Today was the boys’ first day of school here in Italy. We’ve been counting down the days since we arrived. I’ve been so nervous and so excited for this morning, I had butterflies for a week.
We set our alarms for 7, reluctantly dressed in the required clothing, and were out the door 45 minutes later. Their schools are just 5 minutes away by foot. They share the same building. Tom’s middle school is on the third floor, and Ray’s elementary is on the second. We arrived with the crowd of other families, and the anxiety went up. We didn’t know where to go, didn’t know who to ask for help, and were beginning to feel pangs of guilt for enrolling our English speaking kids into a foreign public school. At 7:55, the door opened and we scrunched our way inside, Italian style. Then we started watching to see what others did.
I finally found a confident looking lady and asked where the sixth graders meet. She walked me to a small classroom and offered a desk to Tom. There were just a few other kids sitting down. I snapped a quick picture and stood in the back waiting for a teacher to arrive. Soon a woman entered and told me to pick up Tom at 1 pm. That was it. Uh, I couldn’t believe I was just leaving him like this!
Via text messaging, I found Matt and Ray down on the elementary floor with all the other kids in blue and white smocks. When we found Ray’s teachers, they embraced him and kissed his cheeks. A classmate was called over to show him around. The student threw an arm around Ray and led him off to the coat room.
Matt and I said our goodbyes and walked back to the apartment stopping for a coffee on the way. It felt really weird to be without them. The four of us have been within earshot almost constantly for the past eight weeks. We talked about them constantly. We wondered if the other kids would be helpful. I worried that the confusion would be overwhelming. I thought about their school supplies and snack. I hoped they had everything they needed. Then I had a moment of big pride for them. How cool that they were enrolled in Italian school. How amazing it will be to watch them learn the language – to read and write in Italian.
At 12:45 we returned to the courtyard and waited for them to emerge. The secondary school releases first. We watched all the middle school kids spill out the door, then from a separate exit, we saw Tom.
Impatient for any news, we started grilling them about their day. Tom said he started talking a little Italian to the first kid he met, but the boy understood nothing. That was discouraging, but he later found out that the boy was from the Philippines and spoke English! Tom then gave me a list of all the school supplies he was missing. He said the day went fine; the kids spoke a little English and the teacher spoke none. His jeans were uncomfortable and no other kids seemed to adhere to the jeans/white shirt dress code and could he please wear Husky basketball shorts tomorrow. He described the lessons which consisted of copying phrases off the white board. Snack was insufficient, especially since I forgot to pack a drink, and he didn’t know where to find water. The kids were really nice but wild. When the teacher left the room, chaos ensued. And when the teacher asked a question, no one bothered to raise a hand; answers were blurted out. Ray quickly agreed that it was similar for him. The kids were friendly, loud, and enthusiastic, and the teachers were very tolerant of all the activity. Ray had a drawing class and a math class. And he only needed two more items to fulfill his supply list.
Looking back, I realize this was such a big, important day. But the reality of it is hard to grasp. I feel limited in my ability to comprehend the system. But I promised the boys I’d check out the dress code policy and get them a better snack. And I’ll memorize their teachers’ names and learn how to find their classrooms without getting lost. Tomorrow will be even better.
I can’t believe they are doing it all over again in the morning. This whole endeavor makes me feel brave and gives me great respect for the boys.