A friend used to have a favourite t-shirt with a picture of some fish, a fishing hook and "Three Second Memory" printed underneath. I know it's an urban myth, and deeply insulting to man's earliest ancestors but I need to get La Fille one anyway. She refuses absolutely to tell me what she has done in school. All she was say is "I don't remember". If I am really lucky she will tell me she did a drawing of a dolphin - always dolphins - especially for me. (Even this will 'Papa's picture' as soon as he arrives home.) But that's it. If I say: "You can't possibly have spent the whole morning painting dolphins, what else did you do?", she changes the subject or precociously affects a furrowed brow of theatrical proportions and says: "I don't remember."
It struck me sitting in a chilly, shadowy, pigeon-poo splattered corner of the park today that we know very little about what our children get up to when they are not with us; and even less about what the people supposed to be looking after them get up to. If you meet teachers, nursery nurses, nannies, babysitters face to face they are charm itself. If you see them with the children in their charge they often morph into something entirely different as if some time after you left they nipped into the pharmacy and downed a vial of foaming green liquid.
Today being a Wednesday there was no school. Before France became officially, and tub-thumpingly secular - something you'd never have guessed from the Pope's visit last weekend - Wednesday was appropriated by the Roman Catholic church for children to learn their catechism. I read somewhere the priests chose Wednesday because they thought nobody would go if it was a Saturday. Consequently, no classes on Wednesday but classes on Saturday until now when they too have been dropped. French children do a four day week; you can imagine how easy this is for working mothers who juggle.
We were going to go to the children's monthly reading session at the American library in Paris but first thing this morning La Fille developed fluorescent green snot and started sneezing and coughing. Somehow I didn't think we'd be welcome with other children in a confined space. So I wrapped her up warm and we went to the park. This was not the cleverest of ideas because the first thing she did was take off her shoes guaranteeing day-glo snot for at least a week. Also, it being Wednesday and there being no school, everyone else had decided to go to the park too. This included organisations that look after groups of children on Wednesdays when their parents are working as most are Wednesday being a normal working day. One such party of five or six year olds from an out of school playgroup arrived. The woman in charge organised them in a circle in front of the park gate and began railing at them like a demented silver-haired witch. From what I could guess from the way she was wagging her finger, crossing and uncrossing her hands and sticking her pointy nose centimeters from their faces, most of the French language's most fun verbs were being garroted by a 'ne...pas' (don't) and once or twice drawn and quartered by an 'absolument pas' (absolutely don't). Of course, the kids ran in and immediately congregated in knots behind the bars and ropes to do all the things they'd been ne-pas-ed from doing.
But was she magnificent. Having boot camped her own troops, she then marched in and like a Gallic Boudicea set about the other kids. While we had all mumbled under our collective breath but said nothing about the boys throwing sand she marched right up and turned them all to stone with a single "Arretez IMMEDIATEMENT". When one of her charges ran up wailing because sand had been thrown in his eyes she held him at arms' length and told him briskly: "It's not too dramatic. Keep crying and it'll get rid of the sand." And when one of her boys picked up a fistful of sand, her assistant - a younger graduate from the School of Scaring the Pants off Children - yelled: "Oi, I just told you not to throw sand. Are you taking the piss out of me?" Rules on bad language anyone?