WARNING: Not to be read by the faint-hearted, the squeamish, or those eating supper. (Especially if it's risotto).
People’s response, on discovering that I’m spending this year working as a Matron is invariably the same: ‘Ooooh Matron!’ The words of the classic line from the Carry On films roll seductively off the tongue, the suggestion being that working as a Matron has a titillating quality to it. It would be rather irritating if it weren’t so amusing that titillation couldn’t be further from the truth. Being one of a few people contractually obligated to clean up vomit isn’t as hot as you might think, whilst dealing with nits, worms and snotty noses also successfully puts a reasonably sized dent in your sex appeal.
Before I started, I knew that such treats were bound to await me, but what I hadn’t bargained for was the sheer amount of poo I was going to have to deal with. My first encounter with the brown stuff occurred at a theme park where we had taken the boarding pupils for a weekend trip. We started off on the more gentle rides, before moving on to the dizzying heights of the Ben 10 rollercoaster. As we skipped merrily from there towards the swinging Pirate Ship, one of the little girls nonchalantly informed me, ‘Matron, I think I pooed my pants on that last ride’. The tone of voice in which it was delivered threw me and for a moment I was unsure as to whether this was just a vulgar way of expressing how petrifying the Ben 10 ride had been, or whether she was casually letting me know that she had just defecated in her underwear. Considering the first was unlikely, I quickly realised it must be the latter. If I was one for hashtagging, I’d sum the situation up as #no1thingyouneverwanttohearatathemepark.
I naively believed that this was just a one-off and that, in dealing with this incident, I had now paid my dues where excrement was concerned. Wrong. Later in the term, a confused looking child informed me that she kept ‘doing wees out of my bum’. Others had more eloquent ways of expressing the sensation of diarrhoea, with one child cheerfully telling me that her most recent poo had been ‘like risotto’. Cue a pause whilst I mentally removed said rice-based dish from my list of favourite meals, before donning the rubber gloves. Then there was the case of the phantom poo-er in the boys changing rooms. I just happened to be the lucky matron on call when the summons came, and so it fell to me to clean it up from the floor. The culprit was never discovered.
I tell you these stories, not with a view to gaining your sympathies, or in order to paint myself as a saint who tirelessly deals with these things on a daily basis. Indeed, I’m pretty sure that any reward stored up for me in heaven is long gone, so much have I moaned to my colleagues that this kind of thing never happens when they are the matron on call. No, I tell you these stories partly because it is good to laugh about them, even if one does feel like a teenage boy chortling at flatulence, but more because in the past few days I’ve been struck by how far people will go for the children in their care. We’ve all heard how several of the teachers at Sandy Hook elementary school died attempting to shield their pupils from a gunman. I can’t help but ask myself whether that would be my instant reaction should one of the children I look after be under threat. I hope to goodness it would be.
The writer and teacher Oswald Chambers often stressed the point that the human spirit was remarkably well equipped to deal with crises, but that it took a far greater measure of grace to live well in the drudgery of everyday life. From my point of view, I can’t see the sacrifices of the teachers of Sandy Hook as anything but enormous acts of grace and selflessness, but I am aware that we are not all put in that position. We are, however, daily given opportunities to choose to become small and live in the service of others. I can’t help but believe that if we live in this way whenever we can, being disciplined in the minutiae of life, we train our minds and our hearts to more readily take the self-sacrificing position of the Sandy Hook teachers.
After all, if I can’t cheerfully wipe a few middle class bottoms, how can I begin to claim that I would lay down my life for a cause greater than myself?