6. Rentrée

The two weeks of holidays quickly passed. Much of the time was spent holding the school’s “List of Requirements” in front of my nose in the stationary department of the Carrefour supermarket. We had been sent a list for Anabel and Rory, the “Collége” students. The objects on the list were simply untranslatable. I could cope with the occasional “régle” and “stylo plume” from my O’level days. But the tampon effaceur, lutin 40 vues, classeur  and bloose did not appear in the dictionary. I took to hauling young French children by the scruff of the neck when standing within range and demanding to know, with a finger prodding the list (since my accent often wasn’t up to comprehension) what each item was. Little by little we edged towards two fully ticked-off lists.

The bloose took the most time – both Harry and I took it in turns to try to decipher what it could be, and even many French mothers seemed to be clueless. Eventually I learned it was a particular type of overall, and as comprehension dawned on the children, they unanimously agreed that they had seen all the other children wearing them on their visit in June. Why didn’t they say so before? At this point they also unanimously agreed they wanted different styles and colours. Anabel, of course the white science professor overall; Rory, the more traditional ones, with buttons slightly off-side and so on. Once put on, my children suddenly appeared French, a certain “je ne sais quoi” had come over them. If only we could take on the French language with so much aplomb!

No sooner had we completed the lists, than school began. As a student entering the first year of “Collége” , Rory had been allocated a “starter day”. Anxiety overwhelmed me! It had not occurred to me that any of the children would start earlier than the rest. The whole “raison d’etre” behind the choice of the school was that they would be together. In one fell swoop, the school had completely thwarted my plans. We arrived at the appointed hour, on a beautiful summer’s day to stand in the “cour” and listen to the Directrice announce her welcome and thoughts for the year ahead. Then name by name the children were called to stand up in lines in front of her for their class groups. There are times when having a surname commencing in “A” is a disadvantage. Not only did Rory become a focus for the attention of the crowd of pupils and parents of a 180 strong year group, but Rory is a name which is impossible for the French to pronounce! Uncomprehending, his name was called several times before he stepped forward, and then he was pulled and pushed and manipulated until he finally reached the required destination as alphabetical leader of one of the 6 classes.

I had attempted to translate the general tone of the Directrice’s speech to the kids before we parted company and left Rory in the clutches of his new school! We were to repeat the same process over hourly intervals the following day for the three other children. The end of Rory’s school day came. We were at the school gate early, anxiously peering for any sign of him. Finally, small and pale, he appeared out of the throng of other children, silent against the chatting masses, and my heart sank as I berated myself for what I had put him through.

The initiation of the three other children was equally traumatic. Anabel appeared tearful after on hours morning session and Theo vowed he wouldn’t go back after lunch! But with determination and encouragement they did all go back for the afternoon session, and for the following days after that. There were remarkably few tantrums or refusals considering the huge level of adaptation required. They all found an inner strength and courage to persevere in the face of an enormous challenge.

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