Integrating into French school and missing home

After two weeks of Autumn holiday in October we had the gruefull pleasure of putting the kids to school again. Stomach pain for the big one (and the parents) and a lot of crying from the little one. We went through the whole register at the morning table. They had both been fearing going to school again after the holiday. Aya was asking if we think about them at all and why we’re doing this to them (the kids). Eddie had a more immediate reaction, crying a lot when he found out he had to go to school. In the end we insisted and they accepted. Eddie even said “I can do this mom, all by myself” and proudly repeated that he made it, when he came home 😦 

Halloween was so important to Aya. She wanted to go back to Denmark so she could go trick or treating with her friends. I promised her we would do it here, so we dressed up and had a good night walking the eerie streets of Seillans. 

Luckily it settled quite quickly. They go to school willingly now and seem happy when we pick them up. There are of course still challenges. Eddie don’t want to use the toilet in school for number 2’s and Aya has made good friends it seems, but it depends very much on their grace and the menu in the canteen whether she had a good day or not. We talk a lot to them about school. A lot more than we did at home trying to figure out how they are and what is going on there.  We can’t enter the school at all. 

For years France has had a heightened terror level and every school is under the policy of ‘vigipirate’, which means no one enters the school without a special permission. Every parent has to say goodbye outside the gate and keep a proper distance not to create too much chaos for the kids entering the small gate. So we just smile and wave hoping everything is fine in there. It’s difficult to get a sense of their everyday life in school when you don’t see their classmates or the environment. Of course you can get a meeting with the teacher if you ask for it in the good old contact book. No time-consuming, quarreling intranet here. And no parent community to participate in or lean on. Coming from the kids’ school in Denmark, Børne UNI, that is quite a difference and I miss the active community where you can talk to other parents, get to know the children and be able to easily arrange playdates. It might come in time, but it’s not as accessible as in Denmark and you don’t count in the parents network as a ressource for the kids. It’s very much the institution that takes care of everything regarding school and the parents support consist only in ensuring that the children behave well and do their homework. Which might be okay, if I was sure that they have an eye for the vulnerability of our children. I’m afraid Eddie will prefer stomach pains over going to the toilet in school and he won’t show them he’s in need of help. I’m afraid Aya will be excluded from the girls group because she doesn’t speak the language and the teacher won’t notice or give it any attention. These issues could might as well be present in Denmark, but in Denmark I know they are very concerned about things like this. I’m not confident that they think about these issues as problems at all down here. There is no space for individual considerations, it’s the group, the institution before all. I find it sympathetic in many ways. It really is the grand motto of liberté, egalité, fraternité that comes to live. I see the point and if you don’t have any problems, it’s a good system, but what if you need that extra attention, that special need or comforting pad on the shoulder to grow and feel happy about school. I don’t think they see feeling secure as a prerequisite to be able to learn and develop. As far as I know they don’t talk about bullying as we do in Denmark now and for Eddies age, as a 3 year old, you’re in a class with 25 other kids. It’s just damn impossible to take him to the toilet and spend the time needed for him to feel safe and be able to let go. 

Pew. It’s tough and it definitely is the single handed most important factor for us to get settled and feel integrated with time. Do the kids thrive and do we feel good about their everyday life? 

They fight and argue as any other sibling. They can’t be that bad off. 

There are many signs that they are doing fine and will find their place in time. They’re not sad when we pick them up and Aya is surprisingly good at figuring out social codes and participating with the use of body language. School time is not a problem at all. The teacher is nice and give her assignments that fit her capabilities well. They have one teacher for all subjects, so Aya knows her well and she’s good at differing the instructions for Aya and the two other class levels she already has to embrace in one class. In class Aya knows her place, what to do and usually she figures out what the teacher wants. As always the tough social game goes on in the breaks, where every kid has to fight for its position. Exactly the same as in Denmark. It’s difficult and maybe they have different ways of trying to insure a good social life here that I don’t know yet. But parent meetings, anti-bully policy and mandatory playgroups are not part of it. As for Eddie he manages his toilet routines very well and makes sure to go in the afternoon when he’s home or on a day off. He’s in 1st grade and we can pick him up early, at 13.30 after lunch in the canteen. Sometimes he sleeps there and is picked up together with Aya at 16.30, but then he’s quite worn out.

Christmas calendars, candy and toys really is a big help, when you have bad conscience. 

The kids are tired after a long day in school and sometimes more angry than usually. Teis and I have been talking a lot about how to handle the kids’ anger and sadness. Is it part of their normal behavior as they would have acted in Denmark or are there signs of frustrations from being put in a new context? I don’t know. I tend to read everything as a frustration over moving, because I myself feel frustrated sometimes and it is obvious that they must react, when they have to integrate in a new school, they don’t know anybody and they don’t speak the language. Teis on the other hand seems to think that they are quite content and it’s part of their normal behavior, which do bring me back memories of bad mondays, complaints and anger at home as well. No matter what, we’re here and we took the decision about moving. We have to tackle their mood and behaviour and how do you do that best. It’s definitely not by giving in to them (mainly Aya), when they are being unreasonably angry and unfair to us, even though I feel like it. We have to be firm and carry the load of their frustrations, hardships and sadness when missing home or just having a bad day. It’s difficult, because it hurts me every time they’re sad and it touches my own doubt and feelings of missing what was well known.

We’re going all in. The dream of living in the countryside and make our own B&B includes a doggy. Of course. Meet Odette Happy Joy. The plan is that she will make up for all the unhappiness we might cause our children. Until now she’s mainly biting their feet and Eddie wants to return her to the lady where we bought her…