School Days

Forest was recently accepted at our neighborhood “jardin d’enfants” which is basically a preschool. I was informed of this via a message in French on my voicemail. My voicemail is funny though and I didn’t realize I even had a message until thirteen days later. I recognized the name and days of the week and was thrilled that they had an opening for Forest. Unfortunately, I got the message over Christmas break which meant an agonizing two weeks of waiting to make sure they had held the spot for him. They had. The director of the school called me back and mercifully spoke to me in English.

“You will bring a deposit of fifty francs, slippers for the feet, pampers and clothes. You will come for a visit on Tuesday and then he can stay by himself for fifteen minutes on Thursday. Then thirty, then forty-five and so on,” the teacher said. I was unsure about the slippers but had heard the Swiss were particular about cleanliness. The deal with the slippers is this: every child must keep a pair of soft soled slippers at the school. They enter the building and immediately change from their outdoor shoes to the slippers. Outdoor shoes do not come in contact with the indoor spaces. This continues into elementary school. Our friends’ ten-year-old son has three pairs of shoes at school on any given day- the shoes he wore to school, slippers for the classroom and sneakers for gym. I have even heard of adult gyms that require different shoes be worn after entering the gym. This is remarkably different from America. I just read a post from Nole on Oh So Beautiful Paper about how her daughter has to wear hard-soled shoes for day care. I think Americans are more concerned about the safety of the children’s feet (and liability for an injury) than the cleanliness of the floors. The Swiss appear to be the opposite. I thought it was another fascinating cultural difference.

Also in contrast to some American preschools, Forest’s preschool requires a gradual entry. The director told me that several parents have complained because they want their children to do the full three hours right away. I was relieved when she told me everyone had to do this gradual entry program- fifteen minutes alone the first time building up to the full three hours. Every child does this schedule and it can be tailored to each child. If separation is an issue, the entry is even more gradual. It’s much more focused on the child’s comfort at the school than the parent’s three hour break. I can’t lie, the first few days I was disappointed that I had to sit in the car and read a book. What else would I do for fifteen or thirty minutes? It was a nice quiet reading break but I was hoping for a little longer. Even as I write this I am watching the clock because Forest is staying an hour and forty-five minutes today and I can’t be late getting him.

The first day (thirty minute visit while I stayed), we went inside and Forest ignored the very nice teacher who was kneeling down to greet him, walked directly into the classroom and began to play with a car. It took some effort to get him to take his shoes and jacket off and say hello to the teachers. As we left our visit, the children were headed outside to play which only made Forest sadder to leave. I had to carry my crying boy back to the car. The next day (fifteen minutes while I waited outside) was worse… for me. I said goodbye three times, kept hoping for at least a little sadness to mark my departure and even went in to give him a kiss. Nothing. He was off doing puzzles with his friends already. I’m pretty sure I was sadder to leave him than he was to be left. I came back in fifteen minutes only to be told no, he was not leaving until his puzzle was done. Fair enough.

Forest going to school has actually really changed my outlook on Geneva. Prior to this, everything I did could be done anywhere in the world- cook, play with Forest, laundry, etc. I was frustrated by how inconvenient things are (have I mentioned there are no drive-throughs in this town?) and felt like my life was made much more difficult by our location. But now that Forest is in preschool and is exposed to French on a regular basis, it has given me something to really appreciate about Geneva. We probably couldn’t find a French preschool in Houston- though we could find a drive-through ATM. But Forest’s exposure to French makes living here more valuable to me. And that is worth a lot more than convenience. Seriously though- no drive up ATMs? You could do everything in a drive through in Houston- banking, dry cleaning, pharmacy, etc. I’m sure I’ll rant more on that later.