The crazy Tweedles really messed with my head. They complained if he cried, if I picked him up, if I hugged him for too long or carried his suitcase. They bitched when he started writing his name, telling me I was pushing him and that he was doing it wrong anyway. They didn’t want to hear about how he shone, about his interests or achievements. They didn’t know him, and they didn’t care. He didn’t conform, and so he was wrong.
The pair of them took insincerity to a whole new level. In public, they preached God’s love and how good it was to be saved. With a straight face. In private, they passed malicious comments about the children in their care, talked down to them, completely failed to understand them.
They were racist snobs. Tweedle-Dumber, about one of the families: “They’re not actually that bad… for coloureds.” Lovely. They started many sentences with, “I’m not a racist, but…”
When you hear those words, look out for white sheets and the lynching tree – they’re never far behind. They thought they were the world’s greatest mothers, while their own children were some of the most unlikeable kids I’ve ever met.
Two-faced doesn’t even begin to describe them. And it was their tone of voice that confused me. I believed it all, because they sounded so sweet and sincere. They could make the most humiliating insult seem like heartfelt advice from a caring friend. God, I fell for it all. I’m so sorry about that now. I put Steven through nearly two years of hell, because I was too naive to realise that some people are just mean.
When I heard they were studying Early Childhood Education (yeah, turns out neither of them was actually qualified as a teacher, at all), I decided I’d love to do it too. I enjoyed seeing Steven learn, it was exciting to watch him soak it all up. And I really loved spending time with him and other children his age. Teaching seemed like a good fit for me. I joined them on their course, and I did well. Really well, in fact. I aced my exams and my projects were great. The Ugly Stepsisters didn’t like that one bit.
After receiving one of our projects back, Tweedle-Dumb said, “How could you get ninety percent? Ours are so much better. I mean, just look at it. I’d never give you ninety percent for that work. The lecturer doesn’t know what she’s doing.”
Their blatant rudeness hurt me, but I tried to ignore it. They sulked and sniped, and I stopped telling them how I was doing. I couldn’t believe that grown women could be so petty and jealous. Of me. It’s really funny.
I don’t know what possessed them, but once we’d finished studying, they offered me a teaching job. They’d managed to get rid of Miss Timid somehow, and took great delight in telling everybody what a terrible job she had done. I should have run a mile. I must have been stupid to think they wouldn’t do the same to me. But I believed I was in no position to turn down a job, and nearly a year of listening to them had fucked up my judgment solidly, anyway. So I said yes, and I was excited.
I thought it would be perfect. Doing what I loved, getting paid for it (very poorly), and being with Steven all day. It didn’t get any better than that. I was nervous, but motivated. I went in there with my beautiful theme posters and my weekly lesson plans straight out of the textbook, determined to be a better teacher than they were.
My first day was a disaster. It started off well enough, but descended into blood-spattered pandemonium. The morning went smoothly. Aunty Tracy (yep, the others had to make space for the new persona in my head) turned up and took control. She had a firm, teacherly voice, and she gave lots of hugs. The children liked me, I thought.
I was in charge of the little ones, some of them still in nappies. It was hard work – physically strenuous and emotionally draining. Besides flash cards and pencil grip correction, I did a fair bit of mopping up. Drool, poo, tears and red Mix-a-drink went everywhere. The job entailed crowd control, mostly, but we had fun. We sang songs, we did art, I taught shapes and colours, managing to get through the morning without killing anybody or inadvertently scarring them for life. I was encouraged – I could do this. I felt so good. Exhausted and sticky, but proud.
After lunch, everything turned to porridge. I was told to take the younger aftercare kids to the park up the road. There were about twelve of them. They lined up at the gate in pairs, and after ten minutes of lecturing them on road safety, we set off. In hindsight, I think it was a terrible idea to place the responsibility of a dozen two- to four-year-olds on the shoulders of a rookie on her first day – and off the premises, too. Actually, it’s a terrible idea to have anybody do that alone. But Tweedle-Dumber told me they did it every day and it would be a doddle, so off we went.
All was okay at first. We played a few games designed to tire them out, and then I let them go off to play on the swings and jungle gym. I needed eyes at the back of my head. They were everywhere, and they were loud. Terrified to lose somebody, I counted them constantly. I was refereeing an altercation between two small girls, when I heard a blood-curdling yell from the jungle gym. Little Christopher was lying on the ground screaming his head off. My knees went weak as I ran up to him and saw the blood pouring from his head. He had slipped off the jungle gym and had cut his forehead on a metal bar. To this day I can’t stand looking at those monstrous death traps – I get heart palpitations whenever I see children playing on them.