Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tess la maitresse

8:30 pm.
It's closing time...which means time to start the increasingly complex and nuanced process of putting the kids to bed. This evening Beth is at gym class, Tim is reading in his room, so it's my gig. I starts well enough: I play cache-cache with them outside, they teach me a little formula for picking who is "it."
Plouf, plouf, qui sera le malaba jusque au bout de trois...un, deux, trois!
then I get their teeth brushed, and send them off to get into bed clothes (I love that they can dress themselves).
While waiting for them to get ready for books on the couch, I try to steal a few moments on my blog. (This is the moment while reading this post when Beth eyebrows will arch and she'll release a knowing sigh.) Okay, okay, I get sidetracked and a few minutes become a few minutes. Some part of me that is not composing on my blog rationalizes that I'll stop as soon as one of the kids actually requests that we read a book, not an unlikely possibility at all...they love books.
But they don't ask, instead they are in some kind of play groove. I vaguely hear some talk about playing teacher and school. I hear Colm object at first but only once or twice, then their interactions settle into something reassuringly tranquil.

At first, I ignore it, paying attention to my own groove, but by degrees Tess's voice works its way into the foreground of my attention. I listen more carefully. She's speaking French to Colm. I look up and see her holding Colm by the arm leading him around, wagging her finger at him, stationing him in front of the wall, talking into his ear. Colm appears to be listening to and understanding, if not the words then the game.
The game is Tess the maitresse - that's what I call it anyway. Colm is her pupil. He is her perfect foil, dutifully playing out his assigned tasks, and occasionally responding verbally in French, God love him.
I eavesdrop for a few moment and then I realize that I need to transcribe this for posterity...
I've included a few stage directions and translations in parentheses.

Tu n'as pas le droit. (you don't have the right to do that...this is said while leading Colm to the wall for something that looks suspiciously like timeout)
Vous allez faire le travail sur une feuille (you're going to do this on a piece of paper)
Attend-moi là. (wait for me right here)
Non, pas là! sur la table! (not there! over here on the table)
et puis on va faire ca (next we're going to do this)
At this point Tess notices me watching and she enrolls me in her class. Suddenly I'm given a piece of paper and instructions.
Tu prends ca et tu va le couloriser (take this thing and color it)
Maintenant je vais faire autre feuilles pour toi (I'm going to create some new drawings for you to color, at this point Tess is mulittasking, busily creating handmade worksheets for me and Colm while chattering at us) Tu vas couloriser les carrées et les triangles, d'accord? (just color the squares and the triangles, okay?)
Ca c'est la modèle, tu va le dire à Colm (this is the model, go and tell this to Colm)
Tu n'as mis pas ton prenom sur ta feuille! (you didn't put your name on the paper!)
Là, tu mets ton nom, tu mets ton nom là, entre les lignes!! (right there, put your name there! between the lines!)
"Tess, doucement," I say, reminding her not to yell at her brother or me. She wheels around surprised and a little hurt and defends herself.
"Mais, elle parle comme ca!" (that's how she talks!)
Suddenly I realize that this "game" is the stuff that that her real world is made of. Colm and I comply by putting our names where they belong.
Mettez les feuilles dans le casier de couleur (put them in the coloring basket)
Just to get into the game a little, I start interjecting questions. Matter of factly she handles all my queries as if she's heard them a million times. Her sense of the teacher persona is pitch perfect.
Tu vas faire les lignes pour que tu aides la tortue va à la maison (draw lines to show the turtle how to get home)
Maintenant je vais faire quelque chose pour Colm (now I'm going to make something for Colm)

We went on like this for awhile. I made a conscious decision to push bedtime back a little just to let this French language interlude play itself out. ..but not so long that Beth will come home and find us still up and about.
I don't think I've seen the two kids so unconscious and easy in the language together at the same time before...it's like a confirmation of why coming here was such a great idea.
Au lit, couchez-vous mes petits, I say.
Without thinking, Colm starts down the hallway to bed. He's halfway there when he pauses, "What does couchez-vous mean?"
"It means, go to bed. Go to bed."
Colm smiles slyly. "Couchez-vous too!" He runs off happily.
Fifteen minutes later when Beth comes in, I'm at the computer beginning this post. The house is quiet. The kid are either asleep or doing a good impression of it, probably the latter.
"Everything go okay?"
"I forget to put my name between the lines ..You can read about it later."
There, you just did.


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