Monday 4 September was the very first time that the words la rentrée were charged with special significance for me. My daughter has talked of nothing else since Spring, when she first visited her future école maternelle. Aged 3, like all little French children, Tadpole has already started school.
Of course at that age, it’s not about discipline and copying things off the blackboard. It’s more like a playgroup, with different activities going on within the classroom: a reading corner, a (toy) kitchen corner, the teacher doing some sort of drawing or counting with a small group, her assistant keeping watch over the other fifteen or so children who are more or less left to their own devices. But there will be communal eating in the canteen to adjust to, and in a room adjoining the classroom there are toddler-sized bunk beds where the children will have their nap in the afternoon. It’s beyond the reach of my imagination to visualise twenty toddlers going to sleep at once in the same room. Twenty toddlers who are only just out of nappies, and, well, accidents will happen. Rather la maîtresse than me.
Monday morning, Mr Frog rings the doorbell five minutes earlier than expected. Like me, he has been pacing his apartment, feeling rather emotional at the prospect of our Tadpole reaching this important milestone. We take a look at one another’s tense faces and laugh nervously. Tadpole, on the other hand, is impatience personified, scrambling into her coat and shouting “come on mummy, we got to go now…”
As we walk down the hill, Mr Frog and I exchange worst case scenarios.
“You know that thing she does where she she takes a crotte de nez* and holds her finger out, with the crotte on the end of it, and expects us to take it off her?” Mr Frog says.
“Oh my god, yes. I really hope she doesn’t do that to the teacher,” I reply. Trying not to sound like I’m accusing him of teaching her this charming behaviour, I add an innocent “where on earth can she have learnt that anyway? She looks oddly proud of herself…”
We both fervently hope that there will be no toilet incidents. I have a shoebox tucked under my arm with a change of clothes, all dutifully named, au cas où, but still, I’d rather they remained there unsolicited, all term.
Tadpole barely makes eye contact as we wave goodbye and turn to leave her classroom. She is already pottering in the toy kitchen with a really cute Asian girl whose name I can’t pronounce. I look at the other wailing, distraught children clinging to their parents and feel ever so slightly smug at how easy Tadpole is making this for us.
Of course I should have known I wouldn’t get off that lightly.
Because when I come to fetch her, both on Monday, and today, it is upon seeing me that the waterworks and histrionics begin. The long, high pitched scream of doom. The stamped foot. The “No No NO mummy I want to stay at school!” The source of her disappointment is simple: canteen and napping start next week; this week, school is just a collection of three hour morning sessions. Not long enough for my daughter. Adaptation is for pussies, in her opinion.
I put on my best poker face, striving not to look perturbed by her performance, when in fact I’m petrified that every other parent (currently being joyfully reunited with offspring who leap into their arms for bear hugs) is thinking “how awful must things be at home for a child to want to stay at school.”
And to top it off, today I found my daughter in the classroom doorway, arm outstreched, a crotte bejewelled index finger slowly but surely travelling in the direction of her teacher. I pounced with my tissue before anyone was the wiser but clearly, it’s only a matter of time.
So when Tadpole asked me this evening, as she does at least fifty times a day at the moment, “which of the Mr Men are you, mummy?” I answered, without hesitation: “Mr Worry”.
At least I got a picture out of it.
*crotte = a versatile noun which can be used to describe any undesirable bodily by-product, whether it originates from the nose, the bottom, or the corner of one’s eye. In this case, I hasten to add, from the nose.