This piece was originally written when I was living in Beijing and started working at an international school as a first grade teacher, some time in the Fall of 2012. It has been edited from the original version.
I’ve had a very interesting first few months teaching at an international school in Beijing. Like any place where one is in constant contact with tiny children (who often have vastly different world views from you due to differences in age and upbringing), it is hard to go through a day without something unusual happening to you or at least near you.
Many of my tiny friends love to play pretend. It kind of comes with the territory in an elementary school, but I’m going to be honest here: playing make-believe is still one of my favorite things ever. My first grade friend Armen, for example, loves to play pretend, though mostly on his own. On a daily basis I can enjoy watching him reenact the entire storyline of Star Wars during recess; and I mean Episode I all the way to VI. (I feel more connected to these films than ever thanks to him.) And if you encouragingly ask him to explain what scene he is acting out, he looks at you suspiciously (probably coming to the conclusion that you are a dangerous, sneaky Sith), and he zips away down the running track, holding his invisible light saber at his side like a true Jedi warrior.
I also have many friends from my classroom who love nature. They love it so much that they are constantly bringing it into our classroom. And leaving it to crawl all over the room while they are off doing who knows what. From ants to snails to bugs to rocks to dirt, my classroom is ever in excess of the outdoors. I don’t often feel the urge to go outside these days; most of the playground is now on my classroom floor.
I won’t even get into kids who lick my hands, chew on the clothes I’m wearing and cough into my face or sneeze into our classroom books on a daily basis…that’s a whole other ball of wax I have to comes to grips with.
However, there is one odd thing that my kids do that grates on me more than it amuses me: their urge to eat really weird combinations of things. This urge has no bounds, be it age or race or creed. Everyone, and I mean everyone, whether they act on it or not, has had the impulse to try something bridging on disgusting…at least once.
But the odd food combinations aren’t what bother me, really. I can take my friend Linita topping her piece of sushi with a cookie and a large glob of yoghurt before she smushes it all into her mouth with a satisfied grin. I can handle little Banker drenching his stir fried noodles in soy sauce and ketchup and eating it like it’s the first meal he’s had in days. I don’t mind watching Raymond make a sandwich out of lasagne, boiled corn and cake. Bring on the weird.
The thing that gets to me is their obscene fascination with butter. And this is not the I-like-to-slather-my-bread-with-as-much-butter-as-possible kind of thing; this is more the I–like-to-eat-butter-straight-out-of-the-packet kind of obsession they all seem to have come lunch time.
Let me simplify their lunch routine: Fork. Butter. Eat. Gross.
My kids can’t seem to get enough of it. They take packets of butter from the condiment station by the handful. They try to sneak it out to recess. It’s the first thing they down at lunch time. And it’s not just a small handful of my kids. Moving almost in perfect synchronicity, I can look down the lunch table and watch as twenty out of thirty of my kids happily open their butter packets, stick their forks in and chow down. They are my little legion of Butter Eaters.
When they finally realized how much this grossed me out, it only spurned them on, and so for two months now, I have been faced with the constant picture of kids chewing butter to their heart’s content and smiling at me with their butter-stained teeth…they have shown no sign of stopping.
You gotta love first-graders.