It's a good thing le Petit is now a big kid in the moyenne section of his nursery school. It's also a good thing that it's my second year with a kid at la maternelle and I know the ropes. Otherwise, I might have been just a tiny bit terrified when I dropped le Petit off at his new classroom for the first time on Monday morning. The teacher, barely looking up long enough to match a name with a face, checked le Petit's name off a list. She noted that he'd stay for lunch but go home before snack time, and handed us our notebook for official school correspondence.
"Will there be nap time after lunch?" my husband asked politely, almost timidly. We're both disproportionately intimidated by nursery school teachers.
"No, of course not!" the teacher answered sharply. This is moyenne section, after all, she seemed to say. Ca ne rigole plus. We're no longer joking around here, people. Not that we were hoping for nap time, mind you -- le Petit hasn't taken a nap regularly for at least a year and a half.
A line of parents and children was forming out the door, and the teacher was clearly overwhelmed. The classroom aide hadn't arrived. She had thirty students. I decided not to worry too much about how things would go. Instead, we cheerfully and briefly said goodbye to le Petit and left, and he readily popped inside, more than happy to leave us. It was his first full day at school, first day at the cafeteria, first day with a new teacher. What could possibly go wrong?
(I didn't try to answer my own question there, hoping the change of clothes I'd sent him with would cover any eventualities.)
When I picked up le Petit at four o'clock he was ecstatic, and, I noted with relief, wearing the same clothes. I heard more details of his day on the way home than I'd heard all the year before, and they all came out in a fascinating jumble. Four-year-old stream of consciousness is so damn cute. I learned that they'd had recess on the playground on the roof (ah, urban elementary schools) where men with tool belts were building new toys. There were two new helicopters, both blue. They'd read a story about a bear in the woods. There were lots of new kids, and they sat together on a big bench -- big, but not as big as the Viaduc de Millau that we saw on our vacation this summer. They played some sort of game with chestnuts, separating the marron inside from the spiky part on the outside.
The most involved story involved recess. First, he was playing with a small red bicycle -- small like this, he said, holding his hands close together -- which was claimed by another kid while he went off to use the potty. Luckily, however, someone then gave him big yellow bicycle -- big like this, he said, holding his arms as far apart at he could -- and they all turned it upside down and pretended to make chocolate milk.
Hearing this I was tugged back into the imaginary world I created at recess thirty years ago, where we turned toys into machines, kitchens, and hot lava fields, and turned blades of grass into magic potions and improbable recipes.
So, you know, turning a bicycle upside down to make chocolate milk made total sense to me.
It made sense to my dad, too, when le Petit narrated his first day of school later on Skype.
"You know what? When I was a kid, I turned my bicycle upside down and pretended to make ice cream," he shared with le Petit.
Le Petit thought about that for a moment. Our vacation was somewhat of an ice cream tour de France. Thanks to indulgent parents and grandparents, le Petit sampled ice cream everywhere we visited, always the same two flavors, pistachio and raspberry. And on an outing to Versailles with my in-laws last week le Petit visited le hameau de la Reine, the mock country village created for Marie Antoinette on the grounds of the chateau, and saw the "dairy." "That," my father-in-law had explained, "Is where Marie-Antoinette made her ice cream."
Le Petit misses nothing, saves up all that he observes and overhears to make brilliant statements of four-year-old logic when we least expect them. Like on the night of his first day of school, as my husband was putting him to bed.
"When I'm big like you, Papa, you know, there will be lots of toys on the roof of my school. And Grandpa G will have a bicycle and turn it upside down to make ice cream, just like Marie-Antoinette."
A parent sends their kid off to school for the first day and nervously tries to imagine all the possibilities.
But there's absolutely no way I could ever have come up with that.