In my last post, I wrote about proposed changes to French education. What I didn’t say is that we’ve also been considering some changes for our kids, including the possibility of a private bilingual school for next year. So earlier this week, at the time appointed for the incoming first graders’
evaluation “group play date,” we went and visited one. Here’s how it went…
– – –
“Adele Frost?” calls a friendly looking teacher. Adele shuffles behind my leg and chews on the sleeve of her blouse. “Est-ce qu’il y a une petite Adele?”
“Oui! Here she is!” I call out cheerfully, hoping my upbeat tone will ease Adele’s sudden attack of nerves. I nudge Adele gently forward as all eyes turn in our direction. A line of mostly-smiling five-year-olds has formed in front of the teacher, sporting sweet French dresses, Jacadi sweaters and polished leather shoes.
“Viens ici, Adele,” the teacher says encouragingly, giving her a patient and indulgent smile. Adele’s face crumples into a frown and thick tears well in her eyes.
“Noooooooo!” she howls, employing much of the power of her well-developed lungs. “She looks mechante, Mommy! You said they would be nice.” Other mothers avert their eyes, silently grateful that at that moment, they’re not me.
I kneel down and pull Adele onto my lap, cooing softly but firmly in her ear while trying (under watchful eyes) to deploy the right parenting approach. “But the teachers are nice, sweetie. And look how happy all the kids look. You’re just going to go play for a little while and see if you like it. Mommy will be waiting here when you come out,” I say, straining for a calm, nonchalant tone.
“But I don’t like it! I don’t want to go to this school! None of my friends are heeeeere,” Adele replies, as juicy tears streak down her reddened cheeks and tiny pools puddle beneath her nose.
I quickly assess my options:
a. Respect Adele’s discomfort and honor her stated desire not to attend this admittedly intimidating play session, thereby tanking her shot at admission and the possibility of bilingual schooling for another year. In short, we bail.
b. Acknowledge her feelings but insist that she’ll be fine and once she actually gets in the room, she will enjoy herself. (This, I know, is what will happen, and is therefore what I believe to be the right course. This assumes, however, that I stay in full control of my own emotions and handle this with great skill. Ahem. If I push too hard, she’ll balk. She’s a kid who needs to think things are her idea.)
And then there’s option c. where I head straight to last-resort parenting: bribing, threatening and generally losing my cool. I hear myself say things like,”Okay Adele, if you don’t go in, that’s your choice, but we’re going straight home and we’re not going to do anything fun.” And, gathering myself a bit, “Now honey, I know this feels a little scary, but has Mommy ever left you someplace bad?”
Adele considers this. “Yes! You have, Mommy! Remember that time you took me to the Centre de Loisirs and the teachers were so meeeean.”
Mmm. Okay, she had me there. (Guilt, guilt…think, Paige, think!) By now, the group is shuffling toward the classroom, ready to draw pictures of les bonnehommes, show off their pre-reading skills and generally dazzle their future teachers.
Adele doesn’t budge.
Precious minutes tick away. I feel my throat constrict as I pull the last trick out of my (desperate parenting) hat. “Adele,” I whisper in her ear, “If you go in, Mommy will let you have chocolate after.” She pauses, considering my offer, no doubt sensing my desperation. Finally, she shakes her head and begins pulling me toward the door.
Okay, forget it, I think. This isn’t the end of the world. We’re happy with the kids’ school and love our neighborhood. No need to improve on an already good thing, right?
And then, out of the blue, appears a sweet smiling woman who kneels in front of Adele and recites (in flawless English) all the fun they’re going to have. “We’ll listen to a story! And draw pictures and sing a song! Won’t you come with me Adele?” she asks, her hand outstretched.
And then, as if by magic, Adele’s face shifts and she offers the teacher one of her most-winning smiles. “Okay!” she says brightly, releasing me from her grasp. She takes the teacher’s hand and heads happily toward the classroom. The teacher turns and gives me a reassuring nod. As I watch them saunter away down the hall, Adele turns back to wave, “Bye, Mommy!” she calls as they disappear into the room.
I take a deep breath and try to gather myself, scanning the now empty room for any witnesses to this surprising turn of events. With an hour to kill before pick-up time, Cole (who has played the role of star big brother in this little drama) and I head to a nearby cafe and treat ourselves to two steaming mugs of chocolate chaud. As we review the events that have just transpired, we both just shake our heads. When it comes to five-year-olds, you just never know.
An hour later, we return to pick up Adele and find her smiling broadly in the arms of one of the teachers. She bounds toward me, with all her characteristic vigor. “It was SO FUN, MOMMY! I loooove it here!” she says.
And despite it all, I know she means every word.