"Letting Go" in Paris

My son learned to ride a two-wheel bike yesterday. He’s six now, high time for this particular milestone and since this was shaping up to be a week of “firsts,” we agreed: He was ready. 
He’d started first grade two days earlier at his new “big kid” school, filled with all the confidence he could muster. After five months at our local maternelle (preschool + K) he had a decent level of French under his belt and a handful of pals also headed to the new school.

The move from maternelle to CP (cours preparatoire, the French equivalent to 1st grade) is a big deal in France, much like our transition from preschool to K. And, as is often the case, it was tougher on the parents than on our excited six-year-olds.

Monday morning, we shuffled into the school, studying the new surroundings where our children would spend so many of their waking hours. It’s housed in an old, typically Parisian building with large light-filled windows and a broad polished wood staircase with a scrolled iron banister. Parents and kids filled the courtyard and listened anxiously to the school directrice as she called out names — the pivotal moment that would assign our kids to one of the two CP classes. 
One by one, Cole’s friends’ names rang out. “Paul, Colette, Emma, Giovanni…” Preparing for the worst, I gripped Cole’s hand and swapped nervous looks with another mother. “Cole Frost,” she said finally, leading him into the clutch of his little pals and up the sweeping staircase to their new classroom.

As an American parent, I’m often acutely aware of the differences between me and my Parisian counterparts. But on this day, I felt none of that. All I could see and feel was our common bond — our intense desire for our children’s happiness and how painful it can be to let them go. I shared a brief hug and sigh of relief with another mom as we left the school building. “Bon courage,” she said as we parted ways, both trying hard not to get teary.

For Cole, day one was a big success. I got a happy, if brief, account of his day, centering on his excitement about having “his own desk” and two shiny math books tucked in his Asterix backpack. “I have homework, Mommy!” he said proudly, revealing with utter clarity that a new stage was upon us.

By Wednesday (a no-school day for kids in France), we were ready to tackle the bike challenge.
With snacks, water and a pair of pliers in my bag, we pedaled our way through the narrow streets toward the Champ des Mars, the green expanse of grass and wide dusty paths that surround the Eiffel Tower. 
We found a broad stretch of gravel that seemed like a good place to start. The kids busied themselves in piles of fallen leaves while I got to work on the slightly rusted training wheels. I wrenched them off and held the bike as Cole climbed on. 

I steadied him at first, my hand gripping the back of his seat as I ran alongside his bright red Trek. I couldn’t help but see the metaphor as he found his balance and pulled away from me. “Let go, Mommy! Let go!” he yelled excitedly as he bobbed and swerved on his first solo ride. I’m trying, honey, I wanted to say. And that’s just what I am learning to do.