School Week 2.. we survived | Storyteller photographer.
Week 1&2 of Swiss School and we survived.
The learning these weeks has been prolific! Consider yourself warned about the length of this post.
In the spring of this year, packing, organizing, and making overseas phone calls at obscenely late hours in the day were becoming my norm. At that point we had ‘picked’ our village out of the choices in the valley that we figured were going to be the best spot for us to land and from there the litany of paperwork started – or at least, I was trying to sort out the jungle of paperwork that would eventually land on our doorstep/mailbox/horse drawn carriage (that last one was for me – a girl has to keep some of her childhood dreams alive right!?)
One middle of the night phone call and the
kids were registered in school.
Monthey in the Canton of Valais now had the information needed (their names) and the requisite national identity (we are swiss…pinky promise), to have them registered in their respective classes. A was going into 4H and T 7H. ..??.. The Swiss enjoy a level of organized complexity in all things and I was gently reassured that the children would be educated with peers in their same age group, I almost asked what class the over 5 ft category people fit into, but I figured it was too late in the evening to have that conversation. Signing off the conversation I was reassured that all the information I would need would be sent to me and that the start of the school year was going to be fabulous. With trepidation, or was it just packing exhaustion, I agreed wholeheartedly. I hung up and suddenly wondered how said information was going to get to me...I hadn't given them an address....we didn't as of yet have one. Then I went to bed. And promptly forgot.
Monthey is a village of a whopping 17,000 people – this is 3000 people larger than the community of Tuscany in Calgary – for reference sake. Within this area, there are over 11 school buildings.
I requested that my children be placed in the same school
for oh-so many reasons.
Do you remember that whole, wanted to ask a question and then fell asleep thing while registering one's children for their ever so important Swiss education? Well, as we know in recent editions of "what are you doing anyway" it takes a village to help this family to keep it together. A quick email, class list and map in hand - once again at 11pm at night and my stomach hit the floor. T and A attend different schools.
WHY..???!! And what does that mean?
Ask for the kids to be together in the same school??…! SNORT. THAT is funny. You can ask all sorts of things here when it comes to your children’t education, but typically the response is “Mais non Madame, c’est comme ça qu’on crée des classes avec l’équilibre des enfants!” “but madame, this is how we make up the classes, changing is NON possible!” The village decides where your child goes to school…not you. T & A's proficiency in French allows them to move straight into the regular school stream with lessons of 'appuie' should they need it. Despite the family being not so over the moon with my "let's do German school on Saturday morning guys...it'll be FUN!" for the past 3 years, my '5 days of School isn't enough Saturday morning lessons' were paying off - T will have German class along with English. YES. For the record, this mama has now acquiesced that Saturday morning German *bad idea mom* will be conveniently swapped out for "amazing let's go exploring hiking, swimming, having fun Mom". A much nicer mom I must admit. I can't wait to meet her.
ok...we've got this. This is normal. People do this.
It turns out that despite my desperately wanting to keep my kids together, their own ability to be both loving and each other’s arch enemy on this trip demonstrated to me that a healthy dose of separation is a good thing. Thankfully, the primary schools they attend are only a 3 minute walk apart and along the 'chemin des écoliers' which translates to "student road" - which in the morning, lunch pick up and drop off and end of the day is exactly that. Student going and coming chaos.
Pick up and Drop off requires an excel spread
sheet and colour coded markers.
Let me unwrap those details for you a little bit.
T attends “le Vieux Collège” – and vieux it is. Where I saw charming and gorgeous architecture, she saw ‘old and creepy’. It is located in the heart of the village, the road to school is the perfect downhill slope allowing the scooter to pretty much drive itself to school. That’s the plus. The negative – no school playground….but most of the schools don’t have that so this is going to take some getting used to and monkey bar hands will have to be sorted another way.
A attends one of the “MabillionI” – apparently there is a I, II, III, IV and perhaps even a V but I have no idea where they are…apparently I should have because within 48 hours I managed to pick her up at the wrong spot after Arts and crafts class. ….Bad mama… The teacher is magnificent and personally I love that the school bell is a hand held metal bell that she needs to ring to get the children’s attention …for reals!
Day number one consisted of a 3:2 adult to kiddo ratio and cell phones to cover the gap. Tony went with T – she could translate if anything went sideways, and me and Oma were off to bring A. We all felt awkward and new in that school yard waiting for things to happen and not entirely sure how it would all go. Not least of which the kids who were jittery all morning - but with their new backpacks and assorted school supplies they were more ready for the challenge than I think I was.
Not surprisingly T was all smiles and made it to her new teacher with the help of the sticky note that we created in the morning. A managed to meet a new friend based on the colour of her backpack and the school start seemed a total success until her name wasn’t called and I almost had a panic attack that we were at the wrong place until we realized that today she was going to be known by her middle name – a simple clerical error that could be fixed with some coloured pencils and sticky tape. Insert big sigh of relief!
Incredibly the kids were solid and it was their mom that lost it upon leaving the grocery store, seeing that it was recess time and watching your typical social butterfly on the bench eating her snack all by herself. Knowing full well you don’t make your new bestie in the span of 1.5 hours, it devastated me to see that she was by herself and it was all I could do to not run into to scoop her up and play hopscotch the way my heart wanted to. 10 weeks of travel, packing, unpacking, paperwork, questions and no answers, apartment hunting, friend making, alone, together, everything managed to squeeze out of my eyeballs as I walked back home with Tony the 5thtrip up from the village centre since 8 am that morning, the first two for school and these ones now for groceries. She’s ok…she’s going to be ok...I kept repeating it if nothing else than to keep myself occupied so I didn't let the tears overtake me.
If I can just make it to lunch time..
Kids start school at 8:15 and are involved in various classes until 11:30 when mamas and papas dutifully pick them up for a leisurely 2 hour lunch. Yes. You read that correctly. A trip to the park, a picnic or a dash home to avoid the rain brings us to lunch and then the inevitable return to school at 1:30 with classes that follow until 4pm (except for Wednesdays) when the pick up and drop off routine happen all over again. Exercise seems to be an inevitability here and don’t get me started on how parents who work full time manage this system – they do, people work but for now my biggest challenge is keeping our European fridge stocked for all the meals that need preparing.
Lunch time arrived and it was divide and conquer once more – Tony and Oma going to get T and me to get A. A’s double thumbs up at lunch time had my heart doing summersaults and her pronouncing that she had a plethora of friends despite not knowing any of their names and loved school was all the reassurance that this nervous mama needed.
T came out of school and was relieved that a picnic lunch at the park with the family was in the cards – “I love this schedule mama because it gives us more family time!” my heart melted….it was also 33 degrees out.
Interestingly the Swiss have a way of getting into the activities right away. Swimming started within 2 days of T starting school. Rather than asking permission, you are simply informed that they need a swim suit and swimming cap, once again...reinforcing that the school schedule and its agenda is non negotiable.
Equally skating happens in quick succession, despite the heat suggesting otherwise, and with an attempt at ingratiating myself with the other moms we moaned at the fact that the kids will only go skiing with the school 6-8 times up in the alps this year. OMG….! My kids are going to learn how to ski in the alps!! Hi hi hi hi…..in my effort to stay cool calm and collected despite my sweat stains something else, I could barely contain my delight!
The kids - well school supplies are always fun. Who doesn't love new colouring pencils and crayons! Don't look for Crayola here, ssshhhhh....CranDash is what's on the list - wonderful supplies but at a price seemingly sky high it made this mama take pause and wonder long I could pass off the airplane crayons as school supplies before papa managed to smuggle some Crayola into the country on his next trip back. Please...anyone who comes this way, your ticket in are the gorgeous fine tipped crayola markers and the window ones too! I have put in an order already.
T on the other hand had me pulling out the pocket book for her first ever "plume"...what? Heck I know that Switzerland can be rooted in tradition - but we are now writing with feathers? A quick guide at the school supply store and I was gently reassured that my daughter was to use the finer impliments of writing - calligraphy pen was more like it. Not only that, however, a rechargeable calligraphy pen with erasable ink....I could just hear the cash register sing as I read that out lout to myself.
The children’s schools are old. And with this the challenge of spaces added over time rather than a completely new building to accommodate all the students in the village for the various activities requires an artfully scheduled calendar of coming and going through the various buildings. Learning is done in one location, gym is within another builder, arts and crafts are done with a specialist and is located elsewhere as is music class not to mention swimming, skating and skiing! Seeing the parents here nonplussed by it all allowed me to sink into the new and respect this way of schooling….as long as I know where to drop them off and pick them up. Our kids are integrating into the new – personally I love that they get to live and learn beyond the borders of the school walls on a daily basis. But to get to that point I was starting to get exhausted and it wasn't even day #3 yet!
If this isn’t enough and all of it feels rather overwhelming…Wednesday afternoons allows for a breather – no school. Yes that is right. Because apparently 2 hour lunches aren't enough, Wednesday are meant for rest, friends, family and school activities. Wanna hit up the library..? Do it on a Wednesday - it is the only day in the week where it is open all day. A is still at the age where she only goes back Thursday afternoon. Yes you read that correctly…she only goes to school 4 days a week. She is beyond excited…her DIY craft project list is a lengthy one and I am equally looking forward to the one on one time with her. I am going to assume we get all our learning done in the time allotted - but for now...just getting through to the next class with the correct backpack, shoe bag, signed paperwork and hand rung bell and correct snack as well as coming home with all the pieces of the family is what was most important.
Then came our first Thursday morning.
The week has overall been a success. A smidge of a routine was starting to peek through the chaos of the days and inevitably tired was showing itself up in equal measure....and just when we were thinking that we had this situation under control and totally nailing all the complexities of everything...
the cobble stone snakes took hold of that scooter
and with one feel swoop the motherload of crashes and subsequent waterfall of emotions showed up 3 minutes outside of our apartment. Me and Talia, a bleeding knee and snotty tissues, there we were sitting on the ground, snuggling and heaving the big snuffly cries that at once cause concern and equally let out all that needs to come out – we realized together all the things that we had made happen in 3 very short days. We can do this. We’ve got this.
Slowing down we learned that a knee can be bandaged, walking slowly hand in hand is a really great thing, the sun on our faces feels amazing and when you take the time you will find the signs to help you move forward despite the crazy, unknown and scary.
We managed to get to the weekend. We’ve racked up a lifetime of stories in one week and next week isn’t looking so scary. We’ve got this. We can do this.
Week 1 of school was a whole family learning experience. Friday arrived with us all feeling exhausted and elated that we made it through. Next week we will be that much wiser and that much stronger!