Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Day Before School Starts. Still No Letter.

It is Wednesday. School starts tomorrow. We have just woken up and admit to each other that we are not willing to wait and see if Raelyn's placement letter arrives today. Even if it does, there is no guarantee that it will arrive early enough to allow for the time we need to go to her school directeur's office, and at that point, if we don't think it's a good fit, make another trip back to CASNAV before closing to appeal for a different placement. With a sense of urgency quickly taking over, we strategize our plan for heading straight to CASNAV a.s.a.p to state our case (in French) and hope for the best. No sense calling them on the phone, we didn't trust that they would answer and besides, in-person gestures help a great deal with comprehension since Soren's command of French is nowhere near fluent (although I am in awe of how much he has been able to communicate and understand in every facet of our life here so far). We were glad to see there wasn't a long line at CASNAV like last week. We were seen right away by the same woman who administered Raelyn's test last week. She has the cold demeanor of you're bothering me so let's get this over with. Soren explained to her that we are eager to find a school for Raelyn and that we ideally want her at Nola's elementaire and that the directeur there approves of this plan. Soren also emphasized that Raelyn is young for her grade, that she does not know the metric system, and speaks no French. Therefore, he summarized, elementaire is a perfect fit for her at this time and it would make us very happy to have that result. The cold woman abruptly responded, "She is eleven and she must go to college." She then led us downstairs to the CASNAV directeur's office. Cold Woman and Madame Directeur exchanged words about Raelyn's test and Cold Woman left. After a brief introduction, Soren repeated his plea to Madame Directeur. I was distracted a bit from listening intently to her reply because there was another employee in the room who I first noticed because she was very well-dressed.  Then I saw her picking her nose and she seeing us seeing her picking her nose (she continued on with this activity anyway).  I had to turn away so as to concentrate on Soren's conversation with Madame Directeur who was turning our attention to a big map on the wall that pinpointed all of the Paris public schools. She located Nola's school on the map and searched for a college nearby for Raelyn. Soren again repeated that we would like Raelyn to attend Nola's school. The directeur replied, "Non," because Raelyn performed too well on her test. "Elle est très intelligent," she must go to college. At that moment, Cold Woman returned with Raelyn's test in her hand. "Voila," said Madame Directeur as she showed us Raelyn's results. We immediately noticed a lot of red ink marks all over the test. Back home, that usually means a lot of errors. Apparently, that is not the case in France. "C'est bon," Madame Directeur exclaimed. This was despite the fact that Raelyn left the entire metric system section blank. How can they (per French standards) think Raelyn is très intelligent when she cannot tell the difference between a liter, meter, and kilometer?  "College is better for her, you will see," Madame Directeur summarized and Cold Woman returned with an official document that contained the name of the college two blocks away from Nola's elementaire. "The schools are close enough," she told us, "But on some mornings you can take Nola and Raelyn will sleep. Different schedules." Huh? We felt defeated. We did not feel like it was a good strategy at that point to lie and argue that Raelyn is in fact quite stupid for her age. Maybe we would have stooped that low if Raelyn had not been present. But being that she was, we smiled and pretended to agree with Madame Directeur's viewpoint so that Raelyn would hopefully think that we were all on the same page now about what was best for her. The last thing Raelyn needs upon entering a new school in Paris is the burden of knowing her parents are not happy about it. So with fake smiles, we said our au revoirs to Cold Woman and Madame Directeur (Nose Picker was still going at it) and left CASNAV for what we hoped would be the last time. Next stop of the day, Raelyn's college with official document in-hand to formally register her there. We had such a nice welcoming experience at Nola's school that we were looking forward to more of the same. Non. Instead, we dealt with two secretaries, one pleasant but incompetent, and the other, Cold Man who could not be bothered. No meeting le directeur, no gaining information about Raelyn's special program or her hopefully amazing teacher. We learned that the first day of college is not tomorrow, but instead, Friday. From 9:00-12:00. We were also told that Raelyn needs proof of insurance. Soren extracted our international health insurance card. Non. The secretary then proceeded to explain in great detail the type of insurance that is required to attend college. Soren and I could not understand anything except that we can obtain this type of insurance from the same place we obtained our renter's insurance. One more errand was now added to today's list. This was also the beginning of our learning (bit by bit) how Raelyn's attendance at college would impact our daily life in Paris. Madame Directuer's comment about Raelyn's sleep now made sense when we glanced at the college schedule. Two days a week, Raelyn's school begins one hour earlier than Nola's. Two days a week, it starts one hour later. Suddenly, my visions of dropping the girls off at school in my gym clothes and heading off for a workout with plenty of time left to explore and enjoy Paris on my own before the end of each school day were fading fast. Soren's initial attempt at problem solving led me to envision finding a cafe near their schools that would become our morning hangout ritual, alternating with whichever daughter had the late drop-off for that day. Not such a bad idea if you ignore the daily cost incurred by cappuccinos, chocolat chauds, and croissants. Not to mention the sugar highs. It wasn't my ideal, but I could make it work. Later that day, back at the apartment after obtaining the insurance that we still have no clue what it's actually for, we took a closer look at Raelyn's schedule and learned that not only is her morning schedule different than Nola's, her afternoon schedule ends an hour later than Nola's- every day. More cafe-time!? I don't even drink coffee, how can I put down two cappuccinos in a day, every day? If the schools were near our apartment, this scheduling matter would not be an issue. But it's just far enough away so as to make it too inconvenient to go home and back again as well as not allowing me to feel comfortable letting Raelyn make the trip to and fro by herself. Soren reassured me that when he is in town he will gladly take over drop-off/pick-up duty. This helped my mindset a little, but not much. Certainly not enough to grant me a good night's sleep.  The next morning, (it's now Thursday and Nola's first day of school) we had to return to the college with proof of insurance and  register Raelyn for her lunch program. Madame Lunch Lady asked Soren, "Will Raelyn be eating a meal on Wednesdays also?"  There is no school on Wednesdays, why is she asking this? Soren pulled out Raelyn's schedule. Sure enough, college students attend school on Wednesdays. Now, my visions of enjoying Wednesdays exploring Paris with Raelyn and Nola evaporated with so much shock and disappointment that it took all my effort to not break down and cry in front of Lunch Lady. Raelyn had no clue yet about this new turn of events. I was glad she is not fluent in French so that later, we could be the ones to gently break the news to her that, in fact, she is going to attend school 5 days a week. Both the girls and I had been looking forward to a weekly hump day of exploring Paris. This was a devastating blow to our lifestyle for the year. With lunch card in hand, we left the school and spent some time scouting out the school neighborhood for cafes, a library, a museum, any place that would afford space for a daughter and I to hang out before and after school. By this time, however, I had lost my perspective due to my sour mood. I couldn't tell if the cafes were truly unappealing in this neighborhood or if I was in such a funk that not even the most hip, clean, delicious spot would satisfy. Soon, it was time to retrieve Nola from her first day at elementaire. Putting on a fake smile for the second time that day, we eagerly went to fetch her. More on Nola's experience to come. When we returned home that afternoon, Raelyn's placement letter from CASNAV was waiting on our doorstep. It contained the name and address of a different college than the one in which we just enrolled her. To top off the day, we caught a brief mention on France's TV news of an upcoming strike that would close schools next week. Guess we could use next week to squeeze in a year's worth of exploring Paris with the girls.

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