Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Surviving la Rentrée

French Village Diaries back to school France la rentrée lycée
The empty shelves in the Back to School aisle

Ed has now been at lycée for a week and although we haven’t quite got ourselves into a routine yet, I think I can safely say we have survived la rentrée once again.

The worst part for me has always been the mad end of August dash to buy all the stationary needed for the entire school year. The supermarket shelves are groaning under the weight of pens, exercise books, paper, folders etc, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. It is a nightmare that signals the end of the holidays and I hate it. All paper and exercise books in France have squares, not lines, but exercise books come in different sizes with different sized squares and paper comes in single and double sheets. In previous years every single teacher has requested a different combination of size, square type, paper and folders. However we had no list this year and I kind of missed the trolley scrum in the ‘back to school’ aisle. Frantic mamans clutching at crumpled lists, ticking off items, filling their trolleys as though their life depended on it and, if they were anything like me, looking forward to a glass of wine once they were home. I floated aimlessly around the aisles, almost jealous of those who knew what they needed to buy. I was lost. Going to lycée is a big step and I needed guidance as much as Ed did, but they gave us no list. We bought a mix of double and single paper, a few folders and some exercise books. We added in some new pens and a new pencil case, so he had something to pack in his bag, but it didn’t feel like we had done enough. I’m glad we got what we did, when we did, as the shelves in the supermarkets are now practically bare, those mamans with their lists are big and organised shoppers.

The evening before school started we had a huge storm. The rain pounded down outside and a real end-of-the-world crack of thunder overhead knocked the power off, so with no Internet and no TV we sat in the lounge, just the three of us and a candle (plus the torch on the iphone). It was nice to have no outside distractions, apart from the storm, on the eve of Ed’s big adventure which seems like the first steps to flying the nest forever and it gave us time to have a cuddle and just talk. I don’t mind admitting that I was a little nervous for the first day. Ed however was calm and keen.

French Village Diaries back to school France la rentrée lycée
Our back to school pic 2015
French Village Diaries back to school France la rentrée lycée
Ed's bedroom at lycée
The big day dawned, misty and heavy with drizzle. We left with plenty of time, which meant we managed to get one of the few parking spaces outside the school and when eight o’clock arrived we were first through the door, giving Ed the best bed in the best room. Result! As a kid I was always last to arrive, often late and always the last to be collected. I hated it. Psychologically being first gave Ed the advantage and it was so much less stressful than getting the last available bed. He was cool, calm and collected, not a whimper or a quiver of the lip and I even got a quick hug as we left him. 

The few texts we received from him last week were brief but happy and positive, and this definitely made a difference to our moods. We miss him, but it is good he is happy, for the moment at least. Coming from a secondary school with around two hundred pupils and a class size of 25 to being one of 760 in a class of 35 is going to take some getting used to, but I hope being one of only 84 boarders will help him feel at home there. Despite not having to make the journey every day, which would mean getting the bus before seven o’clock and not getting home until almost seven in the evening, his days are still long. Lessons start at 8 o’clock and finish at five thirty, every day except Wednesday, which is still mornings only. Every evening there is supervised study from quarter past six to seven and quiet study from eight to nine. The Baccalaureate certainly seems to be a well-rounded qualification that will see him doing a lot more study than the UK A level route. He was pleased he got his cinema option, which although is maybe not quite as prestigious as the bi-lingual option, it will certainly be more fun and that is just as important at 14/15 years old as future qualifications.



One thing that has surprised me and is different to previous years at school here is that there have been very few forms to fill out. We had some to fill in before he got there, but I was expecting a whole stack more. In previous years the same forms, requesting the same information have had to be filled in again and often each form requires pretty much the same thing but in a slightly different format. So far (for me at least) this lycée lark seems a bit too easy.

This week was our first Monday morning drop off with the whole school present. Wow! I am used to this little corner of rural France being quiet, slow paced and rather empty of too many people and traffic. How wrong I was! We drove the twenty kilometres with the orange glow of sunrise still visible in the sky and all was calm to begin with. Then we joined the main road into town and became sandwiched with lorries and cars all slowly crawling along. Driving through the narrow streets towards school we encountered more school buses than I’ve ever seen in any one place before and with them crowds of teenagers milling around waiting for busses, emptying from busses and wandering in a daze of early morning sleepiness, glued to their phones and dragging suitcases. I am so glad Ade was driving. I’m sure the cold, dark winter mornings when I’ve dropped Ade at the airport on the Sunday evening and Ed at lycée first thing on a Monday morning will be a challenge for me, but there is a warm bar with fast internet, selling coffee and croissants just down the road from the lycée that I’m sure will help to raise my spirits.

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