It's been an eventful week for the Wheeler family. Both Brooklyn and I had our first days of school. Monday was my first official day teaching English at the École normale supérieure in Lyon. The students are quite sharp, having passed a very competitive admissions examination, so they definitely keep me on my toes.
So here's a photo of my school:
Even more importantly, here's a photo of Brooklyn's new school:
The school is a public "ecole maternelle," or nursery school. It's located just across the parking lot from our apartment, which is wonderful because it means that Brooklyn can easily lunch with us at home. You see, preschool in France goes from 8:30 all the way until 4:30 with an optional two-hour lunch break from 11:30 to 1:30. Needless to say, we're opting to have our little girl back for those extra hours.
It's hard to describe what it feels like to send my little girl off to school for the very first time. I've had very mixed feelings and emotions about letting her go, especially for so long. In one sense I've been excited and anxious for her to have the chance to meet other kids and make new friends. In many other ways, I've been positively terrified to throw her into such an unfamiliar world without speaking any French at all.
Before coming to France, I knew that it would be difficult for me to learn French. I expected that Jason, despite his much stronger language skills, might struggle a bit too at moments. I was completely unprepared, however, for how difficult it would be for my three year-old to communicate.
Everybody talks about how young children pick up new languages effortlessly, but that's absolutely not true. As a mother, I've fought back tears watching Brooklyn, usually the social butterfly of the playground, play all alone in a corner because nobody understands her. It's broken my heart to watch her come back from Primary discouraged because she doesn't know how to say hello. I've been frustrated with adults who are astonished that she doesn't speak any French, as if she should overnight, simply because she is three.
An extremely verbal child, Brooklyn loves jabbering about the world to anyone who will listen. It's been hard to watch this ability to communicate be taken away from her in France. For a while she still chattered in English to adults and children alike, but after encountering dozens of blank stares, she now prefers to have conversations with her imaginary friends, Miriam and Leah.
And thus, sending Brooklyn off to school this morning, I felt the normal pangs of loss that parents feel when their babies grow up. Yet underlying these sighs of time gone by was a much greater fear that she would be rejected. Language acquisition by immersion may be quite effective, but it's also somewhat cruel to place someone in a position in which they can neither understand nor be understood.
So how did Brooklyn weather her first day of school?
She LOVED it. She chattered the whole way home about the scooters, the stories, the cots, and the kitchen toys. She couldn't wait to go back after lunch, and ran the whole way there. No matter what the language, Brooklyn adores school.
Kids are so courageous. If only we all had the same ability to brush off life's little blows. After school I watched Brooklyn try to engage in play with a couple of little girls. Walking up to the place where they were sitting, she rapped on an imaginary door and said, "Knock knock." The girls just stared strangely, seeing as to how French doors say "Toc toc." Brooklyn waited for a while, then finally came over to me and said with a smile, "They're not home."
Brooklyn, I am so proud of you. Just keep knocking on those doors until they come tumbling open.