Sunday, February 04, 2007

Life with Tess...up and down, back and forth

Two visits to school separated by three months time. Each time Beth arrives at noon to pick up Colm and bring him home. Each time Beth catches a glimpse of Tess outside in recreation.
The first one:
Tess is sitting alone on the teeter totter. All around her, kids are running about, loosely knit together in knots of three, four, five. Tess is solitary and silent in the center of the yard. Suddenly she gets up and walks away from the teeter totter, her purpose seems unclear and there appears no one at the end of the line she is following. Behind her, the teeter totter has already been quickly claimed by two children. It is suddenly a focal point of energetic play.

The second one:
Tess is standing in the middle of the yard but you can barely see her as she is surrounded by a group of kids, mostly girls. Everyone is chatting and touching each others clothes and hair. Tess is talking sometimes. When she isn't talking she is smiling and reaching out with her hands, taking up a sleeve or a lock of hair.

From a parent's perspective such voyeuristic glimpses into the life of one's own child are alternately painful and comforting to the point of bringing tears to your eyes.

We adjusted Tess' school schedule slightly about three weeks ago. The new arrangement allows her to come home at noon on Fridays (the same time we pick up Colm). The decision was prompted by a couple of considerations. On the one hand, Beth and I had begun to observe what looked like a certain level of fatigue setting in with Tess. She goes from 9 -4 Mon, Tues, Thurs, Friday. Colm always comes home at noon which initially was sometimes difficult for Tess because she occasionally caught a glimpse of Beth arriving or leaving and would be upset by that. She's been over that for some time now, but still there have been signals from Tess that it's all a bit much. We've wondered if any of it could be attributed to her teachers style. He is a very nice man who is, I think, earnest and professional. His demeanor is a bit standoffish however, especially when contrasted with Colm's teacher who is the classice preschool animatrice, smiling, always crouched down and eyeing the kids from their level, sing songy voice that articulates every sound and every word as if it were a delectable treat.
Tess' teacher by contrast speaks over their heads, both literally and figuratively, he seems to regard the children as interesting little specimens. Personally, I find him among that group of French speakers who require a little extra effort on my part to understand them. He speaks softly, without very much emphasis, and fairly rapidly. I imagine that Tess has difficulty understanding him too.
Wednesdays off are huge. But a month ago after hearing Tess complain more frequently about going to school we decided to give her the choice of coming home early on Friday. She took the offer without any hesitation, and so far it seems to working just fine.
Then in the last few days a new development...Tess, out of the blue, announced at the table that she didn't want to go back to the United States. Beth and I looked at each other and then at her waiting for the rest.
"If I go back to the United States I won't be able to play with Pauline anymore."
Tess seemed genuinely troubled by the thought of leaving her classmate at the end of the year. Beth and I were encouraged. Tangible evidence that school here retains for Tess a genuinely positive value.
Yesterday, after taking the kids home from school (Friday). The kids and I went to the playground in Lege to give Beth a little time to get ready for company that evening. While we were at the playground, I noticed kids filing out of the public library just across the street. It was Tess' class. I made eye contact with her teacher who was leading them; he smiled at me. Then Tess saw them. She bolted from the swingset and ran to the sidewalk, stopped and waved vigrously as if singnalling goodbye to a ship sailing from port. Several of her classmates recognized her and stopped, seemingly bewildered by the sight of one of their own on the other side of the street. The file was momentarily brought to a halt as they waved back. Then they were brought back into formation and resumed the walk back to school.
Tess ran back to me, a big smile on her face. "Pauline waved," she said. "So did Lilu and Margaux but Matisse didn't."
"He probably didn't see you," I said, but I needn't have bothered trying to explain, because Tess had already moved on to the swings and was pumping her legs furiously trying to get some air between her and the ground.


Anonymous Brenna said...

This is such a sweet story. I can't imagine what it must be like for her to go to school in such a "strange" environment. I'm glad though that she is making friends and said she didn't want to come back. This is such a unique experiece for you all and it's so exciting to hear all of this. I'm sure as the year goes on she will have more friends. She has always been a outgoing child. At least around me. Shy at first, but once she knows you there is no stopping her! It's great. I'm interested in seeing how much the kids remember about being in France after a few year or even when they are 20. Hope you are all doing well. I'm getting ready for a performance (The Faculty Concert) next week and going through the usual routine of mid-terms. It's exciting and hectic at the same time. C'est fantastique!

12:43 AM  

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