Friday, January 25, 2008

The school run...

Someone commented recently that my blog is ‘so much more interesting than reading some of the drivel of "poor me, here I am on the school run" that gets written!’ I was deeply flattered, particularly because the author of that comment happens to be a brilliant journalist and inspiring mother. But it also made me appreciate how easy our school run is (what with door to door tuk-tuks, and being able to leave Bella at home with Srey Mach and all that) – so much so that I am not often moved to write about it. Except on occasion… like today for instance.

The first hour of our day could have taken place at home in Winchester, or any other part of the so-called ‘developed world’. It was just another morning getting ready for school. Except for the fact that I, having just remarked, last night to James, that I am coping perfectly well on next to no sleep, albeit in a hazy, fuzzy sort of planet of my own, rather lost the plot. Put it this way – had you happened upon our house at about 8am you would not have thought that it was the home of that nice Mummy who writes that blog about positive parenting. Instead you would have heard Jemima crying in the bathroom and seen me brandishing a pair of nail clippers and holding onto her arm too tightly.

“Life can’t always be fun Jemima! Your nails are filthy and too long and I am cutting them right now!”

So much for gentle coaxing and fun games. I stopped short of sitting on her and needless to say her nails are still long and still dirty. Instead I marched her out of the front door and to off school, via the petrol station where she unwisely asked me for a tiny carton of strawberry milk. I snapped at her that we could not buy things every time we left the house, that little cartons of milk are a waste of resources and just end up littering our planet, and that there were children in this country who have absolutely nothing. Very constructive, I know. Three harshly delivered lessons on life’s miseries, and she hadn’t even reached the school gate.

I’m sorry if I have blogged about all this before, but this is where I find raising children in Cambodia continually perplexing. How do I get the balance right so that Jemima can enjoy a normal, care free childhood with occasional treats, whilst also being aware of life’s injustices and learning to live with compassion? I am so determined not to turn Jemima into a spoilt expat brat - easy in a city where there is little to do with children that does not involve spending money in cafes (the only places with shady, outdoor play areas), or on toys (lined up tantalisingly next to the soulless, indoor shopping mall soft play areas she loves and I hate) that I’ll end up burdening her with my own overactive conscience and raising a guilt-ridden child. This is the kind of thing I dwell upon on our easy school run.

As usual, outside the garage there were two children asking for money. The older girl looked about Jemima’s age but was probably older, and she was holding in her arms her younger brother who was obviously too big and heavy for her to carry easily. They were both in rags, snotty and miserable-looking.

“Som loi?” they asked me, but I try not to give money to children because they may just have to take it all back to a beggar master. Of course, if they have no money to give him, or her, they may get beaten, so this is not necessarily the right answer either. But the street kids’ organisation Friends International ask us not to give money to street kids as it keeps them on the streets, so I don’t. However I have never been able to just walk away so we bought them some apples and muffins instead and had a little chat to see if I could find out something about their lives.

“Do you have a mother or father?”

“Our father is dead, but our mother is not dead yet” the girl replied, before thanking me for the food and sitting down on the curb to eat it with her brother. Not dead yet. I wanted to ask more but those few words gave me a pretty good picture of how she experienced life.

“What, Mummy?” asked Jemima, as we got back in the tuk-tuk. I told her what the little girl had said. “But where is her Mummy?” I told her that she was probably working and wouldn’t it be hard to have to walk around the streets all day carrying your younger sister and asking for food.

When I think back on it now I realise I needn’t worry about teaching Jemima about any of this. These sorts of encounters, and the conversation that follows, happen to us several times a week. They are surely lessons enough. I should probably have a lot more confidence in her natural, instinctive ability to absorb, understand and – as much as a three year old is capable – empathise.

I have noticed that ever since we arrived in Cambodia, when she was 16 months old, Jemima has never asked if she could eat any of the food that we buy for the children. Sometimes if we have time to hang around and play, I buy for her too, but as a rule I do not. She has joined me in giving apples (her favourite fruit), ice-lollies and corn on the cob to the street children for two years now and never once made a fuss about not being given any herself.

Yes, I know I should have more faith. But then again, you did not hear her demanding I take her out for a Babyccino last weekend…

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1 comment:

Tara said...

Aha - tell me about the kiddicino / babycino - E's favourite at the moment!! She sometimes gets up in the morning or from her afternoon nap and says: 'Right Mum, let's go out and see friends, drink kiddicino and eat chocolate cake...' Like this is what one does as an expat child on a daily basis (I hasten to add it isn't!) It's gonna be hard to explain that one to the family back in Europe....although we have taken to making kiddicinos at home, in the microwave now....!