So, there was my daughter, standing beside the front door, a huge smile on her face, clutching, her new school bag tight to her chest and almost jumping for joy at the thought of her first day at school. She looked so sweet, her hair in bunches and clad in shorts and stripey sailor sweater.
The night before she had thoughtfully prepared her bag and folded her clothing and gone to bed earlier than usual. The next morning she was up with the dawn chorus, buzzing round the house in a state of nervous and joyous anticipation.
It’s early September 2002, my daughter, barely four years old, is starting her formal education. We all go down to school – mums and dads are briefly allowed into the classroom on the first morning. A few hours later, mum collects daughter and brings her home for lunch.
“I’ve been to school” announces our offspring brightly. “What do I do now?”
“Well, you’ll have lunch and then go back for this afternoon”
The news hits our daughter like a bomb. The smile abruptly drops off her face.
“But, I’ve been to school” she blubbers
At this point, mum and dad explain that school isn’t just for one day. “No darling, you’ve got to go back.”
“What, just or a few days?”
Oh no my dear, you’ve been sentenced to thirteen years of hard education. That was how I felt when I handed my daughter over to French education. As I left my daughter at school on that first morning, the metal gates clanged resoundingly shut behind me like the doors of a prison. Walking to the car, I felt something snap and break inside me, knowing that the sweet kid I had just entrusted to the education system, would never be the same again.
I’m not sure if it dawned on our darling daughter when we explained that she would have to go to school for the next thirteen years or so. Not sure that she had any notion of time at this time.
“Will I be allowed to come home and see you?” she finally asked after pondering the thought of a thirteen year sentence.
“Of course,” laughed mum and dad. “You’ll come home everyday. This isn’t a prison.”
This morning my teenage daughter nonchalantly rolled out of bed as teenagers do. She padded into the kitchen and glanced at breakfast, as teenagers do, then she wandered round in a daze getting ready before drifting off to school, for her last day of formal education – at least she started to drift off, before rushing back to the house to ask dad for a lift – torrential rains and a bus strike.
“Just stay at home and revise” says dad – the baccalauréat is only a couple of weeks away.
“I’ve started this, so I’ll finish it” says my daughter resolutely
So, on the last day, as on the first day, dad and daughter climb in the car for the final school run. My daughter has served her time.