Anyone who knows me at all will know that I am a mass of contradictions. For example, I'm not very social, but I do like to host small dinner parties for friends; I'm quite selective with whom I share personal stuff, yet I've started this blog; some colleagues have become really good friends at school, but I'll avoid going back to see them. I know right - it doesn't make sense.
We all have bad days, we are all busy and we all sometimes would rather keep ourselves to ourselves. These are the strategies I've implemented over the years to counter these moments.
Sally Flint's Work Place Social Interaction Code - revised 2019.
(Failure to adhere to these terms and conditions will result in you being known as a miserable old toad.)
I can be the world's worst, or best, (depending how you look at it) avoider. Here's comes the contradiction again though - I can't stand it when I spot other avoiders avoiding me. It's not friendly, is frequently poorly executed and thus upsetting. So, whilst it is too little too late, I've given myself a stern talking to. From henceforth pledge to not fake a smile, but actually smile. I'm sure with a bit of practice the art of avoidance is one I will learn to avoid all together!
It was my wedding anniversary today (23 years!) and I was very lucky to receive a lovely card and gift from the old fella. This has gone hand in hand with compliments and kindness throughout the day. I’m feeling a bit guilty though as, whilst I am fairly sure I had bought Mick a card, at some point, it was nowhere to be found this morning. I really don’t know what happened to it. The same goes for my gift for him - also missing. I can explain this; it hasn’t yet been purchased or thought about and realistically isn’t ever likely to be.
It's not so interesting, but actually Mick was pretty exhausted today as had only just arrived back to Bangkok from UK, incurring a 6 hour delay on the way. I think all he really wanted to do was sleep. Despite this, he made an effort and even donned a pair of long trousers, to take the hour and half trip into town, to eat at a restaurant I had wanted to try. We went for coffee and cake afterwards, but by mid-afternoon I was just a bit bored of all this togetherness. I asked him if he minded if I went for a massage with a friend which he didn’t.
Once home we companionably watched Coronation Street and GoggleBox together. I know, living the dream right! I didn’t interact with him very much, though, as I was distracted with writing this blog post. He didn't mind being ignored too much!
Now, I’m not gushing about Mick’s easy-going nature and, should a self-defence be required, I had booked a vegetarian restaurant I thought he would really like. (I’d have preferred a steak to the mushy mushroom mix that passed as my burger.) Regardless, it does seem that just possibly I might have possibly been just a little blasé in my ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude to our anniversary. After all, I wouldn’t pretty much ignore my friend’s birthdays or my parents’ anniversary and I would have not have been happy if Mick had forgotten. I can’t decide if I’m being lazy or sexist (in assuming he won't care about cards and gifts), or both! It seems that there are some double standards at play. I won’t even get into how it is ok for me to sit quietly reading for hours on end, but then complain that Mick is too quiet the minute Leeds United start to play.
Anyway, t’s Mothering Sunday tomorrow in the UK. My kids are grown up, so in no way is it Mick’s job to remember and celebrate it. Will I mind if he doesn’t? You bet I will!
I was having an on-line catch up with a teacher friend the other evening and asked her what her holiday plans were. She explained that they weren’t going away as her daughter was revising for her IGCSEs, so it made sense to stay home. I quipped that she was being a ‘Tiger Mum’, to which she responded more like a ‘Soi Cat Mum’ (alley cat to non-Thais). A laugh out loud moment! Of course, my friend was being neither. Rather, she was being a good mum, creating a positive learning environment for her daughter, in which she could prepare well and fulfil her maximum exam potential. Oh Lordy – I sound like such a sincere teacher-y type some times!
The text chat got me thinking, as some years ago I had read Amy Chua’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ from which the term Tiger Mum’ is coined. For those who don’t know the book it is a brutally honest self-reflection by a Chinese mum about her own parenting style, part of which includes her determination to make her daughters excel, particularly in music. The focus is on Sophia and Lulu who have no time for play-dates or fun, but rather are forced to put all of their energy into learning the violin to a very high standard. When the girls were not being ‘bullied’ into extensive practising, then they were being forced to excel in other areas such as learning Mandarin. It’s only gym and drama that seemed to not really matter!
The book was a good read and made me consider the difference between eastern and western approaches to learning and education. As an international schoolteacher and mum, whose kids have friends from across the world, it encouraged me to reflect on what are cultural stereotypes and what are, in fact, cultural norms. At the time of reading, I was hesitant about sharing my conclusions. (Is it just me, or does anyone else spend half their lives worrying that they are being unwittingly racist or at least culturally ignorant?) The truth is, though, that I had a lot of sympathy for the Tiger Mum. She had sacrificed her own interests, money and devoted all of her time and energy to her kids, only, to some degree at least, to have her efforts thrown back in her face (eugh – cliché!) when, at the end of the day, she only wanted what was best for her children and for them to be successful (more clichés!) I think though the mum's definitions of what constituted success was flawed. The reader also questions who owns the success. Was it the girls, the mum herself, or the societal group of which they were a part?
The question of what success means to different cultural groups is a big one. I remember teaching an IB TOK lesson and tiptoeing around the edge of a discussion on ‘what makes success in different cultures?' I was afraid of exposing myself as an ignorant believer of stereotypes, (rather than the multi-culturally sensitive, open-minded balanced facilitator of stimulating and thought provoking discussion I had been aiming for!) I needn’t have worried; the kids were prepared and eager to discuss the extent to which their own and their parents’ family expectations and values and definition of success were derived from culture and whether this did, in fact, adhere to a cultural stereotype. If you’re wondering … yes … some Asian kids' parents did have aspirations for them to become engineers or doctors and felt anything less than an A star was a fail and yes.. some Western kids' parents were simply not bothered, or just wanted them to be ‘happy’! I think though the similarities and differences between views of what constituted success differed enough, within and between cultures, (derived from my very small sample of students) for me to be unable to draw any firm conclusions. How’s that for a bit of ‘fence sitting’ and ‘playing it safe’!?
What I do feel certain of, and I can think of a few teacher friends who will regrettably agree, is that in international school environments, there is no chance of Tiger Mums or Tiger Dads becoming extinct any time soon! It is probably fair to say that their existence is not culturally specific, transcends all nationalities and annoys most teachers!
As I was thinking about this blog post I left my eldest daughter in London a message asking her if she could think of examples of where I’d been a ‘tiger mum’. I was afraid she mightn’t have forgiven me for forcing her to attend her swimming group, ironically called Tiger Prawns, far longer than she had expressed any interest whatsoever in doing so – let no daughter of mine be a quitter, not even when they have to compete with tears in their eyes and a tummy bug about to erupt in the pool! She didn’t call back, as she was busy attending to business in her role as Social Secretary of the UCL Swimming Club she adores being part of. I rest my case! She did send a quick text though and told me that I hadn’t been too bad in the ‘Tiger Mum’ area. I haven’t yet asked about the areas I had been bad in, but for now I’m going to let myself off the hook!
One of the things I used to love about watching Men Behaving Badly starring Caroline Quentin, Lesley Ash, Martin Clune and Neil Morrissey was how they created humour from exploiting clichéd stereotypes. I remember an episode where the characters Gary and Tony were horrified about the idea of Dorothy moving in with them. The fear was that Dorothy would make their place too girly and fill it with cushions. Sure enough, at the end of the episode there were` Gary and and Tony sitting on the sofa, beer in one hand, and cushion in the other, begrudgingly accepting of their changed circumstances.
Humour was also derived in the sit-com from mocking old people in their cardigans and slippers, and not being able to get up from a chair without emitting something between a sigh and a grunt. (If you’re over 40 you’ll know what I mean, if you’re not then listen to the next person over 40 you know as they stand up from a chair.) I laughed along merrily, little knowing that, it would be but a blink of an eye before I became that middle-aged cliché, showing my age! For example:
Sal (self-outed as fifty and proud!)