Today is the first day of the rest of your life – Charles Dederich
My 5 year old daughter is now 3 weeks into her new school in England. She is in Reception class which is the first year of primary school in The United Kingdom and comes before Year 1. I like the name Reception for its meaning; the action of admitting someone to a place, group, or institution or the process of being admitted. She will grow up in this school and go onto a partner secondary school. The first week started well, she loved her uniform which consists of tights, a crisp white shirt and tie, pinafore, black shiny shoes and a red cardigan with a swan.
“Like the swan in Voorburg,” she remarked
She was referring to a common symbol in the town she lived in before in Holland. It is the country she has only ever known, she was too little to remember the one of her birth, France. But it changed abruptly in the second week. She would suddenly burst into tears after finishing her breakfast. I confess I was at a loss at what to do.
“What is it? Are the children in your class nice to you?”
“Yes but sometimes I don’t understand what they’re saying,”
“Do you like your teachers?”
“Are the school dinners tasty?”
“Yes, I just love them. But…”
“The cafeteria is very loud, I can’t think…”
She spoke about several children that she played with but when we lined up in the morning, she’d go and greet them and some would shy away.
“Why doesn’t she say hello to me?”
“You know, some of these children are younger than you. You are the oldest in the class and it’s their very first time at school. Perhaps they are shy of the adults they don’t know, like me,”
“Okay,” she responded, but looked very sad.
One boy in her class lost his tooth and became so upset that he went home early.
“I had an imagination Mummy, not a dream. It was imagination. Everyone in my class, we gave him a hug,”
“That is a wonderful thing to imagine,” I told her
The next thing she said broke my heart.
“I was sitting on the carpet and I got some water. I then walked out of the classroom and walked home to you and Papa. Nobody sees me. I didn’t really do it,”
I did not tell her that when I was the same age I used to have the same daydream. My primary school at the time was in Geneva, it was created in the 1940s for United Nations children like myself. It was called Ecole Internationale de Pregny and the primary colour, like my daughter’s school, was also bright red. It was my third international relocation, again like my daughter. I sometimes think that our lives, if we choose to look back on them, were already ordained and written. I used to walk down Route de Pregny, past the Red Cross Museum to the Palais des Nations where today there is the sculpture called the Broken Chair. It was not there when I was a girl. There was a building though, hazy to my memory, and inside was where my father worked.
This Monday, she says to me as we walk to the tram.
“Tell my teacher that when I am in school, I miss you. Please tell her,”
She insisted a few more times and so when her teacher came to collect the children, I did. Something amazing happened. My daughter’s teacher smiled and said to me,
“Of course she misses you,”
She then kneeled down to my daughter’s level.
“Of course you miss your Mummy,”
That was all she said but it was like watching sun shining down and a flower blooming. Acknowledgement. That’s all it took. The last two days she has jumped out of bed to get ready for school. She continues to greet the others in the line no matter their reaction and even takes further initiative.
“Noah, are you from Timperley?”
She doesn’t look back as she walks into class no matter how much I want her to. And she knows that I’ll be there waiting for her at the end of the day, at the school gates.