We arrive at school, breathless as usual. French maternelles have a ten minute drop-off window in the mornings, ours being between 8.20 and 8.30. Latecomers must brave the Paddington stare of the stern looking directrice and the tut-tutting of her faithful assistant, so I do everything in my power not to incur their wrath. Not always easy when your toddler is capable of ripping off her own clothes at 8.15 if she suddenly decides that they are neither pink nor flowery enough.
We hang Tadpole’s coat on the hook bearing her picture (it trails on the floor, surely she isn’t that tall?) and I glance at the noticeboard. My turn to take in yoghurts for the morning snack tomorrow. And in January, there is a class trip to the cinema for which parent volunteers are required. Mr Frog mentioned at the weekend the possibility of participating. I smile to myself. Clearly he didn’t notice that the trip is scheduled from 8.30 to 12.30. Suffice to say he is not exactly a morning person.
I weigh up the pros and cons of helping out myself. Obviously I choose my own working hours, so that isn’t a problem. And it would be nice to have an opportunity to cosy up to the teachers a little and show willing. On the minus side, I can think of little more nerve-wracking than accompanying 25 under 4′s on the métro. I take the felt tip pen which is stuck to the wall with a ball of blu-tack (a misnomer, French blu-tack is yellow) and add my name to the list. I stop short of adding Mr Frog’s, but I won’t say I didn’t consider it.
As we enter the classroom, I see one of the parents handing the teacher an envelope. I freeze. Suddenly the whole thorny subject of étrennes – which I had thought would be less complicated this year as I no longer employ a childminder – rears its ugly head. Am I supposed to give the teacher a card? A present, even? I have no idea if special treatment is frowned upon in the egalitarian paradise of French state schools, or whether, like in other spheres of the French civil service, bribery and corruption are the done thing. I have four days to find out. Advice welcome.
Tadpole takes her name card from the door and places it on the board between those of her two current best friends, Hannah and Luce to signal that she is present. Her friendships change every single day. The laws of the playground apparently change little, regardless of the passage of time or the country you live in.
“Mélusine, elle m’a dit qu’elle n’est plus ma copine!” she told me as we left school on Friday afternoon. She didn’t sound particularly traumatised by the fact, I have to say.
“She’s not your friend any more? Why?”
“Because Luce is my friend now.”
You can’t beat three year old logic.
“And what about boys? Do you have any friends who are boys,” I enquired mischievously. It hasn’t escaped my attention that a very attractive young blond boy with a twinkle in his eye always prances up to Tadpole when we arrive in the morning and takes her by the hand to the reading corner. His name is Jules. It is one of the names I had picked out for Tadpole, had she been a boy.
“No, I don’t like boys,” said Tadpole emphatically.
This morning, as usual, Jules approaches with a smile. Once Tadpole has given me my quota of four kisses and two cuddles I turn to the teacher for a quick chat.
When I turn to wave goodbye, I see two blond heads bent over a book.