We all arose well before the sun, too excited to stay in bed longer. It was our first day at school. Silas couldn’t wait: “Is it time to go yet?” It was 4.30am.
Thankfully, Google had predicted a 30 minute drive to school and, with school starting and finishing earlier than at home, this reduced the wait time.
With the sky lightening behind the mountain silhouette, we stepped out the door, backpacks bulging. Five minutes later, I was gliding down the curves into the valley, more confident than the last time I’d tackled them, but soon after we joined the highway on the valley floor our pace slowed. Traffic. I hadn’t expected so much in this rural area. In places, we crept along. The 30 minute route was looking to be more like 40-45 minutes. Was it really going to be worth the commute? I was starting to think I had too off-handedly dismissed the length of a drive I would do every day.
I hadn’t found an exact address for the school so we had to cruise slowly along the street. The mist was thicker in the valley, and it was hard to find our way. But the school’s golden yellow glowed through. Like a beacon. There it was! I was as excited as the children. I’d gazed at photo after photo for a year, and now, the school rose before us in all its beautiful buttercup yellow reality.
Hand in hand, we walked up the stairs to the front doors. I introduced myself to the first person we’d met, who passed us through to Delphine’s classroom in the “Jardin d’enfants” (“Children’s garden” – early childhood school). And just as we entered, so too did Delphine’s teacher. I recognised her immediately from the photo she had sent: warm, open and friendly. She walked us out to the playground.
What a scene from halcyon childhood days! Autumn trees had laid a blanket of golden leaves on the ground and some still flickered on their branches. A trestle table was set up with homemade brioche with coffee and tisane (herbal tea). Children rode around on balance bikes and up and over a mound of dirt that had become a makeshift mountain bike route. Others wheeled little barrows of sand into the sandpit. Two fast friends cozied up in a little cubby made of interlaced willow branches.
Next door in the primary playground, a campfire was burning and children were wrapping bread dough around sticks to bake on the fire. This was sufficient attraction to entice Silas to step away from the only two people he knew and into his new school.
For Delphine, this was her first ever day at school, not just her first day at a French school. So she was more uncertain. Yet, there was an irresistible pull for her too – balance biking on a dirt hill. Giving into the temptation, she mounted one of the little bikes and joined the troop of miniscule mountain bike riders.
Outside play over, we moved into the classroom. What a beautiful space! A low wooden table and chairs for children’s meals, a charming selection of handmade toys, autumn treasures from nature decorating the windowsills. We followed a pattern similar to our own playgroup in Canberra: morning tea around the table, seasonal songs and free-play. Delphine was increasingly at home.
We finished where we’d started, with outside play and more happy balance-biking. Silas came to find us. Smiling broadly. His class had also finished for the day.
“So how did it go?”
Face ecstatic, “Great!”
“What did you like about it?”
He’d been the only child in his class of seven who hadn’t mumbled their way through “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” but had instead sung with gusto.
I looked at Delphine free-wheeling in the playground and Silas relaxed and happy. I felt like a bride on her wedding day, sure I couldn’t feel any happier than this. What a joy to see my children in a place that childhood dreams are made of. And I was there to see it. So often we’re only offered a window into our children’s lives, but on this precious day, I’d been there for it all.