Romasco-Kelly Family

September 5, 2002

Grenoble, France

The first day of school and other assorted thoughts…

Mike’s been writing these -- now, news from the other half. The boys just left for their second day of school with Mike (they go by public bus) and I’m just happy there weren’t too many tears! Today is their first day of “canteen” – they stay for lunch which I might add is no lightweight affair. Lunch consists of 4 courses and spans over a 2 hour period . The boys have focused on the food at school as a base for their fears and complaints all summer based on the sample menu we read last November when we were here scoping out the school. Evan especially was freaked out about the cheese course!  We assured them that they wouldn’t be eating this exact food each time – Fish, green beans, brie, and apple tart. Well, as a last minute thought Mike checked the menu this morning as they were getting ready to leave, and guess what was for lunch?! Yep – filet de poisson froid (cold fish), haricots verts (green beans), and tartelette aux abricots. Their faces just fell. I was quickly searching for a silver lining, then said, look – no cheese today! Instead it’s yogurt. It seemed to help a little, but I thought I noticed them clutching their little bag of Ritz crackers a little tighter on their way out the door – or was it my imagination?

Their first day of school was on Tuesday, 2 days ago (elementary kids don’t go to school on Wednesdays in France). All the parents were there in the morning and we quickly met a number of other English speaking or bilingual kids while waiting for school to start. The kids were a bit relieved to know that there were other kids they could talk to. I accompanied Evan up to his class while Mike helped Kyle get settled. So -  all the kids and their parents file into the 1st grade classroom and the kids sit down (no assigned seats, no name tags, and no indication from the teacher where they should sit.)  Evan shrugs his shoulders, picks a seat, then sits for about 25 minutes while the teacher talks to the parent s (still no greeting to, or acknowledgement of, the kids) about schedule, supplies to buy, and other housekeeping things. I must say that this did little to ease my anxiety about the rumors I’ve heard about the French public school system – more emphasis is put on making sure that kids learn than on the individual child’s sense of self.  We also heard from the father of one of the kids that Evan’s teacher, Monsieur Vaucher, tends to single individual kids out as (bad) examples. Oh baby! One day at a time I keep telling myself. And I keep reminding myself that this experience is meant to be a character-building one for all of us. I know my kids will be able to handle all of this if we just give them the space (with support of course) to face and solve their problems. Boy is this tough stuff!

Anyway,  back to the first day…We picked them up for lunch on the first day and came home for a few hours. They were both rather upbeat but mentioned that they didn’t understand hardly anything…”mom, we just sit there.” And they went off happily for part 2 of the school day. But when I went to pick them up at 4:30, Evan walked straight toward me and just buried his head in my stomach and slowly started to shake. The tears soon followed; I just held him for a long time while we were waiting for Kyle. Upon seeing “little brothy” so upset, Kyle asked him what was wrong, put his arm around him, and kept telling him over and over, “it’s okay Ev…it will get easier…you did really good today…it’s okay…want a hug?” And I just listened and let the brother magic happen.  Eventually it all came out and apparently Evan had done part of his work on the wrong piece of paper so the teacher made him start all over again and he didn’t finish the assignment…plus at one recess he said he cried “just a little, mom” because Kyle wasn’t there and he feels safer when Kyle is nearby. Are you crying yet, because I sure was! Kyle, Mr. social, on the other hand was full of energy and stories about kids he met, where they were from, etc.  He is a little friendship starved after a summer of just the family and an occasional call or email to friends.  At one point he stopped and looked at me and said, “I’m kinda hyper, huh, mom?” Understatement that it was, it was a positive glimpse of self awareness! Funny thing is that we expected the opposite to happen – that Ev would breeze right through the day and… like I said, it was only the fist day! That night at dinner the kids were telling us all about what happened in class, things they needed to bring for school, etc. We asked them how they took all this in given that it was all in French and they just shrugged their shoulders – their capacity to figure stuff out is amazing.

Yesterday Evan and I went on a hike to the local fort here, La Bastille. He was doing his usual military maneuvers and pretending to be a tough Marine, and at one point he chose the harder route because “Marines always pick the harder ways”. Well, I took his cue and told him that he could look at school the same way and be a Marine and tough it out. He didn’t say anything at the time, but as he kissed me goodbye this morning, I whispered to him, “be a Marine” and he looked back with trembling lips and gave me a slight nod. We’ll see what this afternoon brings!

 Even though it was a very lonely feeling for  me on the first day of school to be in a sea of parents and not know a soul (I really missed Ben Franklin!), it was very cool to be in the midst of several languages and cultures – German, Indian, Spanish, English, African, and of course French. And I will make friends, right?! Actually, we have spent some time with Susan and Regis, some friends that we met through Jody and Steve who live here in Grenoble. A few weeks ago they took us to a huge flea market/antique show and we had a blast. Kyle bought a vintage French Monopoly game to add to his collection of games including the French World Cup Soccer Monopoly game! We play a lot of Monopoly these days and Kyle, who has become quite the business tycoon, beats the pants off of all of us! Evan found an old military jacket that he bargained with the owner for – can’t you just see it… the big blue eyes, the beginner French… it was so sweet. He got it for 8 Euros (same as the dollar.)

 Last weekend we set off for Chamonix, then the Italian Alps in search of good hiking and fried calamari – one last trip before school started. The hiking and views were to die for (see pictures attached), but nary a calamari was to be found! We consoled ourselves with homemade pasta dishes, killer salamis, and some great (and cheap) Italian champagne. Evan and I took several connecting telepheriques from Chamonix, France into Courmeyeur, Italy. It was a breathtaking trip – we went up and over Mount Blanc (3800 meters – 12,400 feet) and got to see people skiing on glaciers and ice climbing. Bill, isn’t this where you skied a few years ago? We can’t wait to go back in the winter.

This is getting rather lengthy, but I have to tell you about the “femme fatale” phenomenon here. Maybe you already know this and I’m a little late in catching on (who --  me?!), but I have been amazed at how French women dress here. I was in the grocery store one day at about 1 pm in my standard shorts, tee shirt and birkies, and all around me I see women dressed in these flowy numbers and dresses with swinging hemlines, and of course little tottering shoes that made my feet hurt just to look at them! I thought maybe they were picking up a few items before going out, then I thought, at 1 pm? ALL of them?! Oh my, I am not in Seattle anymore! My favorite was when we were at the airport in Paris, at the gate awaiting our delayed fight to Iceland. The incoming flight had arrived and the crew that guides the plane in came inside – mind you, this is 11 pm and at an airport. I look at the woman  - the one who holds those orange popsicle sticks and stands on the ground outside and guides the plane into the arrival gate? She was wearing one of those black swooshy cocktail dresses complete with sparkly earrings and necklace, and of course the black high heeled satin sandals…. well, you get the picture.

And it’s true – the women are all petite and thin and darling looking here in France. The part I don’t get is that they eat – I see them eating ice cream at Hagan Dazs, pizza, and all those creamy French dishes… I don’t get it! The supermarket aisles have rows and rows of cheeses, cookies, full fat yogurt (yum yum) and chocolate – what I want to know is, who the hell is eating it all - besides me that is?! My friend Susan tells me that the women all do tummy tucks at the stop light when they drive. That’s gotta be a lot of tummy tucks! I on the other hand just peek at the chocolate shops when I go by and I can feel it in my hips!

The food is amazing, I love walking everywhere, my bead table is set up,  I love cooking with my new Le Creuset pots, and our apartment is spacious, beautiful and feels like home! And I am here with the three people I love the most in this world, so life is good! I do however miss you all so keep those emails, letters, and even visits coming.

With much love and an expanding waistline,  Lisa   

P.S. Stay tuned next time for more exciting tidbits such as

·         learning to do laundry in France (aka how to turn all your white clothes brown)

·         Lisa posing as Kyle at the school canteen to get the 4 course lunch

·         The results of next week’s champagne tasting

·         the allure of driving a motorcycle  around Grenoble without a muffler (ongoing research on my part)

·         Evan’s search for the perfect sugar donut

·         the search for baking powder, cranberry juice (for those lovely Cosmopolitans), and anti-slip rug pads.


A bientôt!