Saturday, October 20, 2007

Intervention - interference?

Sorry, not any kind of astute commentary on global politics or anything like that. More mulling over the immediate concerns of my life, which mostly seem to have the same sort of theme, intervention or interference, how much is too much, how best to go about it?. I usually avoid this kind of blogging, because I fear meandering on at length, not finishing my sentences, being tiresome, trivial. And others do it so much better, writing movingly but succinctly, amusingly, entertaining with pithy digressions, reflections, reminiscences... But still.


I fear one of my students has deserted. My St Brieuc students are adults, often retired but sometimes between jobs, or women at an age where they're finishing bringing up their children and are looking for something to get them out, build their confidence, wake their brains up. I think this one may be one of the latter. I haven't asked her because I've felt that her confidence is so fragile, the best thing to do was leave her be, let her make friends, become one of the class, listen plenty. Too much attention and I feared she might take flight, or simply suffer agonies of self-consciousness, but I've tried to give her lots of encouraging words on the side, even the odd hug, which is rather unusual.

She stuck it all last year and it seemed to be working, she looked so much brighter and prettier when she came back and everyone greeted each other warmly. The problem is, however, that every year some people come back and some new ones arrive, and it always takes time to shake down, the students who have been coming for a while sometimes feeling held back by new arrivals. There's little scope for moving up, or dividing them into differentiated groups, it doesn't work. But this year, I decided to give them a test, based on the work covered so far, really to acknowledge the progress they'd made. Mostly they seemed to appreciate it ( I gave it as homework, not in class ), and all did well enough, the new arrivals levels were compatible with the old-timers, a few things were assessable. But my problem student seemed utterly despondent about it, and didn't show up last lesson when I returned the papers - there was of course the usual classroom twittering about 'What did you get? who did best?' ; it never ceases to amaze me how readily adults revert...

The test paper was a good idea for almost everyone, but perhaps it has undone a year's hard work for that one woman. Her paper showed that there were still large gaps in her basic knowledge of English, but I could give her special work on those, and the areas we had covered in the last year she was here she did fairly well on. I hope she's back tomorrow, and I can convey this to her, but I hate to think she feels humiliated by my intervention. I'm not always certain that the needs of the many outweigh those of the few or the one.

It's a lovely, cushy, ideal job for me, but I'm the only person doing it. I sometimes wish I had a sympathetic colleague I could discuss with.

Isobel is in hospital to have Ilan. She's basked in her pregnancy, and has reminded me of one of Renoir's rosy girls. But they decided a week or so ago that he wasn't growing enough and they would induce him a week early to 'fatten him up a bit' ( Iso's words) on the outside. So she went in at the crack of dawn on Wednesday to begin the process. But the stuff they gave her caused rapid contractions too soon, upped his heart-rate dangerously, but didn't properly start labour, so they stopped it. She's had a sleepless and worrying 48 hours of non-labour, her partner Pascal and her mum have had no option but to go home, and tomorrow they'll try again and if it doesn't work it'll be a casaerean. He's obviously quite happy in there and doesn't want to leave yet. I rang her on her bedside phone, happily another friend, who had presumably looked in expecting to see the baby, was there. Iso sounded herself but strained. She said it wasn't so bad when people from her normal life were there, otherwise it feels as if she's in an isolated hospitalised limbo.

We've come to appreciate having the wonderful French healthcare system to look after us, but in the last year or so this blind faith that all they do must be for the best has taken a couple of knocks, in that it does seem sometimes that they just can't wait to intervene, without necessarily fully weighing up the situation. But what do I know? Another friend who is a retired paediatrician seemed to think it all sounded in order, so doubtless it will all be fine eventually.

The third matter is rather more fun, but has been exercising what I am pleased to call my mind somewhat. A triangle, well, that's jumping the gun a bit, but a potential one, I shall call them A, B and C.

A is a dear woman friend. She is a musician who lives with greyhounds, has the air of an eccentric retired ballet dancer, a figure I would very happily swap for mine; last funeral we went to she wore purple leg-warmers (I knitted for her 60th birthday), leopard print ankle boots and a leather jacket. She's been having a long distance romance with B, who lives several hundred miles away. A couple of weeks ago she told me she'd decided to finish it. She had stopped looking forward to his visits, when he was there she felt continually irritated by him, she disagreed with his entire outlook on life, they had no cultural references in common, had read none of the same books, listened to nothing of the same music. Moreover, he is utterly rooted in the soil of eastern France, while our friend A is not French but loves her house in the woods and walking the cliffs and beaches of Northern Brittany, and does not wish to live elsewhere. She felt he adored a false image of her, which the physical distance between them and the infrequency of their contacts meant he could patch up and maintain rather than getting to know her properly. Doesn't look good. He had ostensibly accepted the parting gallantly, with a 'well at least we had a wonderful time while it lasted'.

I had met him for the first time a week earlier - she seemed to have very purposefully kept him away from her other friends for as long as possible, also not a good sign in my reckoning. He seemed a sweet and courtly man but, oh, such an elderly spirit. In fact he is much of an age with Tom, and younger than others we know of whom I would not say the same thing. What he wants, it seems, is to turn his back on a world he wants no more of, and have someone to grow old and die with. He is, it seems to me, her antithesis. Which isn't, I know, necessarily a bar to a successful pairing, however...

Then a day or two ago when we were supposed to be standing on our heads doing yoga, she said she was going to see him again, on her way to ... (far out of her way in reality), they needed to talk. He had written reproachful and regretful letters. I pointed out everything she had told me, the irritation, the fundamental disparity in outlook etc; don't go drifting back because you feel sorry for him, I said, that is a killer. I'm fairly rubbish at giving advice borne of experience, but that I do know. But she too, I think fears loneliness; she is accustomed to being strong and independent, and it takes her by surprise when she wavers in these qualities. I didn't have too much more to offer, but did say I thought she might well find someone to whom she was better suited. She e-mailed me a bit later saying how good it had been to talk, she felt so much better and stronger. Part of me still feels gratified and aggrandised by someone saying that to me, another part slaps that part down hard and tells me I should have minded my own business and not interfered.

The other thing is, I'm damn sure she would be so much better off with C. He is a recent acquaintance whom we've very much taken to. They have so much in common, nationality, language, background, creativity... They both live very positive, independent, chosen lives, which would be enhanced by the presence of a special person who wouldn't interfere too much. Of course there might possibly be the small matter of their not being attracted to one another, but I don't think so. The funny thing is, she first introduced us to him, and on that occasion it seemed to me he was making clear overtures of friendship to her, not romance or flirtation, but a genuine interest in her interests, giving her openings. She seemed to respond, but then said rather obstinately on the way home that she wasn' t going to come across too keen, he could come to her if he wanted, she thought perhaps he was a bit too laid back, too cool in his manner,(nonsense, says Tom, he just doesn't gush, that's all...) she prefered people who were more warm and pushy... doesn't know if she wants a flag or a windmill, I reckon.

In a recent exchange with C, which was of a very flippant and bantering nature, I expressed surprise that he hadn't been 'snapped up', and he said he'd have to find someone to do the 'snapping'. As I say, it was a very jocular exchange, and not being English, I think he was simply amused by my turn of phrase. But it would indicate someone open to possibilities.

So, matchmaking, is it ever a good idea, or just a voyeuristic form of interference? I have heard tell of those who have found happiness through the meddling of others in this way. If it is a good thing, how does one go about it? It's not something I've ever felt called upon to do before, other people always seemed to have their love lives very well sorted without my intervention. I suppose it might mean I have to invite them both to dinner or something, and I was hoping to have a break from entertaining for a bit. Any advice or anecdotal evidence will be welcome in the comment thread, and in the unlikely but not impossible event that one or both of them is reading this, you know who you are, take action now!

Molly has an ear infection, another one. Antibiotics, eardrops, gooey ointments... much lamenting. When it's cleared up, do we or don't we travel huge distances at huge expense to a veterinary clinic which will perform a fairly drastic operation on her ear canal which will render her fairly hard of hearing ( and heaven knows she's selectively deaf enough...), but which should prevent this annoyingly chronic and worsening condition from recurring? Anyone with experience of cocker spaniel ear problems please leave your two cents' worth.

So there you are, the sad and trivial preoccupations of my quotidian existence. Gossip, twittering and dogs' ear secretions. Take it or leave it. Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.

Update, Friday evening:

My student came back today, cheerful and upbeat, and seemed happy to be given some extra work to help her catch up.

Still no baby, but I spoke to Pippa, Isobel's mum on the phone. She had left them to it, Pascal, who, it was feared would be someting of a wimp in the delivery room, had come good, and last news was she was far advanced enough to have an epidural, and was, Pippa said, 'very cheerful'. High as a kite in other words. And all being well he should pop out in the wee small hours. Pippa feels that they were too hasty to intervene, but all will be well in the end.

My matchmaking plans remain very possibly a deluded fantasy.

Molly doesn't care for ear-goo but loves being on antibiotics; I melt chocolate in the microwave and wrap the pills in that.


Anonymous said...

Don't apologize, Lucy. I truly enjoyed the chatty and warm gossip and twittering and dog problems. The glimpse into your days of teaching and friendships reveal how you care about the people you are with. I have no advice regarding matchmaking and other interventions, but a casual dinner sounds good to me. I might try that on two people I know, only to help them meet.

julie said...

I have a vizsla with recurring ear goo problems. In her case, it usually gets bad when some amount of yeast is present with the ear wax. I recently started adding yogurt to her food at dinner (it's supposed to help people, so I thought it'd be worth a try for dogs). So far, it seems like it might be helping; if we can go another week or two without major problems, I'll be more convinced.

Lucy said...

Thanks ML, you're a loyal trooper of a friend yourself! Good luck with your friends, it's always nice to introduce people who might get on anyway. We're off to see the baby who got a move on and appeared about 11 last night.
Julie - thanks for that; I have taken to mixing some yogurt in with her food - she likes it very much - to offset any ill-effects of the antibiotics, so I may continue anyway.

Anonymous said...

I've heard too many stories about French doctors interfering in child birth to think that there's nothing odd going on. Birth is a natural process. It should be allowed to progress in as natural a manner as possible.

Lucy said...

Thanks Jonathan, that's interesting. We weren't able to see them, because they were still not really well enough, though I did have a chat with her on her phone in her room - one of the French system's upsides. Now, 24 hours on, she's still having painful contractions, which seems odd and presumably a result of the stuff they filled her with to bring on the birth. One just can't tell how necessary the induction was; the duty gynacologist shrugged and said, well you're small, your partner's not large, not surprising the baby's small... she had the feeling it was all a bit arbitrary. But, the worst case scenario could have been serious danger to the baby... who knows? At least her partner was able to be there.

Jan said...

Excellent post.
I think I can guess how you felt when your student returned.
I've worried betwween classes about folk in my writing classes; more often than not, they're fine when next you meet.

Lucas said...

The return of a student you fear you have lost is a reassuring and gratifying moment.

Lucy said...

Jan and Lucas, good to hear from other teachers of adults. The fact that they're there because they want to be is almost entirely a blessing, but then you do have to keep them there!

Jean said...

I almost wonder if it was the fact that you really cared about whether she came back that somehow reached your student and brought her back to the class. I seem to be getting less sceptical about such possibilities these days.

leslee said...

Glad to hear that your student came back. You never know what's really going on with people. I think I tend to expect people to behave rationally and make rational decisions and I'm always surprised when they don't! But in matters of the heart especially...

(Isn't chocolate very bad for dogs?? I always found cheese to be a good pill medium. My dogs had ear fur just like cocker spaniels - I sympathize.)

Anonymous said...

Great post, glad your student returned. Your concern and worry is the baggage that comes with being a good teacher.

OY!...for the mother and her baby. i'm not a mother and i believe i will live a longer life for having ignored doctors...but that whole gestation and birthing thing is another thing altogether. However, i'm a big believer in listening carefully, meditating on it (i call it prayer) then going with one's instincts. If your friend trusts her doctors, well...that's kinda that. two cents about matchmaking:
give them both a nudge, but with straight-talk, telling them both that you are talking to the other and suggesting that they explore the possibilities...and suggest that they try to be brave grownups instead of teenagers about the reservations they are feeling...but with affection and humor, of course.

Gee...i've been long winded this morning...obviously putting off the tasks i should be doing!

Lucy said...

Jean,Leslee and Zephyr,thanks.
I think the student had every intention of coming back but it was probably nicer for her to be spared the comparing papers,what-did-you-get bit, and I was able to speak to her individually more easily.
We've just been to see Iso and baby, who really is gorgeous, and they seem fine. The possiblity of stillbirth is so horrendous I guess that one would probably do anything to avoid it, and all's well that ends well.
Chocolate is bad for dogs in anything like a large dose, but this is very small amounts of low cocoa stuff so I think it's OK.
I'm still reflecting on matchmaking; I suppose there's a danger if you go in too heavy-handed people might react negatively, but apart from anything I think they could be good friends, but they need a bit of encouragement.

Zhoen said...

People make their own choices and live with them.

So hard to see them make choices that seem harder than needs be, harmful, timid, counterproductive ones, but worse to try to chose for others. I would not want anyone choosing for me.

Another C met a friend of mine, made me promise to send him her phone number if she broke up with the guy she was seeing. When she did, I left his email where she could find it. They are married 5 years now. But she thought I would be upset if I found out she'd been writing to him - perfect.

Bee said...

OK. On the interfering thing...STOP IT! Not the intefering, the fear that you are doing it. I know it's not a good thing to try to control what goes on for other people but you are my mothers sister and so there must be something similar happening on this issue. She worries that she doesn't want to be one of those intefering judgemental mothers. I LOVE her opinion. I think she is wise and of all people has more knowledge of who I am to be qualified to give her opinion. She loves me and respects my choice if I ignore her advice (aren't I lucky!). I want her to be more intefering! I value her judgement.

You, I think, dear aunt, are also very wise and are not of the pushy intefering type. I think perhaps, done in the right way, with enough spaciousness and a bit of humour, your 'intefering' could be a good thing.