I play a game with my students at school. I call it ‘Conversation Questions’ and the point is to get them thinking and talking in English. Some of the questions are real stumpers like, “If you could be any animal, what would you be?” or “How would you describe your best friend?” But my personal favorite is, “If you could ask God one question, what would it be?”
In the most atheist country in the world, where the majority of young people don’t know about God, much less believe in him, this one little question can be tricky.
From my seventh to my ninth graders, answers have spanned from, “What will my future be?” “Am I pretty?” and, amid the laughter of his friends, “Who is my future wife?”
Today, seventh grader Lenka drew the question from our conversation box. She leaned back in her chair with a half-cocked smirk and quizzical eyes. Her girlfriends whispered suggestions to her in Czech – one I understood was, “Jak se máš?” which is informal Czech for, “How are you?” Kinda like, “Hey God, what’s up? How’re you feeling today?”
Finally, Lenka sat up straight and gave me a square look.
“I would ask him how old he is,” she said.
Took this picture at a train station near Karelštejn Castle, but it seems oddly to fit this story well. Camels, am I right?
“I feel bad,” I said, putting my books down on the teacher’s desk in the ninth grade classroom. “I promised some seventh graders I’d unlock their classroom door but then they disappeared. Poor things are probably waiting in a hall somewhere.”
None of my seventeen students said anything. I looked up at the unusually quiet class. Everyone seemed suspiciously well-behaved.
“Well,” I said, coughing slightly to clear the tickle in my throat, “We should get started. *Honza, will you close the door please?”
(*All students names have been changed, partly for privacy and partly because it’s simpler for me to pick the names that are easier to spell).
I coughed again, a little more purposefully this time.
He just looked at me.
When I made a move to close the door myself and he jumped from his seat.
“No, you don’t want to do that,” he said. I stood back and smiled.
“Why?” I asked. “What’s going on?”
Still no answers but a chorus of nervous giggles spread through the room like virus. Oh no.
“What did you do?” I asked, smiling cautiously. That’s when I noticed it.
I have this theory about birthdays: uneven numbers are the worst.
That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. Every year in which I’ve been an uneven age has been just awful, starting at 17 and crowning magnificently at 21. I have spent the last nine months saying, “Less than a year till you’re 22 and it’ll all be okay again.”
You wouldn’t believe me if I told you how hard this year has been. Not the stuff I complain about here on my blog like missing buses, falling down stairs in public, or getting conned out of five euros by a Romani ten minutes after landing in a foreign country. Not even playing ‘King of the Hill’ with that stupid spider in my bathroom and losing every time, thusly having to wash my hair in the sink downstairs (like, how long do I have to wait for this ridiculous arachnid to just die already?). That stuff all makes for great story fodder and to be honest, I don’t mind the misadventures.
I’m talking about the stuff that people don’t post about on facebook because it falls into the “major overshare” category. The stuff I have to wake my dad up for at 11 p.m. because this kind of catastrophe cannot be left till morning. The stuff that makes you cry all the way to work in the morning and all the way home, and then leaves you sitting on your bed staring out your window all night long during memorial day weekend because sleeping just doesn’t make sense anymore (and because it’s memorial day weekend so you don’t have to get up the next morning).
This is not a pity party – this is me saying, yup, I have those years too.