And breathe! The children have FINALLY gone back to school! The collective sigh of relief of mothers across the land as the school term starts, is almost audible. La rentrée is a really big deal here in France, often likened in importance to the New Year in Britain as a sort of a psychological “new beginning”. For most parents it is more a renewed freedom going by the looks of joy in their eyes as they deposit their children at the school gate on that first day back – a reprieve from the 24/7 childminding of the past two months. Mine included!
Preparation for the new school year is not to be taken lightly: the run up to la rentrée can be fraught with arguments over the size of a gluestick and the “right” colour for a folder, the like of which you never imagined you’d have prior to having school-aged offspring. Parents are given a list of stationery that their children will need for the coming school year. This list of ‘fournitures’ is scarily long and needs a maths degree to figure out how many of each exercise book to buy (right size, right number of pages, right-sized squares on the page etc). And then you have to do it all over again for the next child.
Those who are organised send the list to a stationers (in July) who assemble the required “kit” and post it out to you – job done. We’re more at the last-minute, panic-buying end of the spectrum so we did it three days beforehand. The children always want to “help” generally meaning an increase to the final bill (which, by the way, was heading towards €200 this year) as they choose the “cool” pencil cases and predictably shatterable “shatterproof” rulers.
Traipsing up and down the aisles trying to find half the stuff is soul-destroying. My children won’t allow me to ask better-informed French mothers for help when they are with me because apparently me speaking to another human being in their presence is “embarrassing”. But on my third visit, in despair at ever finding something called “papier millimétré”, I resorted (clearly without the children in tow) to summoning the help of other mums. So, in the middle of the stationery aisle-of-hell I just let it out and loudly asked, “Bonjour les mamans! J’ai besoin d’aide, s’il vous plaît! Le papier millimétré se trouve où?”
A cluster of three or four empathetic mums came immediately to my rescue and I was saved from hours of trailing the miserable floors of Leclerc looking for a packet of specially-gridded paper which will soon be transformed into yet another piece of child-art to stick on the kitchen wall.
The return to the school-run routine can also be a bit of a challenge. We do a car-sharing rota with another family which I shamefully cocked up in our first week by forgetting to be at their house one morning at the pre-determined time. We have subsequently started a WhatsApp group between us four parents called “Service Taxi” in the hope of better communication so as not to repeat my oversight. There appear to be increasing numbers of alcohol-related emojis being used in our messages and we’re only at week two.
And now – here we are! Left in that period of slight disbelief and disconcertment that such peace and quiet and tidiness can exist – during school hours at least. Not that I’m complaining!