So, last Thursday my three-year old started school.
My three-year old. Started school.
Okay, there’s no need for me to be dramatic about it. It’s just nursery school. He’ll go 4 times per week for 3 hours a day. And yet in the weeks leading up to his first day, I felt as anxious as a mom sending her kid off to college. Thinking about it, I see two reasons behind my nervousness.
First of all, I’ve been fretting about what school to send LK to since, well, before he was born. I went to the same school from kindergarten through 12th grade, and I loved it. My school was a small, warm community that had truly creative teachers who knew how to make students think. To this day, I feel the effects of this education, particularly with respect to my love of literature and writing.
In the French educational system, the emphasis is not on independent thought. Creativity is generally discouraged. And I have never, ever heard a French person say that he or she loved school. From what I understand, school is something to be endured. Teachers motivate through negative reinforcement; that is, they try to shame students into performing better. This ideology could not be further from my experience and it’s nothing I want for my children. My husband, who attended a wonderful German-American school in Berlin, agrees.
We opted for a bilingual Montessori school in the hopes that the Montessori philosophy of “self-directed learning” will override the French cookie-cutter approach to learning. But still…I’ve heard stories of young children being called “null” (nothing) by their teachers after making a mistake and of kids that are stymied by the idea of formulating their own opinion in a school context. (This from friends with kids in the system and friends that have taught or tutored young French students). So, even though I have confidence in the Montessori philosophy, I remain slightly worried about Frenchiness creeping into LK’s education. I’ll go ballistic if anyone in a position of authority ever calls him ‘null.’ That’s the first reason I was nervous about LK starting school.
The second reason I was nervous was because I didn’t know what to wear on his first day.
Hey – don’t laugh. These things are important in Paris. I learned that early on, when LK was just a tot and I took him to play in the sandbox without getting a pedicure first. That was humiliating. Let me tell you, French moms are not like American moms. I don’t care how young your baby is, or how little sleep you’ve gotten: if you’re in public, you better look good. There’s no rolling out of bed, throwing on sweats and taking the kids to school with your hair all over the place. And you don’t wear sneakers unless you’re jogging (ha!) or they’re Converse high-tops and you’re in the Marais.* It just doesn’t happen.
I changed my clothes three times on that first morning and got all panicky when I couldn’t find a decent pair of shoes. By the time, I left the house (wearing make-up, dressed in a faux-African print dress, heeled strappy sandals, and a light brown cape), I felt ridiculously tarty. But when I got to school, it was clear I made the right choice. All of the parents dropping off their kids looked as if they had been invited to a late summer picnic whose dress code was “casual chic.” Only nannies wore jeans – and since I am frequently mistaken for a nanny (definitely a subject for another post), I was glad that made myself stand out as a parent.
So, now that LK and I both have two days under our belt with this new school, we’re both feeling pretty good about it. LK is happy. The teachers seem sweet and caring. The parents are friendly enough for being French.** And I have a good excuse to hit the stores for some chic Fall clothes.
*Case in point: On Friday, I took the kids to the playground at the Place des Vosges and observed that not one single mother perched on the edge of the sandpit was wearing sneakers. The mom next to me was wearing black patent leather pumps, another wore camel-colored suede boots and a mini-dress, and yet another wore pointy-toed hot-pink suede sling backs. No joke. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I was wearing scuffed black ballerina flats.
**This is not meant to be an insult to French people. Americans are far more open and friendly with strangers than the French. That’s just the way it is. Only one mom introduced herself to me, and I startled another mother by introducing myself and asking about her child (this was at pick-up). But the general air was of friendliness.