Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Sous les crayons de couleur, la plage

There’s a general strike in France today.

I'm working from home today -- taking a brief break for a blog entry -- as part of my contingency plan for the first week of maternelle. Since last Friday, le Petit has been doing half days while we assess the potty situation. He loves school. Adores it. Examines Daddy's watch in the morning to determine when it is time to leave. He runs the last block to school to arrive as fast as he can at the front door.

I was optimistic the first few days, or "cautiously exuberant," if you will. But today at eleven-thirty, along with my child, I picked up my first neatly tied plastic bag of wet clothes. This wouldn't bother me so much if le Petit hadn't had three accidents at home with us yesterday afternoon.

When I briefly asked the teacher how things went, she said nothing about the accident, but gravely told me instead that "[Le Petit] has trouble listening" and "He leaves the classroom and runs out into the hallway." I was instructed to explain to him to that this was unacceptable. I, in my typical way, took this all personally and dramatically (with the help of the mood-destabilizing pregnancy hormones that are drowning me right now) as I turned it around in my head on our way home. I would be labeled a "bad mom!" My child would be labeled a "bad seed!" This was the beginning of long-term academic failure!

As I prepared lunch, I snapped at le Petit over things that I would ordinarily handle calmly. It all ended in a teary time-out. When I’m under stress, my most respectful and effective parenting techniques fly out the window.

I don’t quite understand what I’m supposed to do, and I’m wringing my hands over this one more thing that is beyond my control. I can explain to le Petit that he needs to listen to the teacher. We talked about it on the way home as an Important Safety Issue. I went through his maternelle picture book with him before lunch and emphasized the pages that showed kids politely obeying the adults or routinely going to the potty. But there is only so much I can do to impose discipline when I’m not present, and part of me feels that it is also the teacher’s job to find a way to make sure the lesson is understood.

At the same time, I wonder to myself how the French school system, which seems rather directive and disciplinarian compared to its American counterpart, produces such an individualistic people who have almost codified flaunting the rules. Half of Paris is out in the street today, either protesting the retirement age reform or hiking their way to and from work by foot. The other half of Paris is hiding out at home, taking a day of vacation or telecommuting. It is a mess, and no one expects otherwise.

Not for the first time I’m wondering if my son will grow up to be a syndicaliste, and be out in the street pulling up paving stones and calling out to subvert all forms of oppressive authority.

He’s starting in maternelle.

To paraphrase the famous 1968 student protest battle cry and adapt it to his new generation:

“Under the Crayolas, the beach!”


Goddess Babe said...

Good thing that annoyingly helpful friend in Delaware was home this afteroon. :)

hush said...

"This one more thing that is beyond my control." Yes, yes it is.

I think it is an unspoken, sad rite of passage the first time we are presented with the reality that our kid hasn't meet society's expectations in some small way. We know it is really not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, and is certainly no reflection on our parenting, and toddlers are all about the power struggle with every adult in their lives ... but it still hurts.

Cloud said...

Practical suggestion: Pumpkin has gone through several phases of less than exemplary behavior at day care. (And we still pick up plastic bags of peed on clothes many many days....)

One thing that helps get the message across on behavior when you're not going to be there to give immediate feedback is to "play it out"- literally, role play how it is supposed to go, and what happens if the kid misbehaves, etc. We do this with stuffed animals, but sometimes also with live actors (I get to be the kid, and Pumpkin is the teacher).

It works. Sometimes. Nothing works all of the time.

And if you figure out the secret to potty training a smart, stubborn preschooler who just doesn't see the reason why she should care.... please let me know.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@Goddess Babe - oh, yeah, and not for the first time I'm grateful!

@hush - "I think it is an unspoken, sad rite of passage the first time we are presented with the reality that our kid hasn't meet society's expectations in some small way." Yes, yes, and yes. Because we like to think we can control it, but we can only do our best to model good behavior and discipline as best we can on our watch.

On top of it, I have so much wrapped up in this Fitting In Well to French School Culture Thing that it all feels worse. Harder. Plus I get the feeling that teachers here just make comments easily (see my next post) and that it isn't necessarily the big deal that it would be in the US when a teacher approaches you with criticism of your child.

And the pregnancy hormones are seriously not helping me.

@Cloud - playing it out is a good suggestion, I'll try that! Just talking about it seems so abstract. And while potty training isn't going to dislodge sleep from the Worst Parenting Things I've Dealt With (Badly?) So Far, it is so no fun. And I'm so ready to be done with it.

I figure the accidents will just get rarer and rarer until one day they stop... kind of like the sleepless nights. Right? Right?

caramama said...

He's only been there a week, right? Doesn't the teacher expect there to be a bit of a transition/adjustment period? Or does she not have actual kids of her own?

Sigh. It's tough. Does it help to know that we've been there, and my daughter is generally fine in her schools now? She doesn't always stay sitting while reading quietly on her mat during nap/rest time, but at her first school she never stayed and got in trouble instead.

Give it time and see how it goes in addition to working on it at home. @Cloud's playing it out is a great idea.

Also, I wonder if the "rather directive and disciplinarian" system isn't exactly what produces "idividualistic people who have almost codified flaunting the rules." The way that cops and priests tend to have at least one kid who is the rebellious troublemaker (says the daughter of a cop who's brother was a rebel).