Le Petit just got his first report card.
It wasn't a real report card, of course -- after all, he's only three, and while the Education nationale takes its job quite seriously, they don't exaggerate. It was simply a list of social, intellectual and artistic skills that le Petit is expected to learn within the year, with a letter code indicating if each skill is acquired, in the process of acquisition, or (presumably) nowhere near the mark. Le Petit's teacher only used the first two letter codes, and left other skills blank; it appears that many are not slated until the second half of the school year.
I read it with great interest, looking for the proof every mother craves that the greater world appreciates my child as much as I do. Most skills were marked "acquired." That's my boy, I thought to myself. It turns out there are things he can do at school, like draw a circle, that I've never seen him do at home. It also appears that the outgoing, outspoken le Petit that I know and love is timid and reserved at school: his self-expression is "in process." I'd already heard this from the teacher, so it wasn't a complete surprise, but I was a little concerned to read that the skill "playing with others" is also "in process."
My worried mother mind jumped straight to the worst conclusions: does he have friends? Is he alone at recess? Do the other kids shun him? It doesn't help that I was a misfit from nursery school on, the kind of kid that naturally got bullied and excluded, and I don't want my children to experience the pain that I did.
So the other night at dinner, my husband and I gently questioned le Petit to learn more about the école maternelle social scene. It went about as well as any interrogation of a preschooler, and his responses were less than illuminating. We eventually went through the entire list of boys in his class (the school notebook with pictures and first names just came home and facilitated the task) and tried to figure out who he was friends with.
"Is E your friend?"
"No, E is not my copain any more."
"He fights at recess."
"Is A your friend?"
"No, A is not my copain any more."
"He hits other kids."
His response was the more or less the same for nearly every boy in his class. "Whoa, I guess it's a jungle out there," I said to my husband, under my breath.
Eventually he identified two boys as friends, although what that meant wasn't clear. Did they play ball together at recess? my husband asked hopefully, and got no intelligible answer. (Future Supreme Court nominees take note, for adopting a preschool response style may be the easiest way to make it through Senate confirmation.)
"Do you like school? Are you happy?" we ultimately asked.
"Oui," le Petit stated simply.
"What's the best thing about it?"
Le Petit thought for a moment.
We noticed that a book entitled "Je ne suis plus ton copain" (I am no longer your friend) is on the reading list for this semester. I wonder if it isn't the latest catch phrase in le Petit's class.
Come to think of it, I'm not sure that I play so well with others, either. I'm timid and nervous with new acquaintances, and I have never managed to surround myself with a tribe of friends. I guess at age 34 it's still a skill "in progress" for me, too.