I’ve been thinking about Singapore and “what it all means” which has led to thinking about some of the pretty interesting experiences I’ve had. A lot has been on my mind recently – not just the Big Move but long lists of “stuff”. I’m feeling a little bit overwhelmed and a lot excited – and my lists are becoming increasingly well-organised! Yet my thoughts keep drifting … and I keep thinking about a certain special person.

I’ve got a pretty close family and some very special friends in my life, and I’ve even had a few boyfriends. There is a lot to be learnt from the relationships we have with people, and whether they’re relatives you can never quite get rid of or life-long friendships or holiday romances, I believe that relationships often tell you more about yourself than you’d imagine. I have previously mentioned a hug from an eight year old that was pretty fabulous and it is this eight year old who keeps appearing in my head, his dark brown eyes bright and his mouth turned up in a special smile that seemed to be reserved for me, right before he tackled my knees and brought me down to the ground while giggling hysterically and screaming el monstruo. So lately, I’ve been thinking about a certain little boy, who is no longer eight years old but nearly ten.

People look at me with mild amusement when I tell them that I fell in love when I was travelling in 2010. They lean forward eagerly; they want to know more. Then I tell them it was with an eight year old boy when I volunteered for a month in a home for children, and they laugh – dismissively. They’re not so interested when there is no “holiday romance” story to be told and they think I’m exaggerating the experience, as touching as it must have been. When I think of the people I met and spent time with, I feel very lucky to have travelled. When I think of this little boy, I feel like my life is the best it can be because of that experience.

I am not very good with emotions. I can be very flippant and blase about relationships – the optimistic extrovert within me loves to meet new people and hear their stories and tell them mine, but the hard, critical part of me likes to believe that while yes, I am richer for having known a person, “having known a person” is past tense – you don’t have to maintain contact with every person you ever meet. I do not intend to sound unfeeling or heartless; I have some very close friends and family without whom I would feel empty and very much at a loss – and my relationships with these people sometimes means I don’t see them for months yet still feel a strong bond, a connection that cannot be severed even if our communication is reduced to the occasional text and a coffee twice a year. The thing is, I like to think I’m good at meeting people and moving on, at controlling my emotions and not getting “too attached” to people (or things). Emphasis on “control”: if I can control my emotions and my connections, then I can control myself. Not get carried away. Not be swept off my feet.

Imagine my surprise when …

We shared a very unique connectio, made painful by the fact that he was in a home in Mexico, and I was in the early stages of an eight month backpacking adventure around the world. Yet in the space of a week I managed to convince myself that I would end my long-ago planned backpacking tour and take him home, cashing in on the unspent funds to pay for all the necessities … I spent a week (and then some) thinking about the possibilities.

Like many volunteers, I had been caught in the emotional “trap” of wanting to “save” the children. But I didn’t want to save them all, I just wanted to save one. And I didn’t want to save him, I just wanted to give him the life he deserved. Fortunately, I soon realised that I couldn’t give him that. I certainly wasn’t ready and it was a decision I was making for myself, not for him – I saw that then and I still see it now (the wiser I am almost two years later).

It was hard, but I remained clear with him (and myself) that I would be leaving, and I would miss him when I left but we would have some great memories, and I would pin his pictures to my wall at home to remind me of the fun we’ve had …

On the last day at the home, everyone was crying because they were so sad to be leaving the kids. Being the ever-brave and rational person that I am, I kept my eyes dry and passed out tissues, smiling optimistically and telling the children that one day they might like to visit us in Australia (we were advised not to tell the children “we’ll be back” because it gives them a false hope and they are disappointed when we don’t, which affects their already fragile trust). Mi pequeño monstruo drifted about, standing beside me and then walking around, then coming back to chase me and tag me, then I’d chase him, and then we’d walk around again. We did not cry.

That night, we were asked to share what effect the experience had had on us. By this time, eyes had been dried and everyone was semi-articulate (we had opened a few bottles of wine with dinner, so articulation was “optional”). I was the second last to speak and my rehearsed words (“I learnt so much about myself and what we can do to support NGOs in developing countries”) came out in a stuttering mess. What came out what a hiccup, a gurgle, and then “I-I-I … and … ”

I didn’t know what was wrong; my eyes were leaking and my cheeks were wet and no coherent sound was coming out. My heart was pounding and I couldn’t breathe – every tear I had suppressed that day was spilling forth. Every tear I had ever suppressed joined in.

In a month, he taught me more about love and life than I ever thought there was to learn. He taught me patience, laughter, and the joy of running madly in circles before collapsing in a puffing heap. How do you explain the effect of one person, one relationship?

Our last half hour saw him leaping into my arms and refusing to let go. He clung to me and I clung to him, though my stoic facade smiled politely at every one as they passed. We both remained dry-eyed, but you don’t need a shared language to know what feelings were communicated in that hug.

I still think about him. I wonder what he is doing and if he remembers me, because it was such a fleeting moment in his life – only a month. Four weeks. 30 days. Being with him for this brief time taught me so much – he was definitely more the teacher than I ever was.

So when I think about Singapore and about returning to teaching, I think about this little boy. There will never be another like him, of that I am sure. I am also certain that I will meet some amazing children and have some wonderful experiences, because even though I tell people I’m returning to teaching for the lifestyle and the opportunity to do the many things I love, I’m probably being a bit optimistic and a little bit cliche.

The real reason I’m coming back to teaching is because I’ve got so much more to learn.



I wrote this post late on Friday night and didn’t have the courage to post it. I’ve spent the weekend organising paperwork and thinking about mi monstruo and I realised that I want to share this experience, even if writing it made my heart pound and my tears fall, and even if re-reading it has the same wet-cheeked result. I don’t think I am ever as in control of my emotions as much as I like to think; I’m starting to realise that’s a good thing.


6 comments on “Lessons

  1. Pingback: Sisterly Love « dodging commas

  2. Stef, if you don’t keep writing I am going to disinherit you and.. and… um.. well, no threats, but I want you to promise me that the more your heart pounds and your tears fall, the more courage you will find to share your gift with the world. Please.

  3. ”we were advised not to tell the children “we’ll be back” because it gives them a false hope and they are disappointed when we don’t, which affects their already fragile trust”

    This line hit me like a brick. When I was much younger, I also volunteered at a home in my hometown for several months. When I left for the city, I promised to write to them but somehow did not. It’s one of the few things in life that I truly regret.
    Thank you for this story.

  4. I’m glad you posted it. I don’t think I really knew what love was until I had kids. There’s no guile involved – no ego on either side – whereas with adults, both sides have baggage.

    I’ve had what my kids like to tell me were ‘control iss-yews’ in the past, but now I opt for personal power – the ability to stick with what’s right for me without freaking out about it. Not that I’m always good at it, but i’m trying.

    Enjoy Singapore. It sounds absolutely right.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s