Monday, September 6, 2010

Raelyn's First Day Of School

It's Friday September 3rd and it is the first day in exactly one month that Soren and I will not be in the presence of  Raelyn and Nola. Actually, we have left them with our current babysitter a few times, in other words, our laptop streaming Netflix movies, while we sneak out for a quick run. But worrying about your kids killing each other or burning the apartment down does not quite constitute the same kind of mental break that dropping your kids off at school does. Except that today is not the day for a true mental break since we are nervous about Raelyn's college experience. After dropping Nola off at school at 8:20 (she was excited to return and enjoy another French lunch) we had forty minutes to kill before Raelyn's school opened. We wandered around within a four block radius looking again for decent places to hang out during these soon-to-be daily interims. When we arrived at the entrance to Raelyn's school, families were waiting for the gate to open. Like Nola's school, we noticed diversity among the crowd. And again, we did not know what kind of welcome or orientation to expect, if any. We were thinking that Nola's school might be an anomaly so we were not exactly expecting a warm welcome to college. Clearly, we were still lending lots of credibility to those expat websites. When the school gate opened families began to walk inside and gather in the school's courtyard. Soon, staff members walked out and Madame Directeur began to speak in French. I did not understand anything she said and Soren only understood a small bit. Her affect was energetic, she smiled quite a bit, and she exuded the presence of a leader. Madame Directeur then introduced a woman who was in charge of roll call. There were about 100 students gathered and as each name was called the student replied, "Présent!" and walked over to their teacher and formed a line. When Raelyn's name was finally called she replied, "Présent!" and she left our sides and approached the staff, but she did not know where to stand. Who was her teacher? Roll Call directed her to a young woman wearing a red coat. There were five other students in Red Coat's line. All of them appeared to be considerably older than Raelyn. We noticed that Red Coat immediately smiled and spoke to Raelyn who smiled back as they exchanged a few words. This was somewhat reassuring for us. At least Raelyn's teacher appeared to be the welcoming sort. Next, the teachers and students walked into what appeared to be the school's multi-purpose room. Most parents began to follow. Raelyn's group remained in the courtyard. We were not sure what was happening or what we were supposed to do. We waited and watched. Raelyn's group then proceeded to head inside also. There was one staff member nearby so Soren approached and asked in French, "Should we follow the students inside?" The staff member asked who we are and where we are from, in French. Upon Soren's response, he introduced himself as the Assistant Directeur and said that he will speak English to us, but to please forgive him. Forgive him? We wanted to hug him! (We find it quite amusing when French people apologize for their poor English skills and then speak it almost perfectly). When he learned that Raelyn is enrolled here in the school's language adaptation program he frowned and apologized and told us, "Your daughter, she will have disappointment here. The other students that learn with her already speak French. They are in this group because they have problems with learning. But she will learn French with time and then can go with other students." Great, our très intelligent Raelyn is somehow lumped in with the learning disabled kids!? No offense to them, of course. Assistant Directeur then led us inside where the staff and all 100 families had gathered. It was standing room only and we could barely fit ourselves inside the door. We had to crouch on the floor in the front corner so as not to block the view of those standing against the wall behind us. Madame Directeur spoke again, for a very long time, and we still did not understand much. Soren caught some bits about the importance of completing homework and working hard. Other than that, nothing. Several leg cramps and pins and needles later, we were dismissed. We know Raelyn was somewhere in that multi-purpose room but, unfortunately, I did not catch a glimpse of her upon our exit. I had to reassure myself that she was in good, kind hands with Red Coat. I was so eager for 12:00 to arrive so that we could be with Raelyn again and hear about her morning. When we picked her up at the appointed time she was waiting out front. The first thing she said to us was, "Where were you? I've been waiting here for almost 30 minutes!" We tried to deduce how that mix up occurred. As Raelyn described her day, the best we could tell is that her group was dismissed 30 minutes earlier than the rest of the school. Nobody had told us about that. Raelyn, being the problem-solver that she is, explained that if we hadn't arrived in another five minutes she was going to walk down to the busy intersection, find a payphone, and call Grami. Never mind that it would be 3:00 a.m. in California, and that Grami is 6500 miles away, or that Raelyn only has euro bills and no change in her backpack, or that payphones are obsolete and nonexistent, or that along with supplying her with a handful of euro bills for emergencies, we also supplied her with a laminated card that has our Paris address and our Paris cell phone and home phone numbers. Grami was going to come to her rescue! I love that. As we walked down the street towards the Metro to head home for lunch, she said that Red Coat was not, after all, her teacher. Red Coat is a secretary. Instead, Raelyn's teacher, she described, is old ("About fifty."), frail, and shaky, and did not seem to know what to do with Raelyn. Raelyn stated that a few teachers and the Assistant Directeur came into her classroom that morning. Each time, Raelyn's teacher whispered to these staff members about Raelyn. She overheard her teacher say each time, "Américaine," and "Seulement anglais." Certainly seems like Old Frail teacher was trying to figure out what to do with her new pupil who didn't quite fit in. Raelyn was reluctant to give us her honest opinion, but we pressed and she finally admitted, "I don't like it there. They are all older than me and they all speak French and I feel like I don't belong." What to do? We immediately had a collective brainstorm at the entrance to the Metro. Raelyn was starving so our initial plan was to go home, eat, and then walk to the other college that is printed on the CASNAV placement letter. That college happens to be within walking distance from our apartment. If we walk there, maybe it will give us a sense of proximity for hopefully reducing the daily scheduling hassles since Raelyn could potentially go to and from that college by herself. And, perhaps this other college truly has the language adaptation program meant for Raelyn. If so, we can go to CASNAV afterwards and demand that Raelyn be switched. So we hopped on the Metro and it occurred to me that I do not want Raelyn at any college. I want her at elementaire with Nola. And Vishnavi. And Madame Christine. And nice Monsieur Directeur. I want warmth, I want nurturing, I want balance, and I want it to be a relaxed school year with the predominant focus being the learning of the French language. I spoke my truth to Raelyn and Soren. Raelyn gushed, "That's what I want too!" So we hopped off at the next station, crossed to the opposite platform, and caught a train headed for CASNAV. With our anxiety at a peak, we spent the next part of our afternoon plotting, over lunch at a cafe, our strategy for getting CASNAV to meet our demand. We decided that we had several problèmes that we can present to them to make them see the errors of their ways: The Assistant Directeur stated that the supposed language adaptation program is instead for the learning disabled, that those students are much older than Raelyn, that Raelyn's teacher was unclear about what to do with her, and that Raelyn is très unhappy. And, of course, we would reiterate that Monsieur Director at Nola's elementaire has room for Raelyn in his language adaptation program, and that Raelyn would be très happy there. Soren's anxiety was palpable during lunch since he needed to figure out how, in French, to say what was necessary while presenting himself as resolute, yet polite. He decided that he was going to request to speak to CASNAV in English. Upon arriving and explaining to the receptionist that we do not have a scheduled rendevouz with Madame Directeur, we had a brief wait in the waiting room. A red haired woman appeared and explained that Madame Directeur was not in the office today. Our hearts sank. Soren, speaking in French, briefly explained why we had come. He made sure to emphasize the word problèmes. She said she can try to help us. My first sigh of relief in what felt like years then occurred. I could sense this was a woman with some compassion, empathy, and the desire to help. As it turns out, she was actually in a hurry to be done with us because as we followed her up and down stairs at a very brisk pace she explained that she was in a rust to get across town within an hour and that she was on her way out when we arrived. Soren told her that we are very good at walking fast. At that moment, we would have said or done anything to keep her on our side. Soren requested to continue our story in English and he did an excellent job, in my opinion, of being firm yet polite with regard to Raelyn's situation. Red Hair's response to us was, "We complete new paperwork for you to say that family is requesting change, it will be a moment for you." Several minutes later, we left CASNAV with officical documents placing Raelyn at elementaire with Nola. Success! It felt too good to be true, but we had what we needed. We now had to go through the all-too-familiar hoops of le mairie to formally register Raelyn and sign her up for the lunch program. Piece of cake. We have that routine down by now: Go in office. Hand over paperwork. Receive confirmation document to give to school. Three more little steps and we'll be done. So, it was with pits in our stomaches at le mairie as we sat there listening to the three employees discuss amongst themselves their resistance to granting Raelyn's registration at elementaire. Because she is eleven. We pulled out all the stops. Or I should say Soren did the work, but I was the puppet master. "Tell them Monsieur Directeur approves of Raelyn's attendance there, tell them that her sister already attends there, tell tell them CASNAV said it's okay, tell them that she was put in a learning disabled group, tell them to call Monsieur Directeur, tell them we'll pay them a million bucks!" I was not going to let these people and their rules get in the way of what was rightfully ours now. We jumped through all their hoops, tried it their way, and I was now a mama that was not going to take 'no' for an answer. I know what's best for my kid, period. They actually did make a call to Monsieur Directeurr to verify that he approves of this plan. "Phew," we thought. Done deal. Except that it was clear from our end of the conversation that we could overhear, Monsieur Directeur had no recollection of this 'Raelyn Kaplan'. We scrambled to pull out Nola's paperwork so that the official could mention her name and hopefully jog Monsieur Director's memory. That did the trick. The call ended and the offical turned to us and said, "D' accord, c' est bon." One photocopy and signature later we had Raelyn's registration in-hand and noticed that we had not a minute to spare to dash the three block stretch and fetch Nola by 4:30. Upon our arrival, Monsieur Directeur greeted us at the gate with Madame Christine and welcomed Raelyn to their school. They inquired, "She will be happy?" We emphatically said, "Oui, Oui!" And they knowingly replied, "Then you will be happy too." How true!

1 comment:

  1. Have been following the schooling process with you--whew!~ What a relief to have both daughters in the same school for their sake and for your scheduling. Welcome to European beaurocracy--we have to remember that even though they are a "Western" nation, they do things differently and have their own set of rules and standards. Just part of the experience...hard as it seems. You have discovered throughout all this is that there still are compassionate and reasonable people who will listen and make the "right" decision for all concerned. Bon courage!