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La rentree

The twins couldn’t sleep last night. Elliot woke up two hours early. They tossed and turned, heads filled with things exciting and worrisome. Did they have everything they needed? Would they get nice teachers or mean ones? Would they be with their friends?

I had my own sleepless moments. Had I managed to actually get everything this year? Would they get nice teachers or mean ones? Would they be with their friends?

It’s funny how little our worrying changes over the years.

The first day back was nice and slow, easing us into the stress that is the French educational system. They went for two hours, where they were assigned their classes, found out their teachers, and then came home. They did get some nice teachers, and some unknown but with a reputation for strictness. They are not with their friends.

L’emploi du temps, or You Have PE WHEN???

We were worried about Elliot’s schedule for this year, because he has to start attending English class. Last year, he only had to go if they were having a test, because his English is at least as good as his teacher’s. But this year, they are starting grammar, and he needs to go learn what a participle phrase is, for example, and other things you don’t naturally pick up from an obsessive re-reading of Tolkein. I know the book they’re using—I’ve taught it before.

Elliot is interested in languages, so he’s taking Arabic and Spanish. (He needs to take one but not both) I was worried—would I see him at all? But his schedule is not too bad. He’ll be busy, but not overwhelmed. I have only one problem with it:

Saturdays, at 8 a.m., he has to be at the high school downtown for PE.

Yes, Saturdays. That just killed any lingering romance you felt for the French, didn’t it?

For some reason, they have Wednesday afternoons off and school on Saturdays. It varies within the system. The year we lived in France, when they were in Grades 1 and 2, they had school most Saturdays and no school at all on Wednesdays. In Mauritania, they had weekends off, although the weekend was Friday-Saturday instead of Saturday-Sunday. Last year, they had Wed. afternoons and a normal weekend. But from now on, at least one of my children has Saturday school.

The implications are obvious. No more sleeping in. No more special Saturday breakfasts. No more sleepovers with friends, except during school holidays. No more weekend trips.

And so, I ask the universe, WHY couldn’t they have school on Wednesday afternoons instead? Isn’t that more logical? This is a holdover from a different time. It reminds me of a boarding school schedule, when everybody is there all the time anyway so it sort of doesn’t matter when you have class.


He will definitely be eating cold cereal on Saturday mornings. We can have pancakes when he gets home. I suspect I won’t be up to see him off, at least not every week.

Les fournitures scolaire

I spent hours earlier in the week searching for and buying their books and school supplies, but I’m not done yet. Certain teachers prefer a grand cahier (large notebook) to a classeur (binder), and so we wait until after the first day of class to go shopping. And the papeterie did not have grand cahiers spirale for the twins’ Latin class so we need to go somewhere else.

Shopping for books is an interesting experience. For a start, those who feel claustrophobic in crowds should just stay home, maybe order them from and pay exhorbitant shipping fees. For the rest of us, armed with a list from our particular school, it’s a day filled with elbows and dashed expectations.

The bookstores have set up extra wooden countertops down the middle of the shop, barricading their workers behind it and removing space where customers might typically stand. Depending on the country you were raised in, you either elbow your way impatiently to the front of a fluid “line” or wait, mostly patiently, until the guy behind the counter says, “Madame?” You hand him your list. He disappears for a time, to emerge with perhaps 3 of the 10 books you need per child.

The third bookstore we went to was different. They had tables set up, one for 6eme (6th grade), one for 5eme (7th grade), one for 4eme (8th), etc. You could approach each table on your own to choose your books. It wasn’t too crowded, and a woman came to help me. Together we searched the 5eme table for the twins’ books.

It’s not easy. You may find a Science book for 5eme, but it may be Hachette when you need Hatier or Belin when you need Breal. It may be the right publisher but not the right edition. Careful attention must be paid, or you will find yourself out $30 and the bookstores, in general, don’t do returns. The kids’ school seems to like books that no one else is using, and they are hard to find. We are still missing a couple.

Buying school supplies is a great exercise in vocabulary. When you learn another language in school, you may learn basic words like pen and pencil and glue, but you usually don’t learn it to the level where you can distinguish a binder with plastic pockets from a flexible folder with plastic pockets. We don’t even have words in English for some of these things! And so, our family speaks a blend of French and English known as Franglais. As in: “Where are my intercalaires?”

School Hours

During Ramadan, school gets out at 4 instead of 5. Lunch time is only one hour instead of 2, and the kids are obliged to take a cold lunch with them and are not allowed to leave the campus. For the first day, I did great! I remembered to buy bread ahead of time for sandwiches, and I even made chocolate chip cookies and bought apples. Phew! We’ll see how long this lasts, although given my history I don’t expect much. In fact, what are they going to do for tomorrow? I need to go…

September 2009

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A Perfect Post – January 2007

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