Monday, October 11, 2010

School Days

Now that you have an overview of what it looks like for us to feel settled into our daily lives here I thought it would be nice to give you a status update regarding the girls settling into their daily routine of school. Actually, 'daily' is a little misleading. As mentioned previously, elementary school children do not attend school on Wednesdays. We have never anticipated Hump Day so eagerly as we do now.

A typical Hump Day looks like this: sleep in (Soren included since his typical work day does not begin until the afternoon), lounge around in pj's, make breakfast, lounge some more, do homework and homeschool (more on that in a moment), get dressed, and venture out to a park or museum (sans Soren if he is getting busy-work done), find a yummy bistro for lunch, head home, change into sweats, head to gymnastique and then hip hop. Or rather, "eep-op" as we now fondly mimic the way the French pronounce it. Not pronouncing their 'h' makes me "Olli" by the way. Maybe I'll change my name to Olli Eep Op. Kinda has a nice ring to it. But I'm digressing as I tend to do. Moving on...

Jealous? He's wax. As in, wax museum outing.

Ladies who lunch.

Now, as we are in the second month of school and tonight is the eve of yet another strike, 'daily' is somewhat of a misnomer for the school schedule. Tomorrow will mark the third day of forced vacations for Raelyn and Nola. Not that they mind. They have mixed feelings about school at the moment.

Raelyn has made friends with French classmates. Interestingly, Raelyn's status as the "new girl" elicited some mean-girl behavior from some French classmates during the second week of school. It seems as though feelings of jealousy were bubbling up for one or more of these classmates and they attempted to use Raelyn as a pawn to maintain, or regain, their status as 'queen bee'. Raelyn, being well-versed in dealing with mean-girl behavior after several years of learning how to cope with it back home, used one of her new English-speaking classmates as a translator to cut through the crap and call the girl, matter of factly, on her passive-aggressive B.S. Raelyn  finished her little speech with one simple question, "Friends?" That did the trick and the girls have been enjoying each others' company since. In fact, a few days later, one of the girls involved made Raelyn's day when she said, "Salut, Raelyn!", instead of the more cordial and distant 'bonjour' which she had been receiving. Raelyn was officially one of them now.

The name 'Raelyn' is very difficult for many of the French to pronounce. Heck, we know that it's difficult for folks back home to pronounce correctly. Long ago, we told Raelyn that she'll have to get used to folks pronouncing her name as if it was a 'Southern' name in which people pronounce Raelyn with a distinct pause between the 'Rae' and the 'lyn', so that it sounds like 'Rae-LYN' instead of what we intended which is, 'RAElyn". We're used to this by now and so is she, it's no biggie.

During the first week of school, Raelyn's French classmates called her, "Vin." I had kind of hoped this would stick as her French nickname, as I think it's quite cute, but that is not the case. It seems now as though the kids are making their best effort to get her name right. But, just as the letter 'h' has it's unique characteristic in the French alphabet, so does the letter 'r'. French adults pronounce Raelyn's name with their typical throaty 'r' and end it with "leen". This is due to the fact that their letter 'y' is pronounced as a long 'e' sound. Bless these little tweens at school. They hear Raelyn pronouncing her own name and, because they want to say it correctly, they refrain from the endearing throaty, "Rrraeleen" and instead emit a nasally, high-pitched, "Wraywin".

One boy became so absorbed with her name that for several days in a row he approached Raelyn and asked her to tell him her name. She did so each time and then he would mimic, "Wraywin," while laughing. Needless to say, my daughter did not find this amusing. After a week of this, Raelyn was irritated enough with this boy to use Google Translator and arm herself with a comeback. After rehearsing with me several times to get the pronunciation just right she was locked and loaded on Monday morning as I said my goodbye to her at the school gate. That afternoon, she was quite pleased with herself for having said to him when he asked her her name that day, "Mon dieu, tu devrais le savoir maintenant." Translation: "My god, you should know by now." She added an eye roll for extra effect. Raelyn reported that the boy's reaction was one of stunned silence before he turned around and walked away. That's my girl!

Nola, as is typically the case, has made friends with both boys and girls at school. Back home, she is used to playing hard at every recess, joining the boys in games of kickball, basketball, dodgeball, etc. Pretty much anything involving a ball and Nola's there. This school, however, does not provide any playground equipment. Not a ball, jump rope, or hoola hoop in sight. And forget about play structures. Those are for the park. All they get is a cement courtyard. With a lone basketball hoop. But no basketball. If you ask me that's like receiving your most-wanted toy for Christmas without batteries to operate the thing. Somehow, as kids do, they resiliently adapt and use their imaginations to create games and activities. But my girls do miss their playground equipment. Guess this is one of those lessons where you don't know what you have until it's gone.

Nola's first school friends, the Italian brothers, are not such favorites of hers (or Raelyn's) at the moment. They seem to be a wild pair, disrupting class time, especially the eldest brother. In addition, they have allegedly been stealing the marbles given to Raelyn and Nola by another classmate. Maybe it's not so bad that they are returning to Italy in December after all.

Woffa is an Algerian girl who joined the girls' adaptation class two weeks into the school year. She spent her first day in class with her head on her desk only to bolt out of the classroom in search of a bathroom due to a stomach, er, issue. She returned two days later only to become "fish drunk" as Raelyn described (fish was the main course during lunch) causing Woffa to bolt from the classroom yet again. The girls couldn't believe how much fish Woffa had consumed that day. Since then, the girls can't quite get images and sounds of Woffa's, er, stomach issues out of their heads.

For the last three Thursdays, the school was supposed to implement its swimming program whereby the different class levels take turns thoughout the day to walk to the local indoor "piscine" for their weekly swim. Three Thursdays ago, there was a strike. Two Thursdays ago the girls came home sick (not really, just tired from our late night with cousin Florence), and last Thursday, a kid had a stomach, er, issue in the pool and it was closed for cleaning just before Raelyn and Nola's class was to walk there. And no, it was not Woffa.

To comply with French swimming pool etiquette, we had to visit our local department store and purchase appropriate swim attire. This was quite an issue for Nola as she is used to her much-loved board shorts and rash guard top. She has been wearing an ensemble such as this for about five years now and it suits her just fine. Here in France, as many of you know, the appropriate swim attire for men and boys is a Speedo. Nola doesn't quite have the right equipment to fill one of those out. And wearing a rash guard top to an indoor Parisian swimming pool would be like wearing your bathrobe to dinner with the Queen of England (although Lady Gaga did set a new precedent with the Queen recently so anything is possible I guess). But we're in France, not England. And there are rules here. Many, many rules.

After explaining to Nola that the French have their rules about the way things are done and there is nothing we can do but comply in this situation, I talked up the coolness factor of a girls' one-piece Speedo like you wouldn't believe. Each day that would arrive with the possible opportunity to head to the store to buy the girls swimsuits, Nola would protest. Finally, I dragged her along and we purchased a one-piece Speedo and swim cap which is also mandatory. When we returned home, I had the girls try the suits on to make sure they fit. Two seconds after Nola pulled hers on, she saw me with my camera and dashed away, trying to hide from the lens. She was uncomfortable and embarrassed. I put the camera away and let her get acclimated. She took a long look in the mirror and exclaimed, "My butt will show and I'm skinny!"

Soon after, Soren came home and he was so enamored with her little body, which is usually masked by baggy boy clothes, that he wanted her to stand still so he could get a better look at her in her new suit. Thus began the chase around the apartment. Nola running from Soren, dashing from room to room (laughing all the while) and me, grabbing my camera again so I could capture the action. Nola wound up keeping her new suit on for a bit, Raelyn too, and I still could not get used to seeing my little Nola in a girl suit. I don't know if she'll ever get used to it either. (Side note: Last Wednesday was the day that there was confusion over Nola using the girls' bathroom. When we were discussing this over dinner that night she said, "Tomorrow's swim day. Everyone will know I'm a girl then and which bathroom I'm supposed to use.") Now we will have to wait until this Thursday for that level of clarity. Assuming there isn't a strike and no one pukes in the pool.

Nola, captured at last!

Last week, the girls had their first taste of assimilating into the regular school curriculum with their French classmates. They both have joined in the art and sports classes and Raelyn has begun to join in with the math class as well. Nola needs to progress a bit more with the French language first before that happens for her.

Today, Raelyn was in math class. The teacher called her up to the board to complete a multiplication problem in front of the class. From last week's class work and homework, Raelyn knew she knows how to do this type of problem, but the class' method for computing the problem differs from the way Raelyn was taught back home. Raelyn's language skills are preventing her from fully comprehending the French way of computing these multiplication problems. She felt conflicted upon arriving at the board in front of the class. If she computes it her way, she feared that it would appear to everyone that she does not know what she is doing. If she attempts to do it their way, it will most certainly look like she does not know what she is doing. But, as we have become accustomed to in our family, she took the 'when in Rome' road and went for it, their way. And bombed. That was bad enough for her little ego. But, as the French schooling system commonly does (from what we've read), they seize any opportunity to use a student's poor performance as an example of what not to do. And that's exactly what happened in this instance. Poor Raelyn, she reported that the teacher repeated, staccato style, "Vite, vite, vite!" when she was laboring at the board and when she wasn't "getting it" quickly enough, her teacher turned to the class with upturned hands, a shrug of his shoulders, and a roll of his eyes. Then the class laughed at her. She was mortified. Fortunately, we had forewarned the girls, at the beginning of the school year, that their days of the 'nurturing the whole child' mentality were over.

But, lucky for them, they have me! I have put on my homeschool teaching hat for the past few weeks and have been supplementing their school work. This is no easy task since I am clueless when it comes to math and Nola's fourth grade materials from home weigh more than I do. Fortunately, I can recall enough of my math facts to help Nola and the homeschool website from which I print Raelyn's math worksheets has anwer keys.

It's been a tricky thing, this balancing act between making sure they are not falling behind (especially Nola who has had no math, English, or science at her school) and yet not wanting to overload them. Their language homework from school isn't measly, they have a very long school day, and, it's so hard to work on Wednesdays and weekends when we have Paris at our doorstep. Maybe the French will keep striking and I can deem those 'homeschool' days. Nah. We don't want to miss out on the dance parties (a.k.a., protests) on the streets. This is the year of life being our teacher. And boy, is it ever!

Quiet please. Homeschool now in session.

Maths. Huh?

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