Tuesday, September 15, 2015

First day of school - Primo giorno di scuola

So Tronk's first day at school has finally come and I am filled with emotions. "Mamma, come faro' a mangiare in 20 minuti?  Posso mettere il profumo di daddy? La mia voce sembra terribile ma e' solo un raffreddore e sto bene. Perche' hai messo quel vestito rosso? Per me?" "Si'". (Mom, how will I manage to eat in only 20 minutes? Can I wear daddy's perfume? My voice sounds terrible but it is only a cold and I feel good. Why did you put that dress on? For me? Yes).

Then "Mamma, ma che spettacolo di zaini e di persone nel quartiere questa mattina!" (Mom, what a show of backpacks and people in the neighborhood this morning!) While we were slowly making our way to the red brick building I pointed at many times - "One day this will be your school!", it looked as if a whole world of children and parents was coming out of nowhere and were suddenly joining the parade, with us in the middle of it.

Last tuesday we met Tronk's kindergarten teacher and his new school buddies. The meeting was mostly for parents, to ease off their transition to kindergarten, That day I took a glimpse of what the next five years of Tronk's life will be like. While we made our way in the long corridors of the large red brick building, guided by a PTO rep, a parent working for free for the school, I couldn't help making comparisons with my school, the school I attended in the early seventies.

The Italian elementary school uniform
There, there were no children in their perfectly ironed blue uniforms, with their round, perfectly starched, white collars. I saw instead many PJs and sweat pants, which is pretty much what I expected to see here in the US. No rows of green desks in the classrooms, with a black hole for the ink on each of them.

Of-course, nothing like that. All classrooms looked more like living rooms instead, with activity desks radially positioned around the teacher's desk. We then saw all sort of colorful posters and teaching equipment I could only dream of in the early seventies. And a library, filled with colorful books and a sweet pretty young librarian, certainly not the Italian old maid type, ready to help the incoming kids check in and check out books. Our visit ended with a quick look at the art room, which looks like a French atelier (art studio), and the music room, with sheet music stands nicely setup. All nice and spacious. I took a quick look at the cafeteria. That was the only thing that was not shown to the parents, the one thing an Italian parent always wants to see. Inside the room I saw a little theater, with a stage facing the children - hopefully, eating and watching shows will be treated as two separate activities, otherwise I can already imagine Tronk starring at the stage, with his open container of beef stew still untouched.

So today, at the playground, where parents were supposed to drop-off their kids, there were large card-boards, with the name of the teachers and the grade placed in front of a long wall. There, the teachers were coming to collect the kids, with a military looking exercise. While we were walking to find our line, we saw a screaming child, eventually dragged inside the school by the rector. My heart was racing. Then Tronk saw two familiar faces: his best friend from preschool, the two neighbor kids he plays with, almost every day, and other familiar faces. They were all there, with their kids ready to start their school journey. Finally, raising from the back of the crowd, I saw the distinctive pixie haircut of Tronk's teacher, with one harm raised, like in a military exercise. "E' quella. Quella e' la fila giusta, vai William. Ti amo!" (That's it. That is your row. Go William, I love you!) I left him to his destiny, without saying a single hello to the teacher, nor to the other people working with her. I still remember the list of "buongiorno" I was going through every morning in the school courtyard, before leaving Tronk's school in Italy. A bit different here.

One minute later, I frantically chase Tronk and managed to give him his precious water bottle before that fateful entrance in the red brick building. Done, I can go. Can I cry?

Then I saw a long table in the playground, setup by the parents, with hot coffee, bread and cookies on them, which reminded me of the table with food (ratios) given to people during the second world war. I grabbed a cup of coffee (black broth) and cookies as hard as stones, with colors on top. Not quite the chocolate bigne' and cappuccino I was having with the parents after dropping-off William at his school in Italy. So I started chatting with a couple of parents. The focus of the conversation was on how many academically challenging after-school activities the kids are likely to be willing to attend. I already knew this. Most American kids I know are constantly encouraged by the parents to be stimulated and entertained in activities, all day long. Both the working parents and the non working parents tend to do this. So. basically, nobody is at home. No wonder there are no kids in our neighborhood during the school year.

I waited a bit and then asked the dreaded questions: "why do they give them lunch at 10:50 am?" Answer: "so they can give children more free play". Of-course they need free play. They are enrolled in school classes all day long. It turns out that children in Tronk's school only have 15 minutes to eat, not 20, so the teachers only have to manage small groups of children at once at the playground. "But last week the teacher said 20 minutes", I say, with visible frustration on my face. "Oh it's ok. The kids get used to it. It's fun. Simile!" "So what happens if they don't finish lunch?", I continue with a worried look on my face. The answer of another happy confident parent: "Oh don't worry. You can always give them the rest of the food here in the playground (in the floor), at 2:30 at pickup time, or in the car!". Then the parent who grew up eating a piece of bread with ketchup on top said: "You have to pick your battles". Finally, the German parent with a strong accent joined and ended the conversation: "I know, it is appalling. In Germany this doesn't happen. Lunch is important. Here in the US  it is optional. Children are allowed to snack all day long, when they are hungry, and everyone eats unhealthy food. It starts at school.".

Now I can really cry.