Ellen: If there’s anything Ruth and I share, it’s avoidance of, ineptitude with, gadgetry. We still laugh about an incident decades ago when we were taking a long road trip together and she asked me to change the cassette. I fumbled with the player, eventually removing the tape triumphantly. But then I inserted the new one upside-down. Hell, maybe I even tried to put it in vertically. Ruth was snickering as I became increasingly agitated, mumbling, until I finally had it wedged in and snapped shut. I didn’t mind her laughter, knowing that had situations been reversed, results would have been similar.
For years, I was deeply suspicious of electric typewriters. The first time I turned on a computer, I expected a mushroom cloud to appear on the screen. And now, years and years after everyone on the planet has used and updated cell phone after cell phone, I’m finally, begrudgingly, admitting they have their advantages. I can make calls! I can even answer sometimes after three rings. But SMS, STM, whatever it is: forget it. Ditto cameras. Ditto even picking up messages. If I turn it off, it’s for a reason – call me later.
I expected to be comfortably writing this while dye fizzed on my head for the usual 45 minutes. Time to cover the invading dark roots. I’m hardly a stranger to this, having dabbled regularly with coloring from age 14. Still, while it’s almost always the exact same mix-apply-wait-rinse, I check the instructions when I use a new brand, or a new product of the same brand. I’ve favored trustworthy Wella for years. But today’s formulation has a curiously slender package. I ferreted out the usual – I thought! – components. Looked at the illustrations and noticed a very different step. OK, instructions needed. Naturally, first directives in Polish. I moved across the page; Wella usually offers instructions in six languages. More Polish. I looked at the reverse side. Aha, a new language! Bulgarian! I did an Internet search. No results. Key word translations look questionable. For the time being, I’ll delay application until my 13-year-old student looks at the instructions. It might be cool for my hair to be streaked mauve or fall out entirely if I were a teenager. At 54, I want to hang on to what remains and try to keep it out of the bold and brassy range.
So I’m technologically and linguistically challenged. I have another immediate challenge of the day: children! Actually, just one child…but the last two lessons, he’s qualified for the plural. This is a great kid: bright, interested in everything, quick to learn, well brought up. For all that, he’s 6 years old and like any kid, pushing the boundaries. Bouncing up periodically to examine the window scenes I expected. Breaks in concentration, sure, along with wild face-making, crude noises and descents into full-scale silliness. Be firm but pleasant, I tell myself. Now that it’s escalated to deliberately breaking pens and spilling beverages, I have to go to higher flame on firmness. Hopefully I can manage without consulting his mother. As my most frequent student, he’s my bread and butter. Or maybe, being in Poland, I should say, cabbage and kasha.
I’m suddenly reminded of a time Ruth, her daughter and I were having lunch at a Mexican restaurant years ago. Across the room, a bored little boy was banging his utensils, drumming his feet against his chair and uttering shrieks. The outbursts weren’t constant, but often enough that my niece – then in her late teens – and I started scowling. As the decibels rose, we exchanged grumpy remarks about what the parents should be doing with the wretched little monster. Ruth, the only mother in our trio, looked at us with amused tolerance and the kid’s parents with understanding.
I think I know what the answer is for my student, who is after all just a little boy, not a monster. He needs a new workbook. We’ve exhausted most possibilities with the first set – and maybe accordingly, mutual patience.
Copyright 2007 by Ellen Dlott