Sunday, 27 January 2013

Missing Out?

Fear of missing out. Or, to use the vernacular acronym, FOMO. We all suffer from it from time to time. The sinking feeling that somebody somewhere is having more fun than you. Since the advent of Facebook fomo has become all the more prevalent in our society as it provides irrefutable evidence of what exactly it is that we're missing out on. Friends at parties we weren't invited to or couldn't make, holiday snaps that cause us to turn a delicate shade of green-with-envy as we scroll through them from our work desk, status updates about successful job offers in exciting places. These days, every cup of frothy topped latte has to be instagramed and uploaded in order to demonstrate that we are not missing out, that our own life experience is just as fulfilling and exciting as the next person's.

I'm just as guilty of this as anyone. As much as I try not to get sucked into it all I find myself needing to validate my day, to share with the world that I'm a participant in the fun of life, essentially to boast to anyone who will listen that I too am having a wonderful time, or at least enjoying a cup of tea and a custard cream. In my current position it can often feel like all my friends are off forging successful, glamorous careers for themselves in the big city whilst, for me, all hopes of glamour died along with my hairdryer, the moment I melted the end of it attempting to dry out a child's rugby boots that had been left out in the rain the night before a big match. As much as I love this job, occasionally fomo can hit, and hit hard. However, something has happened which has made me decide to hit back. I've come to the conclusion that it's time to bash fomo on the head and squash it back into the box where it belongs. Let me tell you why.  

If you read my last post you'll now be acquainted with Charlie, the youngest child in the boarding house. However, what I didn't tell you last time is that Charlie is Chinese and, whilst his English is almost impeccable, occasionally his grasp of the language fails him and the correct word eludes him. A couple of weeks back I went to the boys bathroom to collect some laundry bags which are stored there. I knew there was a high probability that the boys might be undressed so I knocked at the door and announced that Matron needed to come in. 
'No!! Not decent!' came the reply from several little voices the other side of the door.  
'Ok, you've got until the count of three to make yourself decent and then I'm coming in to collect some laundry bags. One...two...three...' 
In I went to find the three little boys who were waiting for the shower grasping their towels around their middle as if their lives depended on it, mumbling 'Don't look! Don't look!' 
A veritable picture of modesty. 
'Don't worry, I'm not looking,' I reassured them, as I made a swift beeline towards the laundry bags in the corner.  
'Matron?' asked Graham, one of the cheekiest boys in the house.  
'Yes,' said I, turning to face him, only to find him with an impish grin on his face, whipping his towel open and closed as he wiggled his mini-Graham at me. Before long all three of them had let their inner exhibitionist roam free, all the while continuing to admonish me not to look. Soon they were giggling so hard they could barely stand up.  
Meanwhile poor Charlie had been in the shower, hearing the raucous laughter outside, yet ignorant of its cause. Fomo struck and before long, I could hear his little voice above the others' laughter, squawking indignantly from the shower, 'What's so happy out there!? What's so happy??' Except in his delightful little accent it sounded more like, 'Wass so happy ow there? Wassso happy??'  
I would have laughed to myself and thought little more of this event had there not been another minor ruckus a couple of mornings ago. I came down to the boys' floor to check on them before breakfast. As if on cue, Charlie flung open the door of his dormitory and fled down the corridor, shouting in disgust, 'Stuart just showed his bad thing!!'
So horrified was Charlie by the sight of Stuart's 'bad thing' that it made me think that Charlie might not have liked to find out what was so happy out there in the boys' changing room the week before. He might not have been missing out on anything after all.  

These two events, silly as they are, have cemented in my mind as proof that fomo is a decidedly false friend. It's so easy to hear the frivolity outside of your door and be gripped by an unshakeable sense that the grass would be greener on the other side. But shake it off we must, and live in good faith that we're where we're meant to be for the time being. To try and be anywhere else would far more likely result in missing out. And that, undoubtedly, would be a very 'bad thing' indeed. Celebrate where you, however ordinary it might seem, rather than looking longingly towards somewhere you're not.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Circles of Life

Do you ever feel as if you're going around in circles? I certainly do. Being back in a boarding school environment has reminded me of many of things I learnt as young boarder myself. How hard it can be to live away from home for the first time, how tricky it can be to negotiate relationships when suddenly you spend 24 hours a day amongst your school friends, how boarding with all its challenges can have the most wonderful payoffs in terms of constant companionship. Most pertinent of all has been the realisation that Matron is always right. The great joy in relearning this little nugget is that I am now Matron. Ha.

Other circles of learning have a less cheerful ring to them (no pun intended!). I have these moments where I feel as if I'm stuck on a roundabout, endlessly searching for the correct exit, but in reality I just return to the same place again and again, never learning my lesson. On the rare occasion that I do manage to escape down a slip road, I soon realise that I am merely on the life lesson equivalent of the M25, making my way repeatedly around a major ring road, only pausing every now and then to sit stationary in the odd traffic jam, wondering how I escape.

Term has just restarted and so my experience here has just done its first full loop. As much as I thought I'd learned last term, I find myself in a very similar position to where I was at the beginning of Michaelmas, coaxing the children back into boarding house life again, mopping up tears of homesickness, seeking to regain their trust as they try to establish dependent relationships outside of the natural parental ones. Gone are the days of unbroken night’s sleep which I was becoming pleasantly accustomed to. They have been replaced by knocks at the door in the wee hours (although in this job, anything past 10pm counts as a wee hour!) and little be-onsied bundles plaintively telling me that they can't sleep. 'How kind of you to rouse me and tell me,' I long to cry, 'that now makes two of us! Let me get my magic sleeping wand and put you back to the land of nod!' In reality though, the learning circles of childhood that they're wandering around in must seem far more daunting to them than they do to me with my adult perspective.

However, there is hope. And I tell you why I know that there is this hope: because of Charlie* and his underpants.

Charlie is the most delightful little boy. He is the youngest of all the children I look after and, rather than being a full boarder, he only stays with us on Wednesday and Thursday nights as his mother has to work late. Charlie and I have been trapped in a circle of our own, a little Wednesday ritual that we repeat every week much to my combined amusement and frustration. On Wednesday afternoon Charlie has games as his last lesson, afterwhich he returns and has a wash. After this he invariably appears before me, his hair wet and spiky from the shower, and his face split in two with an enormous, impish grin.
'Maaaaatron. I can't find my underpaaaaants.'

'Have you tried looking in your drawer Charlie?' I ask in return. Charlie dutifully disappears in search of his undercrackers. He soon returns empty handed. (Or should that be bare-bottomed?)

'Maaaaatron. I still can't find my paaaaaants.'

'Right, Charlie, shall we go and look in the drawer together then?' Off we go to his room, open his drawer and - oh, would you look at that! - nestling on top of his clothes, one neatly folded pair of dinosaur print y-fronts. Further proof that Matron is always right. 

And so this little farce continued every Wednesday, seemingly ad infinitum, until this week. As you may have noticed, yesterday was a Wednesday. Not any old Wednesday though, but the first Wednesday of a new era. A new era in which Charlie has learnt to both locate and don his own underpants. Hurrah.

I can't help feeling that if Charlie and I can break out of the underpant-cycle, then I must live in good faith that no circle is without escape. Perhaps rather than seeing these seemingly repetitive experiences as circular, it helps to envisage them as spirals. Although it may feel as if I'm walking a route that I have trodden many times before, I have, unconsciously moved into a slightly wider circle of learning. It might appear to have the same view, which I may not have liked that much the first time, but ultimately each step is taking me further away from the original state of ignorance and, hopefully, nearer towards the wisdom that I so long to live by.

*Names have, understandably, been changed to protect both the child's identity and my job security. My boss reads this blog...

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Art of Being Secretly Incredible.

And so 2012 slips away and 2013 is ushered in. If you’re anything like me, you’ll prefer to make qualitative rather than quantitative resolutions. Quantitative good intentions - such as eating less chocolate, eating more fruit, going to the gym regularly, refraining from buying unnecessary shoes, remembering to polish already purchased unnecessary shoes so that they last longer and one is not mistaken for a tramp when wearing them, getting more sleep – very easily fall into either the pass or fail category. Usually the latter in my experience. With qualitative good intentions – being more patient, being less judgemental, seeking out good in all situations – your success is less immediately measurable, making it far easier to tell yourself at the end of the year that you have accomplished what you set out to do. Technically, it doesn’t make keeping them any easier though, and caution should continue to be exercised when making New Year’s resolutions. Here is the story behind my resolution for 2013…

A while back I was chivvying one of the little girls out of the door of the boarding house. As she was putting her coat on, she stopped and looked at me before asking, ‘Excuse me Matron, what are you going to do as your job?’
‘I have a job, don’t I, Lovely? I’m your matron. I look after you and all the others.’
‘But don’t you want a proper, interesting, important job?’


Well, yes, actually, yes I do. I, like most people on this earth, would quite like to think that what I’m doing is important. Even if this child doesn’t think so, I see the time I’m spending with them this year as very important. Yet the catch is, how much do I want others to recognise the importance of what I do? How much do I do because I know it’s important for it to be done, and how much do I do because I want others to recognise that not only my work, but also that I as a person, am important?

On the night of the boarders’ Christmas dinner I had a little personal meltdown in this area. The Christmas dinner is one of the highlights of the year for the children. They bring in special, smart outfits from home and there is much excitement in the days leading up to the occasion. The girls in particular had been practicing their different hairstyles and trying on their dresses for weeks beforehand. On the day itself, I began curling hair at around 4.30 in order for them all to be ready on time, whilst attempting to prevent the boys, who had naturally got ready in around three minutes and thirty-seven seconds, from strangling each other with their bow ties. When we finally arrived in the dining room, I made my way over to my house’s table in order to take my seat for the meal. There was, however, no seat for me with my house. Confused, I looked around and made some enquiries. I eventually realised that I had been moved due to lack of space and relocated to sit with the older boys’ house. And so I did what any sensible, rational woman does in that situation. I burst into tears. The boys looked with unconcealed horror at this demonstration of womanhood at her most unstable, whilst I tried to disguise my snivelling as a bizarre and unconvincing coughey-sneeze. This was not the way I had intended to end my first term at the school, by revealing to all and sundry my deep-seated inability to cope with life.

In my defence, I’d been up two nights running at around 3am with a little girl who had earache and thus the thought of trying to make conversation with pre-teen males whom I’d never spoken with before was completely overwhelming. I’m sure many of my fellow females can sympathise with those times when tiredness, emotion and, I suspect, a generous helping of misplaced hormones conspire against you and cause you to appear like a completely unbalanced loon. In fact, these moments occur not infrequently in my life, being the mercurial character that I am, but if I am being truly honest with both myself and you, there was also a little bit of me that felt hard done by. After all, who had spent hours helping the children get ready for this special evening? Who was the one who had herded them about, ensuring they arrived at the right place at the right time, in the right outfits? Who was the one who had mopped up the tears of the little girl who was worried that her dress wasn’t pretty enough? Indeed, where did my insanity-inducing fatigue come from if not from being up in the night with ill children?

As these thoughts rushed through my head, I realised that I had lost perspective on the situation. It both amazes and horrifies me how quickly my sense of self-importance can inflate and inflate until it threatens to engulf and smother me. I didn’t apply for this job as I wanted to be recognised as the all-important patron saint of hair curling and ill children. I did it because I wanted to make sure that these important things were done for the children to the best of my ability.

As I reflected on this over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reminded of a blog I once read by the writer Donald Miller. In it, he talks about being ‘secretly incredible’, living in such a way that you continue to serve others and work tirelessly for their good even when there is no audience to admire and congratulate you. As you can see from the incident recounted above, I am still a long way from achieving this, but it can’t hurt to try.

And so I find myself at the beginning of 2013 making the resolution that this year is the year that I will seek to be ‘secretly incredible’. That, and get a proper, interesting, important job, of course!

* * *

Her full nature…spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.’
-George Eliot, Middlemarch