A circus of sorts: the dyspraxic dance to juggle tricky tasks

A circus?“, you ask? “Has misspraxic given up on her internship in real estate and joined the Moulin Rouge instead?

Champs Elysees

Not yet, although I do feel like I am performing some sort of circus act. The amount of intensive tasks as a stagiaire réceptionniste (receptionist intern) is pushing my capacity to multi-task to the absolute limit. Imagine a trapeze artist who has to perform complex acrobatic sequences whilst singing, juggling, dodging rings of fire, and then add a large and daunting audience to that. I don’t think I would cope in the circus, and have a lot of respect for those who do!

I am still struggling to operate the office phones efficiently. I have to flick the switches in my brain instantly between all the different steps of the process: noting down all the caller’s details / putting them on hold / scanning through a long document of colleagues’ phone numbers to find the right one / transfering the call. I very often press Transfer when I mean to press Retake, and more often than not I don’t hear all the details completely. There is a pressure to race against time, so that the caller is not left hanging on hold for too long.

Eiffel tower
A wander up to the top of the Arc de Triomph one evening.

Today, for example, I received an urgent call from a landlady who couldn’t access something – it had something to do with a car park. I didn’t catch the name of the property even after asking her to please repeat. I keep screwing up my eyes so tight to try to understand, but I feel incredibly exasperated when I simply don’t.  I feel responsable after making even a small mistake, or bétises as they are called here, and this exacberates the tight pain I feel in my chest, as though the phone cord is tying me up in knots.

During lunch hours and afternoons I man the reception desk alone. It is easy to feel out of depth and for panic to set in. I do think, however, that it is just a case of getting to know the business and colleagues better, because I have been here for less than two weeks after all. In theory, the more often I practise handling tricky phone situations, the calmer I should feel.

I completed my first full translation piece the other day. Unfortunately, I had to multi-task; focusing on the translation at the same time as manning the desk / looking up to say bonjour to anyone walking past / scanning important documents / welcoming the occasional client / making coffees / looking up unfamiliar property vocabulary. Meeting the deadline for the translation was a challenge because it was difficult to juggle all these distractions. People kept coming along to chase me up about it, and I felt increasingly inadequate!

drawing
Seven children to babysit? TIP: always carry emergency sketchbook!

Looking after the children in the evenings is a completely different kind of task. I still have to concentrate, but I can be more natural, more myself. At the weekend I accompanied the family to the Bois du Bologne (Paris’ largest park) and the weather was lovely. Whilst people were playing sport, I played with the children in the playarea. I have to say that I don’t have much babysitting experience, so keeping tabs on seven children was a new one for me. I am finding it very fun, though – swerving through town on a scooter with the eldest son (luckily I didn’t end up in hospital!), creating elaborate stories to tell the little ones, and doing drawings with all the children.

The challenging side of being an au-pair is definitely the tasks which require good fine/gross motor skills and balance. Many people with dyspraxia tend to struggle with self-care tasks. I am looking after two very young children who need help with such tasks: getting in and out of the bath, drying themselves off, getting dressed, eating, brushing teeth etc… It is taking me time to learn the best way to hoist them out of the bath. I know I will get there in the end, though, and I am very glad to be with them.

Bisous et à bientôt !

-misspraxic

 

 

 

 

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Arrivée à Paris: settling into new routines

Bonsoir à tous,

I arrived safely in Paris last weekend, and have now been here a week. I took the Eurostar, and was full of nervous excitement for the duration of the journey. I kept opening and closing bags, zipping and unzipping pockets, constantly checking that nothing vital had been lost or forgotten. Fellow dyspraxics can probably relate, and after the phone-toilet-lampost-hill scenario now a month ago, I wasn’t taking any chances.

Montmartre 2
A studio at the Musée de Montmartre – my first visit to the artists’ quarter!

Last year, during the planning stage of my year abroad, I had almost ruled out the possibility of spending the French half of the year in Paris as I feared my struggles would deem me inadequate for an internship in such a fast-moving place. I changed my mind through listening to the advice of those around me – “you can do it, you’ll love it”, they said. I believed them, because privately I loved the idea of living in the Ville des Lumieres and being in close proximity to renowned musées d’art and cafés around every corner. Most of all, though, I anticipated a completely new challenge, which would contrast to my experiences at the school in Germany.

On my first day as an intern at the real estate advisory company, I was greeted with a flood of information. Within minutes I was introduced to the receptionnist with whom I would share the front reception desk, handed my guide sheets, and given a series of forms to return to Ressources Humaines (Human Resources). I also needed to send my photo to someone ASAP. I didn’t catch the name.

Before my first hour had ended, the other receptionnist had given me a tour of the office and its various departments. I was introduced to about a hundred new people, and my first worrying thought was this: how on earth am I going to remember a hundred new names and faces? I retained one name, which I suppose was was un bon effort, and certainly better than none at all.

When the brain’s capacity is reached, by means of defence mechanism we often just stop taking in any more information. But of course this wasn’t an ideal time for my brain to play this trick on me. I needed to clear space for yet more information – how to operate the phones and transfer calls, how the scanner and photocopying machines work, how to sort through post (actually using the letter opener efficiently was my biggest challenge). Following this, a challenge arrived in the form of something many of you probably do without a second thought: making coffees. I wish I could say the same; that I too were able to make coffees without thinking.

The truth is that I struggle to make coffees even with intense, focused thinking. I need to repeat the instructions several times and regularly in order that I retain them. As I don’t like the drink at all anyway, there hasn’t been much of an opportunity for me to master this particular skill. It might seem like a silly thing to be proud of, but I do feel satisfied to have managed to make several coffees today by myself, and to have carried them to the clients sans spillage. Touchwood. I better not have jinxed it!

The phone lines are extremely quiet, so I find myself being pulled further into the desk, as close as physically possible to the phone box, to try to understand what is being requested. I screw my eyes up tight in order to help me concentrate, but often this results in panic, especially after saying pardon, je n’ai pas compris (sorry, I don’t follow) three times. It certainly will be interesting to see how I cope alone when the receptionnist goes on holiday in two weeks time…! I might need a lot of luck.

My colleagues in the office are all very friendly and smile warmly each time they pass by the reception desk, which helps to put me at ease when I do make mistakes. I have even met a German lady and have to deliver the post to her each morning – exchanging even a few words with her helps to bring back the contact to the German language and people, which I already miss.

To continue on a positive note, I have surprisingly not got lost (yet)! I managed to take the Métro to and from the office without too much confusion – the more often I take the journey, the easier it should become… in theory! I worried I would accidentally travel in the opposite direction, as I have done many times on the London Underground, and again on the Heidelberg trams in August. Looking out for specific road names or objects in certain fixed places – i.e memorable shop fronts – helps me figure out my approximate location, especially when my friend Google is unavailable.

The family whose children I am looking after are absolutely lovely, and I am enjoying being around little ones again – their energy never fails to put a smile on my face. I will give you an update on this, as well as some other aspects of my life in Paris in my next post.

Bon weekend alors !

misspraxic

 

PS – Today I was sent to the nearest boulangerie to buy croissants and pains au chocolat for some clients. The scene in which fashion magazine assistant Andrea (Anne Hathaway) is sent to fetch coffees, skirts, and a number of other items ASAP in the film The Devil Wears Prada sprang to mind. I have felt a bit like Andrea this week!

 

 

The blind leading the blind: my trip home

Hi everyone,

I have been back in the UK for about two weeks.

I flew from Dusseldorf into a provincial airport, and took a train back home from there. On the train, I happened to be sitting next to a delightfully warm elderly woman called Doris*, who was longing for some company – “nobody would talk to me on the way up”, she reflected glumly.

On this day, I felt very fortunate to have Doris’ company too, rather than being entirely left to my thoughts during the journey. Fellow dyspraxics might share my tendency to overthink. My mind was processing on overdrive: experiences from Germany still whirring around. I think it takes me longer than most people to process one experience before I can move onto another. Doris filled my mind with names, dates, and details, and oddly enough, that’s what I needed on that day.

My temporary neighbour was taking a cross-country expedition from her home in Leeds to Plymouth to visit family. Or was it Penzance? Or was it actually that she lived in Plymouth, and had just visited Leeds? She was losing memory and struggling with the fact. Dyspraxic waves often leave me feeling unsettled and ungrounded, so I could relate to this woman’s unease to a certain extent – she kept misplacing her phone, and later her train tickets, in a very large handbag, and this distressed her. “Oh come on, Doris!” she cursed herself. I tried to calm her, as I would myself. So in this sense, perhaps it was a “blind leading the blind” scenario. Doris kept generously offering me parts of her picnic – ‘spare’ Twix bars, fruit salads, bottled water… As our onlookers smirked, I was aware of the lack of connection between others in the coach. Although of course, back in Germany, there was 90% of the time an unspoken expectation of distance and silence on the trains. Might this be a cultural difference?

Dog on BeachBeing reunited with family and dogs was a relief and a comfort, as was the familiarity of my bedroom, after seven months in Germany.

In less than a week I will take the train to Paris to start my second placement – I will be an administrative assistant intern at a real estate company. This will definitely be a jump from my comfort zone, and to make the approaching experience even more of a challenge, I will be an aupair in my spare time, looking after four French children. Despite people reassuring me not to worry about it, I feel anxious about what is to come. It feels like an onerous responsibility to be looking after someone else’s children, so it is probably understandable to fear I will accidentally do something wrong.

Background noise and an already slower auditory processing speed than most can affect my concentration, so it will be interesting to see how I manage the pressures of a French-speaking office environment. On the upside, I know I can be very creative, and have an eye for detail, so I can only hope these qualities will be in my favour in the months to come.

I will update you all at some point after I have settled in.

cliffs
Getting some fresh sea air up on the cliffs

 

A bientôt mes lecteurs,

misspraxic

 

*I changed the name of my fellow passsenger to maintain confidentiality.

Karneval and final reflections on a German experience: Halt Pohl!

In the last few lessons with Class 5, Lena* has been asking me the same questions: “When do you leave?”, “Will you be here for my birthday?”, “Will you come to Karneval with us? Are you dressing up?” “Maybe…“, I reply. “But you’re a teacher!” they chant.

It was a coincidence that Hana* from Class 6 sat next to me on the bus home from school the other day. She was asking similar questions: “But why do you have to leave? Will you come back and see us? Do you have Whatsapp? Can I have your Whatsapp?”

karneval-at-school
Karneval performance by years 5 and 6 on Altweiber-Donnerstag – “Old women’s day”

For those who are unfamiliar with the tradition, the carnival period started last Thursday (the week before Lent). The children had Thursday afternoon until the following Wednesday off school. Because the end of my placement coincided with carnival, my last day was on Thursday, known as Altweiber-Donnerstag, and it was full of mixed feelings. I prepared an Abschieds-Frühstuck (goodbye breakfast) – fresh bread rolls, Cheddar cheese (I’d managed to find some in Aldi the week before!) plus some Marmite – for the teachers of staffroom 5 to try. Although I wasn’t able to say goodbye to everyone due to the busy carnival season and others’ prior commitments, my last day was very happy. The children performed an impressive series of dances and songs in their many colourful carnival costumes, and the carnival party felt a party celebrating the end of my assistantship. It marked the fact I had seen the experience through to the end, despite the challenges and knocks along the way.

 

venn-karnevalkonzert
“Jecke Friedach”: The Prinzenpaar / prince and princess on stage

Following this, on Friday evening my choir was singing at the local carnival night at a Gasthof (pub) in my village. After watching the dance troupes, brass bands, and stand-up comedian (whose jokes I am sure were brilliant if you were fluent in both dialect and humour) all take to the stage, it was soon our turn to perform. We sung my favourite song in the local dialect (Kölsch) – here’s an excerpt if you’re interested… can anyone understand it!? Luckily one of the choir members volunteered to be my Kölsch Translator!

Et jitt kei Wood

Bear in mind we swapped Köln (Cologne) with Gladbach (Mönchengladbach). I felt so happy to be muddling through the words together on the stage with my friends. I knew this would be my last time singing with the choir for a least a few years, so I enjoyed simply being with them in that moment. The evening ended up being the most fun I had had in a long time.

kolle-alaaf-2
Kölle Alaaf! (The “Schlachtruf” or call for Cologne.)

I was invited by my lovely teacher friend to spend Saturday evening in Cologne with her and some friends. I have to say I was not prepared for the throng of people flooding the streets: in every direction there were unicorns and pirates. Before I knew it, I found myself trapped in a tight crowd of people chanting carnival songs, many of them already inebriated. kolle-alaaf

Unfortunately, I challenged myself too much here – the situation set me into panic because the crowds and noise level were overwhelming. Finding my way back to the central station via side streets was not without its stress, so I would recommend staying in a group at all times, or choosing quieter times and locations to experience carnival if you know crowds are not your favourite thing. Following that experience, I decided to keep out of the way of the chaos in Cologne on Rosenmontag (traditionally the highlight of the carnival period).

 

 

karneval-prinzenpaar
The Prinzenpaar – the carnival prince and princess, which reminded me of my childhood experience of being a princess at carnival.

Veilchendienstag (Shrove Tuesday) was the last carnival day, and incidentally my final day in Germany too. Before meeting up with a few friends to say farewell, I took a walk through the city centre, where a carnival parade was starting at exactly 13.11. I waited in the old market square, wondering if I were in the right place. I got talking to a lady who was anticipating the procession too, and she insisted that I follow her to the best viewing spot. Here, we picked up sweets as each carnival float went by, chanting “Halt Pohl!” – interestingly the words used as a call vary in each town and even district, making this a regional and local tradition.

eulen
Eulen – owls hitting the streets of Moenchengladbach

My unique German experience ended on a high with Karneval. In a nutshell, from my time in Germany I will certainly miss the children, the staff, the strangers, the friends, the neighbours, the volunteers, the choir… the conversations, the bridge between generations, and the intercultural connection. In short, the solidarity, despite political goings-on. It was a privilege to have been able to get to know the young people and their stories from war-torn countries, but the downside of this was having to absorb and process their trauma, which still haunts me. The smiles and warmth of their final embraces, however, will stay with me forever.

gladbach-umarmt-die-welt
“Gladbach umarmt die Welt” – Gladbach hugs the world. I was touched by the international gesture of a small community festival.

I will write again in the next few days to tell you about my journey back home, and my preparations for moving to Paris – it’s happening in just under two weeks!

As I have finished the first part of my year abroad (I still find that hard to believe as I write this), I want to say a big thank you to those who have been reading the blog and given their support.

Halt Pohl and love,

misspraxic