Friday, September 04, 2009
This country is so lax about so many things, roads and stoplights, electricity and more and as such its been quite a shock seeing the seriousness with which they take their schools. All of the schools here are run by the catholic church, so certain things were expected like churches on site at each school, uniforms and prayers. But I didn't realize the full extent of things until yesterday at our first parent/teacher assembly.
We gathered right after lunch in one of the classrooms, the same stifling heat-filled rooms where we expect our children to learn. The heat and the lack of air circulation has been on my mind all week, M will come out of class with her face sweaty even though she's sitting still. There are ceiling fans in the room but the teacher is afraid to turn them on, they are so rickety she's worried they will fall down on the kids.
The principal runs the meeting, starting of course with prayers. She then goes over general rules (rules! lots of rules!) about things like mandatory pleats in the uniforms (there must be TWO! Not ONE. Not THREE! TWO!) and about how the kids can never, ever be late to class. I can't help it and I start to giggle and J looks at me sternly once or twice but I can't help it, the anti-authority vein in me takes over. Besides, it's very, very hot.
One of the other moms asks about the heat and what the school can do and unfortunately they can't do anything, there is no money and the catholics don't come back till January to do repairs. I mentally tick off the months in my head and realize we can't wait till then and we'll have to do something about it now. The principal ends by reminding folks they have stopped corporal punishment and I thank all that is holy because this principal scares me in a good way and I really don't want to have to fight with her but I would have over this.
After the meeting ends we walk outside and climb in the car. Let's go into town and buy a fan for M's classroom I say and J says right now? and I nod. So we head into town and I'm still giggling, we debate who is going to have to go to mass because we just learned we are supposed to go every week, something that god bless them I just don't see myself doing and wonder what the consequences of this inaction will be. Maybe the fan can serve as our advance penance but J just laughs, he was bred in parochial schools and if anything I think he finds all of this rather familiar and relatively okay.
We buy the fans and decide to get two, realizing the unfairness of things if I were to ask the teacher to only put a fan on M's side of the room. As we are driving back I wonder if this is going to make me seem like an asshole, the only foreigner in the school is already inserting herself in things and J says but that's exactly what you are doing and I agree and decide it can't be helped.
When we pick M up after class she's chattering happily. She actually loves her school and her teacher and is already starting to make friends, this first week has gone better than I could ever have imagined for her. She climbs up on the stool and watches me chop onions and asks me to look at her and she stands at prim attention and makes the sign of the cross and I look across the room at J and he starts to smirk. What's that baby I say It's the sign of the cross mama, I am Catholic now and I slowly and quietly rest my head on the table rocking it side to side. It's okay mama you can be Catholic too and I look at her and smile and I remind her about all the worlds religions and how some people are catholic and some are christian and some are buddhist and some are muslim and I remind her of people in her life who are each of these and she smiles and does her cross signing once more. I know mama but I want to be catholic.
And I know in this moment that I'm not anti-any of this but I am pro-openness and awareness and personal choice and I disagree with having things forced on her or anyone else and I realize that right now my ass has just been kicked by a force much bigger than I am, that unless we take her out of school completely this is just the way it's going to be and all of a sudden I realize how much more complicated things become as she gets older, how this is just the first of a thousand million things and how once again when you are a mother there is simply no going back. So I decide there will have to be some balance, a third pleat if you will, a way to calm the tide or at least slow it down long enough for her to find her own balance and for me to have time to continue to grow up.