots on it. I now call it my Handy Stick and it gets used for various means, such as pointing, in the classroom. Benny also likes to twirl it around his shoulders until I see that he’s doing it and I make him stop. I have to remember to bring in a light sabre for him to fiddle with instead . . .
  • My seniors noticed, at the start of the semester, that I keep a kettle in my classroom. They started a hot chocolate fund and brought in their own mugs. They don’t have hot chocolate every day, but some of my juniors have begun following suit, dropping twenty-five cents in the jar marked “Help the Writer’s Craft Ballers” or whatever they’ve put on the jar . . . I should take a picture of it and update this post tomorrow.
  • You remember, of course, that I wrote a song about cellphone rudeness in the classroom and posted it. Now I get frequent requests to sing the song, and not just in my classes — I had to cover a colleague’s period 3 the other day, and some of the kids who were in it are also in my period 2, and they’d told their friends about the song. I didn’t have my lyrics with me, sadly, so I didn’t regale them with my glorious musical skills. I did enjoy moving around the art class, though. And taking a few phones away from those who were misusing them . . .

I will try to jot down other interesting anecdotes as they come up. Some of my grade 9 boys tend to try play-fighting or tickling or other rough-housing activities on occasion, stopping when they’re told. Some of my grade 9 girls try to make trick shots with balled up paper thrown over their shoulders. I’ve picked up on something interesting with that group: they do tend to be more productive as a whole when the class divides off, with a small group of girls in an empty classroom next door, a small group of boys (/wrestlers) on the couches in my classroom, and maybe a very small group of three or four in the hallway or stairwell. When the genders are separated, they become competitive with each other, in fact, each accusing the other of slacking off, when they’re actually doing about the same amount of work.

And to help motivate them, heaven help me, but I’ve been playing them off each other a little bit. “Girls, the boys next door think you’re not doing any work in here. Prove them wrong!” “Boys, the girls think you’re slacking right now. Show them you’re doing better than they are!” It’s sneaky and underhanded, but it’s working. And despite the wrestling (mainly boys) and high-pitched-giggle-shrieking (mainly girls), I think I’m seeing a lot less showing off and open flirting with the groups separated. If I were to do a debate with them, I’d ask them how they’d feel about gender-segregated schooling, but they’re not ready for an activity like that.

After days like today, wrangling hormones and sugar rushes into corrals of knowledge and skill, writing fiction gets a little harder. I’m feeling worn out. I spent time with my kids, but only after I had a nap to recharge. There are some days where I come home and I don’t want to talk to anyone or have any demands on me for a week. The good news is that we’re halfway through the semester. The bad news is that this week the weather is going to be crummy, and that’s not going to help anyone.

Meanwhile, my daughter has come down for the third time since I put her to bed — has to pee, is thirsty, wants crackers (crackers!!!) — so I have to summon up the flickering remnants of my patience and make sure she stays in her room this time. I also want to get further in the damned WIP but uuuuunnnngggghhh.

At least I know I’ve been at this point in Camp NaNoWriMo before. This is the wall. I can get through it. I’ve done it before. If only I could type in my sleep — that would be nice. Why can’t I be a sleep-writer? Or a sleep-cleaner? Imagine that: waking up having cleaned the house while dreaming! Come on, scientists, let’s get to this!

Blogging for Grades — I’m that kind of teacher!

Last week I introduced all three of my classes to the concept of blogging. Some of my students were already familiar with the concept, though that familiarity ranged between having vaguely heard of it to already having tried it on their own. By Friday, most of my students had set up their own blogs, as assigned — eventually their blogs will be evaluated as their Course Culminating Activities. Some are using WordPress, others doing Blogger. A few have already gotten followers, to their great surprise, and a few have taken right to it, adding photos and reblogging and generally enjoying the experience, which is extremely gratifying to me. Last semester, I had students grudgingly blogging, with much complaint and remarks that no-one would ever look at their work anyway.

My rationale for using blogs in the classroom is this:

  • It’s a positive internet presence for students who might only otherwise be online with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media.
  • It’s a demonstration of their best writing, like a portfolio — but one that they cannot lose.
  • It challenges their abilities to use communication software, graphics, written expression, and knowing their work could be visible to others puts a bit of pressure on to make sure it is good work.

Some of them don’t believe me when I tell them that future employers may search them up online, and that having a blog that demonstrates their capabilities in the English language could be of benefit. But these classes are taking to it rather well. So that brings up a whole new set of challenges for me:

  • A number of students have asked me how often I’ll expect them to blog. My answer is that ideally, they’d blog a little every day that we have class, reflecting on what they’ve learned and what they think about it, but that may not be practical. So maybe once a week. Even then, I have to remember that I’ll be the one to read through all of these in the end!
  • They’ve already started posting about their Independent Novel Studies. Do I have them continue to add to their original posts, or do a separate post for each chapter or section completed? I could teach them how to add a separate page to their blogs, as well.
  • Do I book a computer lab once a week? I tried that last semester, and the year before, but the students I had at the time generally didn’t complete their blogging in one period. It might work better this time around; most of my pupils have their own phones or tablets, making the task that much easier.

I’m excited to see what my students will produce. Whether we add separate pages or just keep them to the simple layout for now, one of the most powerful aspects of having each teenager blog about what we’re doing in class is that they’re seeing the Internet for more than just entertainment and messaging. Blogging is akin to journaling in many ways. I’ve also given them the option of making their blogs private, and providing me with the password, but since their material isn’t going to reveal personal details, I think we’ll be safe. That’s another powerful lesson as well — how blogs can be as anonymous or open as the user prefers. That’s a topic worthy of discussion this week, I think.

I still have to plan my lessons for the next few days, but we’ll see how they fared over the weekend. I want to see how many made progress in their novels, whether anyone spontaneously blogged, what they thought about the experience if they did, and if they didn’t, then why not? I’d like them to think about what it means to communicate online, as digital citizens. That’s on top of doing our class novel reading and starting our look at literary elements and devices. So much to do, so much to balance . . .

Plus, I have to start organizing a 24-Hour Playwriting Challenge taking place in two weeks. That means making up registration forms (would have liked to have done that today, but we had visitors for the teenager’s birthday), setting up the advertising, and ensuring the participants have rehearsal space. And my greatest fear is that if I don’t get enough registrants we may have to cancel the event. I worry about that a lot. I feel like it would be a bit embarrassing. But it is what it is — all I can do is try.

I also signed up last week to do a guest post on Mysti Parker’s blog, on the (fictional) scientific aspects of love, and that’s due tomorrow. Gotta get that done!

And then, I’m looking at that field trip to Ottawa ComicCon in May, so I have to get details together for the proposal (mainly bus estimates and accommodations, plus the tickets to the Con). I would still like to see that as a class project, but at this point it might be easier to do the legwork myself.

One task at a time. Remembering to breathe. My happy place at the moment is thinking about skiing. I was able to listen to my tunes while skiing this weekend, turning and swishing in time to the beat. I love those moments when I can lean into the curve and my uphill leg is bending, skimming over the snow like a bird dipping over water. It’s intensely satisfying to make those switch-backs without losing balance, gaining speed and then reining it back with one ski braking. An hour or so is all I can do before I’m wiped, and if I fall, I can’t get up without taking my skis off first. Still, it’s good.

Long day. Long weekend. Not much R&R to it, but the kids are happy, and I think I’ll sleep well tonight. Hoping, anyway. 🙂

Just an ordinary day

So my day went completely differently than I’d expected: no classes! The buses were cancelled due to the weather conditions — in our case, the extreme cold. I was fortunate that my car started on the second try. This isn’t unusual for the time of year, but it’s a pain in the neck.

I have decided to keep the heat in our little house at 67 F at night at this point, because if I turn it down to 65 it just takes way too long to warm up the main rooms. When it’s -30 or lower, it’s a real struggle to keep that cold at bay. I’m really hoping that we can retrofit with good insulation and siding this summer. Anyway, when I woke up at 6 am, first I heard the news about the cold day and then I wondered whether our Beard was all right. I went to check on her and the thermometer in her vivarium was barely registering. I got her out right away and held her in my pyjamas while I put her heaters on full blast, and ended up taking her back to my bed for a bit to cuddle. The good news is that she’s fine and her tank warmed up nicely with her basking light and the extra space heater we have available. The bad news is that the front wall of the tank sustained a low-sitting chip when it was moved to our house, and now a fresh crack has grown vertically and horizontally across the main glass wall of her home.

(What I really want to do — shifty-eyed look at hubby — is up-cycle our big vintage glass-front cabinet. With the addition of lighting (drill holes for basking light and UV), it would be easy to convert even one of the shelf spaces into a new vivarium for her. It would be even more epic to convert the whole thing into a three-level Beardie paradise! The struggle is figuring out what to do with his collection of knick knacks and pictures and whatnot that’s currently in there . . . )

So with Elizabeth warmed and provided with food, I continued my morning with my own breakfast and making sure the kids were fed also. Lucky brats didn’t have to go out into the cold at all! Gave the car a good half-hour to warm up before I attempted to drive it, picked up my coffee, and got to work on time. It was a productive day, for the most part. Dare I say that it would have been more productive without the addition of meetings? Hmmm . . . At the end of the day, I had a few more exams marked, two posters made and put up in my room (updated Classroom Procedures and Restorative Questions), and notices posted on my class website about late penalties and rules about tardiness to class. It was tempting to stay longer and try to get more done, but I was wilting even after a second coffee. Got home and crashed for two hours. Since rousing myself from my comfy bed, I’ve given my nearly-14-year-old a heat start on his room by stacking his bed with the stuff that was on his floor so he can have a clear path to putting his clothes away, and given Elizabeth a bath, and given Skittles some lovings (she did NOT like having to pee in -50 C windchill this morning!). Now I’m enjoying lizard snuggles while encouraging the teenager to keep going in his room; the 9-year-old is singing to herself while she plays with her dollhouse upstairs, having brought down her own laundry after much nagging, and I’m writing this blog.

I honestly wish that I didn’t have to sleep or eat, sometimes. As much as I enjoy dreaming about stuff like space zombies chasing me from planet to planet, I could get so much more done if I didn’t have to stop to rest. And it seems as though life revolves around food: the obtaining, preparing, consuming, and cleaning up of food. I feel like our house — or, at least, our family room — should have the kitchen at the centre because it would be easier to keep it tidy and clean without having to leave the presence of the kids, who seem to want attention the moment I leave their sides or have to answer the phone. There is nothing more irritating than doing dishes with a child hovering by one’s legs or elbows, especially if they refuse to help with cleaning while they’re standing there . . .

On the other hand, sometimes (when I’m not tired), working alone in the kitchen can be a bit relaxing or therapeutic. I put my music on (and then child or spouse appears and I have to turn it down so I can hear what they want to tell me), light some candles or scented melting wax (child or spouse reappears and comments on the smell — usually negatively), make progress on clearing counters and laundry space (it’s amazing how tired one’s arms and upper back becomes when folding laundry) . . . If I could be let alone to putter, I think I could get a lot done. But that’s a big “if”. And I can’t stand the hurt in a loved one’s eyes if I have to tell them, even nicely, to back off and leave me in peace for a bit.

But, still, it’s progress from the days when my daughter used to stand at my knees and wail at me to pick her up while I washed dishes. She still likes to jump onto a pile of freshly folded and sorted laundry. Every little step is a victory, right?

So tomorrow will be the start of Second Semester, Take II. Should be good.

On Fiction vs Life, Weddings and First Days of Class, Prep and Perfection

Lessons are prepped for tomorrow, and I feel mostly ready for Semester 2. Still haven’t finished with my exams. The trouble is that I know what a night with minimal sleep will cost me. Still, they need to be done. It will happen. And in the meantime the world turns on and the cold descends and the moon rises flush in the inky sky, surrounded by a field of pinpoint stars . . . Somewhere in the world, right now, someone is getting married or is celebrating having gotten married or is saying yes to a proposal or is getting up the nerve to propose . . .

My husband likes to watch Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride II, the 1990s versions. He and my daughter insisted on watching both movies tonight. I heartily wish that I had used these films in my grade 12 College English class as examples of consumerism, the American Dream, capitalism, and sexism, but I wasn’t sure whether the students would have been into them. And I’ve been trying to remember if the trend of massively expensive weddings was happening before the first FotB or whether it helped to fuel the industry with its emphasis on the pricey wedding planner, the must-haves and can’t-do-withouts, the swans and the tent, etc. It was around the same time as Betsy’s Wedding, and Four Weddings and a Funeral — films which built up so many women’s expectations (and, perhaps, dread) of what getting married might involve. My husband always took issue with how the male perspective on getting married was shunted aside in these stories, as though he were merely a spectator in the pivotal ceremony of his adult life. And when George Banks is ashamed of the small gift he presents his daughter, Annie — a cappuccino maker — Hubby likes to mention in every viewing that in fact, George is giving Annie the wedding. The movie takes 1950s values and plunks them into 1990s materialism. I’m trying to think of examples of successful wedding movies of the last thirty years or so that don’t involve highly expensive ceremonies and receptions, and the only one that immediately comes to mind is Runaway Bride. Not entirely sure if that one counts, though, because the titular character am-scrays from three weddings of varying expense — including a low-cost affair involving a rented trampoline and a garage band — before actually making her commitment with great big fancy dress but absolutely minimal attendees in the very end.

Maybe it’s all on my mind, too, because of recent statistics which have been publicized that suggest expensive weddings are no guarantee of long, successful marriages. And Valentine’s Day is approaching, so the media responds with emphasis on romance and love and all that jazz. Or perhaps it’s my irritation that we had to watch these movies again when I wanted to put something else on as background noise. I’m in the age of weddings, though — at least four of my former students who are now my friends are getting married or have already done so, another cousin is now engaged, and advertisements are popping up for the Bridal Shows in our area, as local couples planning out their ceremonies kick their work into high gear for spring and summer.

I suspect, too, that on some level, I’m a bit jealous of the fictional wedding in Father of the Bride. When I married my partner in 1997, we weren’t able to do certain things that we’d dreamed of doing in our wedding. We wanted a wooden gazebo and had planned that we’d take it apart and store it until we had a permanent home with a backyard, but when we actually married, we only got as far as a plain wrought-iron trellis arch. I’m not even sure if it’s still in my parents’ basement. The candies we gave out as favours were the wrong colour. There were numerous little things, mostly staging, that I wanted to do differently. Weddings are, after all, very much theatre, and once the actors have reflected on the performance, they sometimes want to do it again and do it better. So Hubby and I wanted to renew our vows after 13 years, doing it “right” this time around. But jobs, and children, and life changed all of that, and we’re no closer to getting married again. In fact, I think if we were to renew our vows, I might want to skip the whole party and just fly to Vegas, or somewhere tropical. But then I remember that so many of our guests told us how they enjoyed our wedding because it was so relaxed and low-pressure. And that the fiction was, after all, Hollywood’s sanitized and Hallmark-card-ish version of real life. It wasn’t just one wedding planner and his team who did all of the staging of Annie Banks and Brian MacKenzie’s marriage ceremony — it was a veritable army of well-paid movie designers.

When it comes down to it, a wedding is a community and family theatrical event about the joining of two lives, but the spectacle shouldn’t be the end focus. It gets too hard to see what will happen beyond the show. In the regular theatre, after a performance has wrapped up, the players tend to go on their merry ways, sometimes coming back together for future shows. But the players in a wedding remain together after most of the audience has gone home. If they wait too long to depart, the happy couple might even get roped into doing some of the cleaning! (Yeah, it happened to me.) I remember being caught up in the fuss of the wedding, and loving it because that’s what I love to do — I’m an event planner, a director, a stage designer, a costumer, and an actor. Everything focused on this performance of a lifetime, which was my lifetime and the creation of it. So when the wedding day ended, and the party slowed and people began trickling away back to their homes and hotels and highways, it felt so surreal to me that the world was marching on. We’d danced on the edge of a cliff, feeling the rush of excitement and the energy of the air, but now the path back to regular life showed itself and we had to leave the excitement behind us. How often do movies show this gentle fall back to reality?

It would be nice if we could see that, in a film, but would the mundane activities of the hours and days afterward — when we see the couple actually sleeping on their wedding night instead of consummating (statistics prove that this is the case, folks), a groom hungover the next morning, or a bride unsure of what time to show up at her parents’ to open gifts — would that kill the romance of the genre? I’m reminded of a line in Romancing the Stone, when Joan Wilder asks of her publisher, “What happens the next morning when the sun comes back up?” and the publisher retorts, “There is no next morning!”

Cycle all of this back to my planning for the first day of the second semester. I used to fuss and wring my hands and hover over every little detail of that first day of class. But it’s like a wedding day. There is a tone to be set, and a list of tasks to be done, and a performance that the spectators will expect to see. If I put all of my energy and time and expense into the first day, what is left for the day after that? So I didn’t get my posters finished, or all of my handouts for the week ready, etc. I’m not a movie character. Just myself, an ordinary teacher in an ordinary high school. I shouldn’t let Hollywood fictional standards determine how I see myself, should I? Theatre, film, novels, all of these are reflections of life that enable us to see ourselves as we are and as we want to be, but the education in that is in realizing that the most perfect pictures and moments, be they in a marriage ceremony or a classroom, either come from much planning and stress and effort by great numbers of people, or by the lucky chance of converging factors. And even with an army behind you, it’s still possible to find that you’ve ruined the illusion by trying too hard to make the vision a reality. Better to work with what you have and let the energy flow, recognizing that perfection is an illusion and it’s the little moments that happen purely by accident that are the most beautiful and memorable.

We have two photographs of myself on our wedding day, my hand outstretched as I crouch down toward our niece (a toddler at the time). In one picture, my back is straight and you can’t see my double-chin as I reach toward her, but my hat is obscuring my face. In the second photo, I’m hunched and my face is visible, grinning madly from ear to ear. I like the artistry and lines of the first picture, but my husband has always said that he prefers the second because it’s honest and natural. A perfect moment caught by accident, without planning or a team or effort of any kind.

I don’t have everything ready for my classroom tomorrow. It’s my wedding all over again. The vision I’d articulated for myself isn’t going to happen. But I have what I need — my lesson plans, course outlines, and a plan for the next few days to follow. I know some of my students and can make some predictions of what they will be like in my classroom. At some point down the road, I’ll pick up on those little details that I’m missing right now, but even if I don’t, it will all still work.

Wanted: Mary Poppins and a House Elf

Preparation for second semester continued today. I’m not done my exam marking, so I brought the remainder of the exams home with me in the hopes of getting them done. I did manage to get ahead on a few things for Monday, though:

  • Revised and copied course outlines for my three classes
  • Rearranged my classroom, organizing the desks into groupings of 5 (with one grouping of 3), borrowing an idea from Ally, a friend and colleague who tried it last semester
  • Adopting old couches and easy chairs from my department head, who no longer needs/wants them, creating a comfy reading lounge / writer’s den in my classroom — something I wanted to do a decade ago but lacked the necessary resources (a truck) or energy to make happen on my own
  • Cleaned off my desk
  • Marked one set of exams
  • Copied readings for Professional Learning Team’s in-class project on literacy
  • Took down old posters of student work from last semester

Here’s my to-do list, for work anyway:

  • Lesson materials and handouts on active listening, mindfulness, note-taking, annotations (content for first few weeks)
  • Revise my poster on classroom expectations
  • Make a poster with Restorative Questions
  • Construct prompt cards for desk groupings — I want to have reminders on MLA, brainstorming techniques, the writing process, and note-taking on each set of desks
  • Bring up novels for grade 9s (Cue for Treason) — we’re waiting on the shipment of the novels for grade 11 (Yes Man)
  • Sketch a loose outline of lessons for the first two weeks. I have learned through bitter experience that it’s better to overplan but also to be prepared for the students’ needs to be vastly different than expected.

As my friend and fellow teacher Kim pointed out, it’s like this every year. We always think or hope we’ll have enough time for the turnaround but it’s never sufficient. I try to power through but without frequent breaks I lose focus. And yet with frequent breaks I feel like I’m churning my wheels in a rut of loose, chewed-up snow, getting inches forward and then having to slide back in order to find momentum to get moving. Among the pressures and anxieties of having things ready to go on Monday morning, starting off the new classes with an effective tone and set of expectations, I know I’ll be deluged by grade 12 students who want to know how they did overall, whether they passed or failed, and in either case, what their final marks are.

Meanwhile, life continues at home, too. My daughter’s skating lesson is cancelled tomorrow due to competitions, so there’s a bit of a break at least, and then there’s skiing lesson in the afternoon. It’s going to be cold tomorrow, too. Well, as cold as it was today, which was substantially colder than yesterday — positively balmy, it was, at only -8 C. I want to step up the family’s cleaning efforts by adding a visible allowance to motivate the 9 year old. I calculated today that if I give her $0.25 per chore — daily and weekly — she could earn up to $10 a week. I am thinking of getting it in quarters and putting it in a clear jar so she can see it. Then, every time she is scheduled to do a chore but doesn’t do it, she loses a quarter. I take it away while she watches. At the end of the week, she gets to keep — and spend — whatever is left over. I got the idea from a Berenstein Bears story, in which Sister Bear is given a handful of dimes as incentive to avoid chewing her nails: every time Sister chews, she loses a dime for that week.

So there’s that. In addition to trying to jumpstart collaborative cleaning and going skiing, marking exams and setting up my lessons for the first week, I’ve got a board meeting for the local theatre’s revitalization project on Sunday afternoon, Elizabeth needs to be bathed, the dog needs walking, laundry (no, wait, those last two things are chores I need to delegate to the kids), and we need to start prepping for the teenager’s birthday party and sleepover next weekend.

And then sleeping. I would like a nice, long, uninterrupted sleep without weird dreams, if possible. Last night I dreamed I was performing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream but I was Falstaff, and I had taken the role very last minute so I was struggling with the lines and I was worried about making a bad impression and never being cast again, but having a good time nonetheless. We were onstage in the old theatre, and suddenly there was a flood of people walking through, carrying chairs and tables and filing boxes and things — as though their work day had ended and they had no other choice but to interrupt the performance to get all of their stuff put away. They seemed apologetic about it. I was torn between trying to sneak peeks at the script on my smart phone and looking at the book in my hand. There was a difference, too, in the interpretation of the character: on the one hand, he was supposed to be a clown, the comic relief, and he (I) was using a sock puppet as a foil. On the other, the stage directions in the book I’d found indicated a much more painful back story — each line he spoke was layered in subtext about loss, heartbreak, frustration, and misunderstanding. I wanted to perform the part with the second interpretation, but how to change up the direction in the middle of the show?

Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to deal with all of this if we had relatives closer than an hour and a half away. But then again my mum and dad managed with my brother and I, and we never lived in the same town or city as our relations — I think the closest we ever lived to an aunt and uncle or grandparent was 45 minutes. But then again, it is much, much easier than when the kids were younger. And I’m grateful that they’re healthy and intelligent, that we have easy access to clean water and food in our cupboards, heat and light, that we can walk about without fear of landmines or being questioned about our papers. In the big picture, I have nothing to complain about, really, so I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

But I feel what I feel. I do good work at school, but I’m constantly aggrieved by the state of my house and my inability to get my kids to participate in the housecleaning. It’s at the point where if I start to clean, my daughter asks, “Who’s coming over?”, and that’s not right. We’re back to that question of how to get a stubborn 9 year old to do what you need her to do, particularly when one’s own energy levels are low after a day of getting stubborn teenagers to do what they need to do.