Sunday, 25 May 2008

Learning to fly.


We visited the French school La Fille will go to in September last week. It was a nice school. The directrice was smiling and friendly and had long abundant hair; the sort of hair I imagine features largely in her pupils' drawings. She gave La Fille a scrapbook with pictures of the teachers and sketches by other children of the celebrations and festivals and lots of blank pages for her to fill in. As she spoke, La Fille burrowed her head in my summer skirt and hummed. I don't think the directrice or the Frenchman heard her, but I could feel the vibration of her agitation against my leg. She was doing the equivalent of putting her fingers in her ears and singing 'la la la la' very loudly. "Don't worry," said the directrice as I encouraged La Fille to turn around. "I'm sure she's listening." We had a tour of the school with La Fille still hanging off my skirt and the playground where she briefly flew solo, had one go on the plastic slide, then resumed her detailed study of the warp and weft of Mama's clothing.

I walked back home with a lump in my throat and I've been trying to swallow it since. In a few months she will let go and trot off on the long road to becoming an educated French citizen. Nothing wrong with that, but where will her English half find expression outside the home? Will my dragging us both back and forth over the Channel have made sure the language of Shakespeare is stamped indelibly on those young neurones? Can I even hope to keep half of her English or will it be eroded word by word by the relentless tide of French she will bathe in every day, until she becomes just 40 per cent, or 30 per cent or a quarter English? What difference does it make, we are all Europeans now? some would say. I would reply: "Don't you believe it. We may be Europeans but we are not the same." Then there's the inevitable separation. One of the French mothers at La Fille's nursery, whose son is going to the same school, said it is this she is dreading most about September. And she doesn't have the language and culture element to deal with. We have made a pact to have a coffee and a cry in a nearby café on the first morning.

The lump refuses to be swallowed because I know September is just the start of the slippery slope. These days La Fille's sister La Belle Belle-Fille, now a young woman, stiffens at her father's paternal hugs and I look at La Fille as if to say: one day you won't want me to pick you up an smother your silk-smooth tummy with kisses while you giggle and squirm. One day I won't be able to. But will you remember when you did and I could? And will you go: "Stop, Mama!" or will it be "Arret!"? Sometimes I feel like scooping up La Fille and running as fast as I can to a Eurostar.

8 comments:

Nora said...

She will make a wonderful mademoiselle and you will be proud of her and she will speak English with s French accent and it will make her adorable. Don't fret, she will still be your lovely child in any language and you will love her still.

girl with the mask said...

She'll grow up either side of the water I suppose, but if it makes you feel any better I am in my twenties and still hum in to my mama's leg.

Parisgirl said...

Nora and Girl with the Mask...thank you both for making me feel better.

Nicol said...

I think no matter where you are, it is difficult seeing your child grow up. Wasn't it just yesterday that we were carrying our sweet babies home from the hospital? I have until next fall when my dd will start preschool and I am nervous about it. I am opting to put her into a Spanish speaking school so she can have that conection with her grandparents. I know that my dd will never have the same knowledge of her father's home country, she is an American. I will try to keep all traditions alive through the language and frequent visits to her grandparents. Good luck!

Dumdad said...

I worried about this too with my two. They were born in Paris, have always lived here and we don't go back to the UK much (too poor). But Brainbox and Princess Perfect are proud of their English roots (I made sure they have English passports as well) and I speak to them in English all the time. BB is an avid English reader, which is great (god bless J.K. Rowling).

And god bless Uncle Walt and his wonderful Disney films (in English). Just make sure there's English seeping out of every corner of your home. Time will do the rest....

Working mum said...

Blimey! and I was worried about my daughter just starting school, never mind the cultural thing.

If it helps, I teach children of different cultures and although they sometimes go through phases of wanting to be English like the rest, they ultimately become proud of their roots and cultural traditions, which, I think,is as it should be.

Janelle said...

man. i can relate. try being a zambian living in tanzania but your background is french, scottish, english and welsh. and your family first got here in 1820. so you're not really african but you're certainly not english/european either. its really funky! love your site. thanks! x janelle

Parisgirl said...

Thanks Janelle, Working Mum, Dumdad and Nicol.