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 They have been replaced by knocks at the door in the wee hours (although in this job, anything past 10pm counts as a wee hour!)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...

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