Awkward silences make up most of life’s uncomfortable moments. The sheer terror of not being able to think of anything to say makes your brain implode so that the seconds tick by in slow motion. The pressure begins to build until it pops out, ‘so, hypothetically, yah, if you were a vegetable, what kind of vegetable would you be. And why?’ No amount of time travel technology can reverse your stupidity, and whatsmore you’ve just welcomed in another awkward silence.
To combat moments such as this I like to have a reserve of amusing stories to help punctuate these cringe-inducing situations. One of the best founts I have found for such awkward-repelling ammunition is teaching. For the last two summers I have spent endless hours jotting down comedy gold whilst teaching Italian children how to speak English.
Granted I may not have been the best tutor; there may have been one time when I accidentally floored a kid whilst running away from another pack of children who were keen on capturing me for whatever purpose packs of children decide to pursue those in positions of authority. There may have been another time when, during a water balloon fight, I may have hit a small boy called Giulio in his plums due to my feminine ineptness to throw anything in a) a straight line, and b) what I’m aiming at.
Those things aside, and we’re all allowed to make a few mistakes, I did have a few successes. That may have been as I avoided teaching the youngest children. For each camp I taught at, each class had to produce a skit for the final show. A fellow tutor had a selection of 6-year-olds and, if they can’t write in their own language, they’re probably not going to master writing in English. It may have been for that reason that the knowledge of their lines for the show was a little sketchy. When, therefore Marco (a boy resembling the Dalai Lama) delivered his line that was supposed to be ‘I am a jellyfish, I am red’, we instead got ‘My name is Marco. Fish jelly’ none of us were too surprised.
Not saying that these children weren’t surprising: far from it. I happened to be overseeing a ‘draw something on a table mat’ activity in which a small boy called Emmanuele was partaking. His tutor, seeing that he was finished, called him over to see what he’d done. In between the British flags, the horses, the cuddly puppies, and big plates of pasta, Emmanuele had drawn a perfect, side view, cross-section of a toilet: plumbed in and everything.
I was fortunate to escape such flummoxing instances as these for the entirety of my teaching career, or should I say, almost the entirety of my teaching career. My final camp saw me teaching a bunch of topsy-turvy, energetic 8-year-olds – the youngest kids I had the privilege of indoctrinating. Now I don’t mind admitting that children frighten me, they make me nervous, and I have no idea why I ever thought a teaching job would ever be a good idea. The week did, however, trickle by, with only one substantial problem. Samuele. Poor Samuele was just one of those children to whom understanding comes a little after everyone else. I had no idea why his parents thought it would be a good idea to send him to English camp, as Italian camp would have been a better choice in my humble opinion. That said I duly included him and treated him as an equal, which, on the odd occasion, didn’t always pay off. I will always remember that fateful morning: