Wednesday 18 April 2018

The history teacher

Hermaphrodite Mum 
Three kids and a single mum

It's a sight to make every mother's heart sink: your child, curled up with her headphones on, watching YouTube on a mobile phone. It gets worse. Your child has already spent most of the afternoon hooked up to Netflix and has evidently forgotten about her school exams next week. 

Quiet One: lost in blah-blah land
I direct my most penetrating gaze at Quiet One, but she's lost in some virtual place, halfway between denial and blah-blah land.

Finally, I raise my voice. "Shouldn't you be doing some revision?" I shout. 

The earphones are pushed back a smidgeon and she looks up at me with an indignant frown. Then she humphs and slides off the chair. 

"There's still time before bed to look through some notes," I add in a more emollient tone.

Without a word, she slams her mobile phone down on the kitchen island and slouches off towards the dining room where her files are lying open on the table. Her body language is unambiguous: you've spoiled all my fun! Standing with her back to me, she leafs through a file in the gloom of the unlit room.

Eventually, I can't bear it any longer. I get up and switch on the lights. "Now you can see," I say brightly, before noticing there are tears rolling down her cheeks. "Oh, love."

The expression on her face wavers between rage, self-pity and guilt. She looks like a toddler again, unable to regulate the surge of her emotions. Now I feel the guilt. I'm a terrible mother, exerting too much pressure on my poor, beleaguered teen. "What's wrong, sweetie?"

"This stupid practice essay," she says, knocking the file with her hand. "Serbia was mainly to blame for the outbreak of WWI. Discuss. I've no idea what Serbia has to do with it all."

"Well, what do your notes say?"

"They don't say anything," she wails. 

"Can't you search it up on Google?"

She looks at me as if that's the most ridiculous suggestion she's heard all day. To underline her general contempt, she gathers up all her files and marches (noisily) up the stairs to her bedroom.

Smart talk

Back in the kitchen, Middle Child says, "It's something to do with MANIA."

"Pardon?" I blink at him, wondering if he's casting aspersions on his sister's mental health.

"MANIA. The outbreak of the first world war. We learnt it at school. Militaranism, Alliances, Nationalism, Imperialism and Assassination. I think Serbia was behind the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand."

I stare at him in disbelief. He shrugs and returns to Snapchatting his friends. Afterwards, I spend two hours on the internet reading up about the outbreak of WWI. By bedtime, I'm an expert. 

Quiet One is lying on the bed when I cautiously tip-toe into her room. Her floor is covered in a jumble of papers and files. "How's it going?"

"Fine," she says defiantly, avoiding eye contact.

"I could help if you like. I've found out why Serbia was involved."

"I don't need your help. I've written the essay."

"Do you want me to take a look?"

"No thanks."


Reluctantly, she thrusts several sheets of A4 paper in my direction. After I've deciphered the scrawly writing, I realise it's all there - MANIA in paragraph form.

"Looks great," I say, handing it back. "The last point you make is brilliant."

Suddenly, she beams and envelops me in a spontaneous hug. "Thanks, Mum. I'm sorry about earlier."

Militaristic urges

Glowing from my hug and equipped with my new knowledge of twentieth century history, I skip back down to the kitchen. Middle Child doesn't appear to have moved in two hours, his nose hovering inches above his tiny, glowing screen. 

With a swift pincer movement, I snatch up his mobile phone and deposit it on top of the fridge. 

"Oi," he yells, "that's not fair!"

"Bed, or you won't see your phone for another two days."

"You're as bad as the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexing Bosnia," he grumbles.

For once, I actually know what he's talking about. "Don't make me call in Germany," I warn. 

"Oh, you think you're so clever," he retorts, heading for the stairs. "But you know it all ended rather badly, don't you?"

Ignoring his jingoistic tone, I make myself a cup of tea. History, I reflect, might have turned out rather differently if the mothers had been left in charge.

"Night, Mum," says Middle Child, popping his head around the door a few minutes later. "You would have made a lovely dictator."


Hermaphrodite Mum is fictional creation of Emma Clark Lam

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