Summer ended abruptly September 11 with the first day of school. I’ve been terrified about it for weeks. Terrified to the point where sometimes I’d push it away when it floated into my mind. We’re not making it easy on the boys; instead of sending them to English-speaking British or American school, they are attending a Greek school. We speak a tiny bit of Greek – niceties, food & some consumables, but we don’t know the alphabet, letter sounds, numbers past 12.
When we chose the school, we were thrilled with the character and leadership philosophy. Kessaris teaches kids how to learn, how to think, and that it’s safe to make mistakes. It feels a lot like the philosophy of Aspen Academy. And this year away is about building confidence, being brave and resilient, learning a new language and feeling what it’s like to be different. It seemed Kessaris would be a safe enviornment for this. Plus, we have Papou upstairs to help with homework, fill out forms, and procure school supplies. So in theory, I was all in. And I was psyched. Kids are so adaptable. And at their ages their brains are in perfect condition for a new language.
In reality, I was petrified. I felt like a bad parent ‘making’ them do this. Sure, kids are adaptable. I read lots of articles and books telling me this. But these are MY kids – sweet, shy, curious Michael who follows rules and always wants to do it right. Outgoing, tender-hearted yet tough Peter (whose ‘real’ name is Panagiotis), who can be scrappy if he thinks trouble is coming his way, and gets his feelings hurt easily. I was afraid that they would be excluded, or worse, made fun of for being foreign and not speaking the language. I worried that they wouldn’t make friends and I had visions of them eating and playing alone.
Kindergarten had a meet and greet the week before school, so Peter got to see the classroom, play with puppets, animal figures and play dough, see what his name looks like in Greek (Παναγιωτης). They didn’t have anything like this for the rest of the primary school, and they don’t tell you which class you’re in until you get there. So we didn’t have the same orientation for Michael.
We chose the bus for transportation. Demetri thought it would be a place to meet kids; that it’s an important rite of passage. He also thought that riding it the first day was important — they get all of the ‘new’ stuff at once instead of dragging it out over a few days and being new kids all over again. He also pointed out that on the first day there would likely be millions of adults getting kids from the bus to class and back, and that adult help could diminish the second week of school and the boys will be better off knowing every inch of the path to and from bus to class right away. He was right, of course. So … the bus pulled up to our building Monday morning, we all met the driver and the teacher who facilitates loading, seat belting, backpack storage and classroom delivery, and off they went. 1.7 seconds later, we jumped into Papou’s car and followed it. Yep, sure did. On the way, I told Demetri that I was glad I married him because he is brave and adventurous and loves new things and thinks way ahead and I’m reactionary and afraid of the unknown and always worried. He didn’t understand a word of it because I was sobbing. I blew my nose and repeated.
We beat the bus to school but we could not go in Michael’s classroom because it was 830 and class had started. I asked how we could meet his teacher and it’s by appointment. Will do. We planned to stay for the prayer blessing (remember, there’s no church/state separation here), maybe meet some parents, and see the boys. Peter said he had a field trip on his first day because they loaded the kindergarten onto school buses and drove them the 100 meters to the upper school. We saw Michael walking with another boy who looked to be talking to him and Peter had some sort of snack in his hand and got ‘splashed’ (holy water).
They got off the bus at 2:55 and reported a great first day – each met a friend and Michael’s friend has lived in the US so he speaks English, they love the bus, they get to eat lunch and snack on the playground, they played games all day in school. Back at our apartment, the day was topped off with the kindest gift from one of our neighbors. Eva made a giant bundt cake for the boys and decorated our front door with balloons to celebrate their first day.
3 thoughts on “Living abroad chapter 2: school”
I love your honesty (sobbing through it all)! You are giving your kids the best! Keep it up!
And eat some Greek pastries to help ease the pain 😉
Thanks, RSL for your kind words. And … I heeded your advice and had some with my coffee Monday.