"Sensei Rebecca, are you married?"
The question caught me by surprise, especially as I was in the midst of teaching a lesson on the merits of the various kicks in Tang Soo Do. I stopped speaking and stared down at the speaker, a 7-year-old boy whose head barely comes to my waist. "Er --no," I said, taken a back by the question. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh. Last term you used to talk about your boyfriend all the time and this term you don't. That's what happens when people get married," he stated in a voice that implied that this was proven fact."What happened to your boyfriend?"
"I don't have one anymore." I did not like where this conversation was heading and so attempted to steer it back in the right direction. "Ok, I want you to give me ten front kicks on each leg. Concentrate on proper form. Remember, you are hitting the target with the ball of your foot, not your toes."
He was not to be deterred. He performed the first front kick, but continued his questions. "Why? Are you broken? My brother breaks up with girls because they are broken."
I wasn't even going to touch that one. Why me? I thought. Why didn't I get the child who asked where babies come from? At least then I could tell him to ask his mum. "It's a long and complicated story. One that I don't want to talk about. And sometimes people break up because they no longer like each other. Not because they are 'broken'. Come on, that was only 2 kicks. And bring them up. You can kick higher than that. No cheating!" I had long since learned that, at least where 7 year-olds were concerned, saying 'It's a long story' was not enough to prevent further questioning.
"Oh." He fell silent and I thought that I had finally succeeded. We worked on improving his form for a few minutes before he surprised me again. "Will you be my girlfriend? I want to tell everyone that my girlfriend is a ninja. And I want you to show them your ninja moves" Ah, so the truth finally emerges. He then proceeded to spend the next five minutes jumping around the gym room, yelling in (his version of) Japanese, attempting flying kicks and rolling around on the floor mats. I am so glad that I don't have children/have to interact with them for more than 2 hours at a time. I swear I would die of exhaustion.
I teach three children all under the age of 13, all of whom do not quite understand the concept of going back to school after college to obtain a master's degree. At this age, they can't grasp why someone, presumably in a reasonably sound state of mind, would want to go to school voluntarily. Furthermore, they don't believe that my field of study 'International Relations' is a real subject since, as the girl told me at our first meeting "They don't teach that at my school and it sounds stupid."
When I turned up for our third class dressed in my running kit (black spandex running tights and a black long-sleeved running shirt) since I had been forced to run from Middle East class on the Strand to where I hold classes, they realized that I had been holding out on them. I, they unanimously decided, was a ninja. My story of being a student of 'International Relations' was a very poor cover-up for the more exciting truth. Apparently, I hadn't been able to tell them the truth because 'the secret ninja code prevents it' and I would have to kill them. Despite my protests to the contrary (and purposely leaving my IR books out for them to see), they have maintained this impression of me. I suppose that there are always worse things to be considered by one's students.
Unfortunately, the mystique surrounding ninjas (and, subsequently, myself) seems to have attracted the attention of my youngest student. Hence today's conversation about my relationship status. Sadly, I had to decline his offer of romance. (He did not take it well: "You have no excuse not to!") But he will get over it. (Further investigation revealed that he has a 'thing' for his teachers - I am not the first one to receive such a proposal.)