13 weeks with three children, one fig tree and a continual stream of adorable chatter combined with exhausting demands and “the odd” temper tantrum: one mamma was faintly relieved, to put it mildly, when the day finally dawned.
The start of Scuola Italiana.
Truth to tell, despite their worries and fears, even the children seemed glad to be forced, finally, into routine. The last few weeks of the holidays had become increasingly fraught: daily visits to the vet combined with the children’s pre-school nerves and there was much demanding, attention seeking squabbling and bickering. The kind of behaviour which requires oodles of patience from parents. I hold my hands up: my reserves were low.
For the last few nights before the big day, P. wanted to sleep in my bed, and he spent the nights fitfully, snuggling ever closer for reassurance. H. at this stage was more confident, waking in the night only, ‘because I’m so excited Mummy’.
The first day itself was ultimately much easier for P., as we met a little half English girl of a similar age a few weeks ago: a fireball of energy, she’s a feisty match for P. Once his little friend, A., had arrived, P. was happy to go in to his little ‘scuola materna*’ unaccompanied by Mummy and there was barely a backward glance. He was saving his worries for frenzied night time calls to me, ‘Where are you, Mummy?’ has peppered my sleep over the last week.
H., who had been so brave at home, so pleased with herself in her black smock (they wear their own clothes and cover them with the overall – a simple idea which would work brilliantly if they all wore them), looked petrified as we made our way into the school. As she fretted over which was her peg and when she would put the picture of herself up over it, my heart ached for my little-big girl. I can rationalize to myself why we are doing this and we can talk objectively about what it will be like: H. herself is given to telling people quite confidently that, ‘for the first month I won’t understand anything, but then it will be fine’, but there is no way I can be with her head and her heart as she sits in the classroom, amid a cacophony of sounds she will be struggling to understand. So conscientious and keen to do right, it will be hard for her not to know which ‘right’ is being asked of her.
Last week H. had decided to go by one of her middle names, as this was more Italian and ‘would be better for everyone’. I think the first morning at school was fairly complicated by this , indeed, I watched her introducing herself in Italian, and could see the ‘confusione’ was doubly demanding – not only another language, but also another identity! By Day 2 she came back saying that she had decided instead that everyone should call her an Italianized version of her real name!.
I stayed with Italianized H in the classroom while the children began the day in the ‘agora’, the cushioned circle time which marks the beginning of every Senza Zaino day, when the children talk about their emotions and plan the day’s or week’s activities collaboratively with the teacher. H. kept looking over to me for reassurance. La Principessa was delighted to be with big sister and went over to tumble into circle time with her. H. onto la Principessa for reassurance and snuggled her onto her lap. Maestra B. passed a ball of wool round the circle, encouraging the children to introduce themselves, following their name with ‘mi piace…’ and ‘non mi piace…’ (I like… and I don’t like…). H. looked anxiously at me for something to say. We had a little whisper and I could see her practising her lines. H. looked ever more panic stricken as the ball of wool came her way. I waited while she bravely managed her name, then ‘mi piace i libri’ (I like books) and ‘non mi piace la confusione’ (I don’t like chaos). In fact, I think 14 out of 15 of the children in the circle, by which I mean the children in the whole school – yes the primary school, from ages seven to 11 – said that they didn’t like confusione – a comment which Maestra B. had started with. As I left, two of the boys, who should have been sitting down, looked to me like they were clearly going to be the cause of much confusione for the poor teacher.
Walking back to the car holding only La Principessa, with no one pestering me for information or attention, with no other little hands to hold as we crossed the road and with the peace that comes from no one squabbling, I felt hollow and lonely. We have been a close knit, tight community for the whole summer. Just us, la famiglia, together in our adventure and while I have been craving some time for myself, the reality of leaving the children in a strange school with teachers I had met only fleetingly before only dawned on me as I drove back down the hill. Had I given the children the ‘don’t go home with anyone else’ lecture? Were they sensible enough not to leave the school grounds without me? Would the school phone me if there were a problem? The first day of pre-school or school in England can seem unsettling enough as a parent who has perhaps only left their child with family or friends over the years, but I hadn’t quite appreciated how it would feel here in Italy. I had left them in classrooms with children they had never seen before, in an unknown language, about to embark on an unfamiliar routine. Even if I question for other reasons why we moved the children before we gave the initial school a chance (a delightful foray into more Italian bureaucracy, about which you will hear more anon), I am glad that going to this school gave P., at least, one ally in his class when he started: the handful of playdates he had with A. before the start of term gave him the confidence to go in alone. H., on the contrary, was begging me to stay with her, but, despite the fact I had expected to do so, I could see that ultimately this would hinder more than help her. While I can support outside school as much as possible, at the end of the day, the children have to overcome these nerves themselves, by being in the classroom and realising that they can do it. The first month, at least, is going to be tough and I can only hope that my instinct that it will give them strength of character, rather than perpetual fear of the unknown, will hold true.
*Scuola Materna is the equivalent of Pre-School, P. just misses the cut off point to be allowed to enter Scuola Primaria this year.