I’ve just adopted a half a dozen international teens.
I have taken on the role as a dorm mother at high school in Chicago. It’s the only thing that could be weirder than living in a foreign country for four years. Three teen boys from China, one from Germany, one super-sized one from Turkey (who is two inches taller than the bed is long), and a teen girl from Shanghai who is glued to her iThing.
If I had the itch to be a mother, I’m scratching it all at once.
The job requires that I put all the experience I have learned from all every aspect of my life into a blender. ESL teacher. Youth group leader. Recipes from Hamburger Helper focus groups. A dang good wok from China. But most important, an insane tolerance for the smell of Axe.
But the big question is, what on earth do I cook for dinner?
It’s like feeding time at the zoo, with dietary constraints. The Chinese kids love pork, the student from Turkey will not be able to eat it. The German student can’t tolerate spice.
Alice from the Brady Bunch made it look so easy.
If you have any meal ideas, casseroles, one pan meal wonders, that are easy on the pocket and dishwasher, please send them my way.
What is the best way to say Goodbye?
With chicken feet, water fights, and waterproof mascara.
The 8th grade class organized a lock-in, inviting a few teachers as chaperones and about thirteen thousand mosquitoes.
Activities included the normal: chicken feet eating contests, Zombie dancing with the Chinese old folks and watching the sunrise on the school roof.
And oh yes, checking out the guys john.
While it was fun, it was awfully tough. Amd I’m not just talking about the lack of sleep.
While the kids were playing games, I’d sneak in the bathroom, latched the door and sobbed. Half the tears were for me, half were for them, since many of the students come from stoic cultures where crying is not acceptable. So I had to cry their tears, too.
“Mrs. Mac, that envelope says KIA.”
I put the viral video on pause. Sure enough, six minutes and twelve seconds into Zach Sobiech’s video, ONE YEAR LATER, the envelope we mailed to his mother was seen.
“OMG” I remarked as I spilled my coffee.
“You all just made a difference.
Tuesday May 20th, 2014, was the one year anniversary of the death of Zach Sobiech.
If his name is familiar, it’s because he is the kid who “lived” with cancer and wrote the viral hit, CLOUDS.
My wired class was touched by his music and his death last year. We sent his family cards, not thinking much of it until we watched his video entitled “ONE YEAR LATER” in class today.
While previewing it at home, I notice an envelope with handwriting and mispellings that looked familiar. It wasn’t until one of my students in class said, “THAT’S OUR LETTER!” that it dawned on me, I was looking at an envelope that I addressed that contained hope and hugs for a family that needed them.
As we watched the touching video filled with tears, I reminded my students that they each have touched more lives than they will ever know.
Students, I want you to finish this sentence.
“This I believe…”
It was a writing prompt based on an NPR program of the same name.
My students eagerly completed the sentence, writing essays on everything from “I believe a turtle can change your faith” to “I Believe in Rice” to “I believe Homework can rot your Brain”.
But one student’s essay took me by delightful surprise. It was entitled, “I Believe in Questioning”.
It was written by a student who had the guts to admit he questioned his faith.
Before attending a faith based school he blindly believed in stories of a man being swallowed by a fish and a God created the cosmos in less days it would take him to write a social studies report. But after attending a school full of students who know more about Justin Beiber’s life than the God they profess to follow, he called it quits.
“It’s important to question your faith,” I told this student. “It’s my job as a teacher to help you explore your questions.”
“Really? So you won’t flunk me for writing this essay?”
“I will flunk you for leaving candy wrappers in your desk.” I laughed and continued, “A person who has never doubted their faith has never believed. That is a piece of advice I received from a pastor.”
He pondered my words of wisdom, “Well then, I’m going to be an atheist as soon as I throw out this Skittles bag.”
I am taking my student’s atheist declaration with the same weight I take any 8th grader’s vow to vegetarianism. It’s probably just a phase. But, if one were to question their faith, South East Asia is the place to do it. Below is a handful of my favorite deities in Bangkok.
The God of Stolen Office Supplies
Along for just the fun of it, the Chinese will fly kites
to honor their ancestors, tying messages of hope to the tails.
the students at Kunming International Academy decided
to honor the
twenty nine lives that were lost at the March 3rd
Train Station Massacre
by making kites.
Bethany Birch, an imaginative teacher lead project “Shine On”.
figured out how to make the kites, where to get the material and even
orchestrated a kite ceremony with the neighboring Hu Pan Zhe Meng
Students from both schools wrote messages of love and hope on the kites.
If you look closely, you can see laundry hanging on the enclosed deck of the top floor apartment behind the town houses.
That’s where I live.
The shiny kites are a lot more fun to look at. Or to use as a hat.
So what does the Chinese word Feng Zheng for kite mean?
Feng means wind.
To break wind, as in fart, is fàngpì 放 屁.
That is also a Chinese tradition.
I saw–or heard–these music students practicing in one of the music stores near the old stinky walmart in Kunming.
The harp thing is called a Guzheng. Most kids learn how to play a musical instrument, other than air guitar.
It is very common to hear musicians play traditional Chinese instruments in the parks.
Or, just play checkers.
Today, again my eating habits went off the beaten Mc-path. I went to a jiaozi making party. Spring Festival AKA Chun Jie AKA the Chinese new Years is just around the corner and making jiaozi is as traditional as green jello and bananas at Thanksgiving. You dab a little of the filling on a piece of rice dough, use a little water to seal the edges, pulling the edges to the middle then crimping. This thousand year old recipe sounds simple enough for a two year old to do…
…or an American.
Here are instructions from Chef Jacob.
First, play a little patty cake.
Squish it into your hand and be tempted to lick the raw pork off your fingers until your Mom stops you.
Then you show her your masterpiece…
Jiaozi got their named because they are supposed to be horn shaped. The Chinese word for “horn” is jiao. Well, here are the ones made by mom….
And Mom’s mom…
Now here are the ones made by guess who.
Afterwards, we indulged in stuffing ourselves with the dumplings, some of the steamed, some fried, along with slices of beef dipped into a peanut sauce (very similar to the satay sauce you get an a Thai restaurant).
The stuffing for jiaozi varies in different regions of China. Mostly, it’s a mixture of ground pork and chopped chives hidden inside a transluscent rice flour dough.
Or with Jacob, maybe a bit of lint.
I don’t think Jacob will win an appearance of the Next Top Chef.
But hey, you never know.
Before the holidays, I got into an impromptu discussion with my class about death.
My seemingly innocent students were working on novels which revealed their sinister sides. Many of my young authors were guilty of murder, body dismemberment and turning children into school supplies in order to remove their heads with pencil sharpeners. Charles’ story was my favorite, featuring aliens that came to earth to give students bad haircuts. In return, the mulletized middle-schoolers murdered the aliens, rightfully so.
“Mrs. Mac, do you fear death?”
I responded, “I don’t death, it’s the seven minutes between life and death that I am not looking forward to”
“What do you mean?”
“The seven minutes it takes for your heart to realize that your head has been removed with a pencil sharpener doesn’t seem very pleasant.”
Well, that seven minutes between life and death is beginning now.
Not for me, for my mom.
I’m on hospice duty waiting for the last grain of sand to go thru her hourglass.
What is hospice?
It’s pallative or pain-control care for patients who have cashed in their chips, resigning to the fact that they ain’t gonna get better.
In other words, these guys do death right.
Hospice patients get doped up, doped up some more and are wished happy travels to life’s next adventure. After all, they aren’t driving.
Hospice can happen at a facility or in one’s home, which is the route we chose.
Anyway, Mom’s hospice nurse arrived with mother lode of goodies including vials of pain killers administered with a Darth Vader style mask.
All of which she didn’t give to my mom until after she inserted the catheter.
She left a stack of pamphlets that explained the stages of death, from the first few weeks to the final hours.While there isn’t a crystal ball that can reveal the time and date of one’s final exit (wouldn’t that be convenient for the rest of us), the guidelines are accurate and healing.
I helped my sister rearrange her home to accommodate enough hospital equipment to open her own walk-in clinic. It included a hospital a Hoyer lift, which is a fork lift of sorts for old folks to hoink my Mom from her TV chair to hospital bed.
That way, she can watch The Price is Right right up to the end.
Meanwhile, Charles’ seven minutes came a zillion minutes too early. The ending to his alien barber adventure will forever be a mystery.
I was in America reading a British news article about a French helicopter crash that involved a Hong Kong boy that was my student in China.
Charles was the student who had me wrapped around his finger.
Make that eight fingers and two thumbs.
I didn’t get upset when he left QQ wrappers in the desk.
Which he did.
And I’ll miss.
I gave him atomic fireballs and lemon heads for speaking up in class.
I allowed him to shoot rubber bands at the 8th graders while they gave presentations.
He was shy and the spittin’ image of his father whom I met at teacher conferences. Lam thanked me for teaching his son and chuckled at Charles’ photo-shopping of a school project.
The ocean isn’t big enough for all of our tears. I’ll miss Charles’ comments in class, especially his desire to know everyone’s favorite color.
He was supposed to eat stinky cheese for me in Paris (he missed the weird food party we had in class since he left a day before Christmas break began).
Charles didn’t finish his novel. Why? I excused Charles and other students to play in the snow—yes snow— instead of working on their stories in class.
Charles made a mini snowman which he brought into my classroom.
It melted all over his desk but left a beautiful memory.
Life and death are one thread,
the same line viewed from different sides. Lao Tzu
So, I thought it would be fun to share relics from a time long past with my ESL students. I’m not talking treasures excavated from King Tut’s tomb or the Mayan Ruins of Tulum but from a place equally as mysterious: my storage locker in Chicago. Over the summer, I uncovered a folder of homework I kept from Watervliet High School.
I know. I also have a trunk full of diaries, dating back to the early seventies.
Since my school folder weighed less than a loaf of Velveeta, I thought why bring it to the flipside? It could be fun in class.
The blue Mead folder was covered with doodles etched in Mr. Hanson’s class, the inside flaps filled with antiquated BG writings (before Google). The literary loot included a ditto copy of Mrs. Spivey’s class’s poetry collection (which amazingly still had the essence of the purple ink) and stories from Mrs. Brigham’s class, penned with a Bic. The loose leaf collection included a tale about a Guru named Sue, an elephant with a gambling problem and a pestering fly buzzing around Mr. Feric’s class.
To me, the writings were priceless. But to my students?
I kicked off class by telling my students I had a surprise from the States.
“Did you bring us Jolly Ranchers?” Sun Min asked.
“Supersized Tootsie Rolls or Nerds?”Jingran was hoping.
“Gum’s not allowed in class,” I reminded them.
“Well, what is it, Mrs. Mac?”
I revealed the folder from behind my desk.“I brought my writing folder from when I was your age.”
My class’s response was less than enthusiastic. After giving me the Asian version of the stink eye, my students rampaged through the folder’s contents. One student pulled out a one-thousand-fifty-six word essay I pecked out on a manual typewriter.
“So you find my words interesting?”
“No, we never seen something written on one of those typing machines.” Jingran added. His curious fingers rubbed the erasable paper.
“It feel so strange,” Zhou Ling commented.
“It’s what we called onion skin.”
“Mrs. Mac’s so old, they wrote on onions!”
YuYa and Young Il got a kick out of doodles on the folder but completely ignored my handwritten stories.
“Students,” I started, “don’t you want to read the assignments I wrote when I was your age?”
They just stared at each other. “We can’t.”
“We don’t know how to read your hand writing.”
I guess cursive is going to the wayside with caveman drawings.
Next time, I’ll bring the process cheese.