This morning I had breakfast with Maxine. First time since November. This month was rough. December is the month of final exams for me. Usually my students sign up for 8 minute appointments and ask me questions pertaining to the topic I give them on the spot. These topics have ranged from my vacation plans to what I do in my free time to how I met Horyon. It's fun, but exhausting. My first year at Kyungsung I had almost 350 students. I don't know how I did it without killing any of them. Or myself.
So this year I decided to back off a bit. I had only 250 students (ONLY???), and I had them sign up for 10 minute appointments in pairs. It lowered my testing time from 3.5 hours to about 2.5 hours per day. That one hour makes a big difference, but the bigger difference comes from the students working together.
In each class we worked up a list of conversation topics. In some classes it was only 8 or 9, but one class came up with two dozen, all approved by me. Each pair of students had to choose six topics to bring to their appointment. At the beginning of their ten minutes I rolled a die, choosing one of the six topics. They were to then have a conversation (with each other, not me) about that one topic for the rest of the ten minutes.
Of course, many of them prepared and memorized conversations, which was fine. But I was really grading them on how well they did once they were winging it. My role was usually to jump into the conversation and make some waves, see how they reacted. It was an interesting way to grade, and it required less mental exertion from me. It would have been the most relaxing final exam season ever except for one small thing: I had an extra class.
The extra class was made up of high school students who are about to graduate and start university. I was under the initial impression that they were students who were particularly interested in studying English. That impression was squashed like a python under a two ton weight.
The class was for university credits, and I was to grade it Pass/Fail. Out of 30 students, 16 passed. Pretty lame. My only demand was that they come to class on time. More than five minutes late, and I counted them absent (though they could still be present for the second hour of class). No real grades. No homework. I expected them to work in class, writing conversations, taking notes, all that crazy stuff teachers expect students to do, but without attaching a grade to any of it.
I must have been out of my freakin' gourd.
I'm used to teaching freshmen. I know that the first few classes are largely devoted to getting them to come on time, be quiet, and pay attention. In this class, some of them never got it. It was tiring, and made me look forward to my afternoon exams. I was paid well for it, and I suppose it was worth the money, but it gave me something I didn't really want or need: another reason to leave Korea.
It also reminded me of one reason I have stayed so long: the students who want to learn. There were about half a dozen students who were serious about the class. In a regular class they would have gotten A's and B's from me. In this class, they were the sanity check. They paid attention when I corrected their work. They seemed to learn from it! They were even willing to try working with me sitting next to them, coaching and encouraging them, rather than staring blankly and saying "English very difficult."
The point, from which I have once again strayed an unforgivable difference, was that this extra class was from 10 to 12 a.m. for the three weeks before Christmas. Until December, I had spent my mornings with Maxine. She usually woke up around six, demanding to get that special treat that only mommy can provide. She then went back to sleep in our bed, between Horyon and me. Horyon would get up, shower, have breakfast, and do all that morning stuff women do, then leave for work before Maxine woke up. We would sleep until eight or nine, then kick around for an hour or two until Horyon's father came to pick up Maxine.
I have to admit that I am not the best of company just after waking up. If that were our only time together, Maxine might grow up thinking that I only communicate in grunts and harumphs. Still, I manage to wake up enough to change a diaper or two, get breakfast into Maxine, and perhaps play with those crazy little stackable cups that she has. (It's so cool the way you can fit the small ones into the big ones but not vice versa.)
So in December we didn't get to do that. We basically woke up at 8, had about half an hour to get used to being awake, then Grandpa would come and take Maxine away. It has caused her attitude towards me to cool somewhat. When she's fussy, she doesn't want me, and sometimes runs away from me to get to Horyon. I can't believe how heartbreaking this can feel, even though she is fine with me at bedtime or when Horyon is behind a closed door for more than a couple of minutes.
It's a lot like when we first got married. Before we got married, things were almost always completely positive between us. But the stress of living with someone new, especially someone you love, can bring out the worst in anyone. As can menstruation, lack of sleep, job stress, or any number of other factors. And during that first year I had to learn to deal with the pain of the occasional sharp remark. I have gotten somewhat used to it. It was inevitable that I would, because my personality could try the patience of a saint under the right circumstances. For example, if I have a long-term project with a deadline.
Of course, it helps that Horyon and I can talk about our relationship and feelings. She always apologizes for hurting me, and has gained some control over the impulses to do so. But Maxine and I can't really talk about our relationship. She is only just starting to realize that other people have needs, much less feelings. And so I swallow the disappointment or talk with Horyon about it. In the mean time, I try to make it very clear to Maxine that I am always available to come back to, that I will always love her.
And there, right there, that's the problem with blogging about something like being a father for the first time. At times it is so overwhelming that the best words, the closest analogies, all seem inadequate to express what's going on in my head and heart. The best I can hope for is to stir a memory in the minds of the parents who read this. And for the not-yet-parents, like I used to be, or the never-parents, I suspect it's like reading an article about skydiving, or climbing Mt. Everest; you just can't get it, but I hope you can catch a glimpse of it.
In case I don't manage to get back on before Monday, I hope that you all bring in the New Year well. Maxine slept last night without waking up once. My sole hope for 2007 is that she continues this trend.