Sunday, September 22, 2013

First Day of School

The enemy of society is ignorance, and teachers are the enemy of ignorance.
As soon as I got pregnant, one of the first things I started worrying about was LE having to go to school here. Overcrowded classrooms. Decrepit facilities. An exams-based system, all based on memorization, with an authoritarian control of knowledge. Lockstep indoctrination and militaristic shouting of nationalistic slogans.

But what are you gonna do? The kid has to start school sometime. We managed to put it off for a year. Still, like all those days you don't really want, like your dentist appointment or the last day of summer vacation, this day finally came.

Last week, they had a kind of orientation for the first graders before the bigger kids start school. BE and his parents took him to the first day of orientation because there really was no way I could escape work, but I made sure I took him to the *real* first day of school. I had taken him to some orientation days, too. His teacher has gotten the BE family stamp of approval. She's a good Republican, which sounds like an appalling thing for me to say in English, but it's how you translate Cumhuriyetçi. My teacher friends always ask her age (50-ish), and that gets the stamp of approval too, because she was of the generation that got a proper education. I guess the younger ones are just rushed through.

For my part, I liked it that she seems strict, but nice when she needs to be. Anyway, LE will be with her through 4th grade (or more, or less, if they change the education system again), so I hope she's cool for real.

The orientation days were crowded and pushy and noisy and someone said something about a meeting downstairs for the first grade parents, but there was no such meeting, which I know because I looked all over for it. The parents all gathered outside the door of the classroom and made a lot of noise in the hallway, occasionally bursting into the classroom to fuss over their little bunnies because they couldn't stand leaving them alone for another second. There was nothing to do for the whole two hours but stand there, so sometimes I stood outside in the yard and sometimes I stood inside in the corridor. Everyone stared at me at lot and I smiled at everyone a lot.

Here's one thing about first grade so far-- the part that's all about me, I mean. Not only am I much taller than all the other parents, I seem to be the only foreign parent in the whole school of about 100,000 kids. I'm also one of the tiny minority of moms not wearing a headscarf. I expected this. And it's natural for the other parents to wonder what on earth I'm doing there.

Don't fuck with Teyze.
In LE's class (mercifully small, by the way-- about 30 little ones), one grownup is Bossy Teyze. She's really nice, and likes to boss everyone around, like telling parents where to stand and making sure the kids line up nice and straight and telling them where to put their backpacks. She was one of the ones who couldn't refrain from entering the classroom several times. I've been unable to ascertain which kid she's attached to. It's possible she's like one of those teyzes that goes to weddings just for fun.

There's also a mom who came in with a tiny guy who went and sat by himself. She got LE to introduce himself to the little fellow, and convinced them to sit next to each other, and then she talked to me. This, of course, made me like her instantly. Most of the moms are the kind of people who wouldn't strike up a conversation with me for fear I won't understand, thus causing everyone to be uncomfortable. And I'm for sure not the sort of person who goes around striking up conversations with strangers unless I absolutely have to.

LE has most of his uniform. The shirts aren't in the shop yet, and the lady who runs the shop seems most relieved I don't really care about the continued absence of the shirts. He also got a rolly backpack and a bunch of school supplies including Play-Doh, which made first grade way less intimidating for him because he thought he would be expected to know how to recite the national anthem and read. Uniforms aren't required by law anymore, but apparently the parents in the school voted for them with an overwhelming majority. I was surprised to find myself okay with this, mostly because I was worried LE would stand out as a rich kid or something. Also it makes the whole discussion about why we can't wear our Spiderman suit to school a lot easier. Sometimes The Man has to win my arguments with a 6 year old for me, and I'm okay with that too.

LE manfully strutting off to school, pulling his rolly backpack behind him and swinging his free arm, is a sight to behold. It kills me with the cute. He wouldn't hold my hand all the way there, 10 minutes before the appointed time, and the schoolyard was insane. I swear they're giving those kids a hefty dose of meth with their snacks. They run in circles and scream and kick empty water bottles around. Two middle school boys were beating the shit out of each other as we went in, one holding the other in a headlock punching his face while the other went for the kidneys and the security guard was off chasing some other kids who'd escaped early. LE took my hand.

Of course everything started late and there was nothing to do but crowd into the shade with the other moms and small kids, many of them bawling, while we waited for someone to tell us what to do. LE's classroom was still full of middle school kids. We waited for almost 45 minutes, till LE was bored and had eaten half of his afternoon snack.

So fucking boring...
With the middle school kids on their way out and the elementary school kids on their way in, the yard was packed. Everyone was pushing everyone. It was as if all those years of pushing on the metrobus were actually training for the first day of first grade.

Lucky for us, LE was undaunted. I was plenty daunted and doing my best to keep it to myself. The last time I started first grade was 35 years ago in a smallish town, so my normal on this topic is clearly not his normal. He's way cooler with chaos than I am.

Some guy started yelling into a PA system for people to get out of the doorway so the middle school kids could go out. Then he started with some opening remarks that would have made no sense to kids and the parents weren't listening. Then another guy, apparently unaware the first guy was using the PA system, started yelling something so there were two guys yelling stuff into the PA system at once and the running and screaming and crying continued unabated.

School is fucking awesome.
I've always heard that it was exactly this sort of thing that has trained students not to listen when someone is hollering at them. I don't blame them because I couldn't have heard any of it even if I'd tried.

A gypsy mom with two little boys was hanging off to the side of the cluster of parents blocking the doorway. The two boys were torn between being scared and wanting to run around and scream. I've seen the mom and boys out begging and selling tissues on the weekends. I'm not even sure if she was their mom. She looked young and careworn. The boys were a bit grubby but were wearing their cleanest best clothes, freshly pressed.

One of the PA guys yelled for the kids to start lining up by class. Bossy Teyze knew just what to do and where everyone needed to be, so she started herding people. I got LE into line next to his friend from the other day. Actually, he was next to another kid he didn't know, but his friend's mom pulled LE over to her boy, saying he wanted to be next to LE. A couple kids were crying and kept trying to escape the line. Their moms were near tears themselves, and some of the dads, and also the assorted older siblings and babies.

It's like the lamest music festival ever.
I really felt for them. It's the worst thing in the world, sending your kid off for the first time. Most of these kids probably didn't go to the assortment of preschools LE has. I never got used to him crying and reaching for me, wide-mouth and red-faced, while someone whisked him off to play and I felt like the most evil, heartless mother in the world and that if LE turns out to be Jeffrey Dahmer when he grows up it will be because I made him go to school those times when he really, really didn't want to go. But today he seemed especially keen that I not fuss over him so I didn't. He just wanted me to be where he could see me and that was okay. Also easy because I was taller than everyone there and he's taller than most of his classmates.

The gypsy mom chose a line that looked good and shoved the boys into it, then backed away with her arms crossed over her chest and looked away, at no one in particular. The boys conferred and found a line that looked better to them and got into that one. The teacher in that line noticed the boys and rubbed their heads and put her arms around them and got their names. Then she went to the mom to find out where they were supposed to be, but the mom didn't seem to know and the teacher patted the boys again and decided to deal with it later. The boys tried to look cool but stayed close to each other, so their arms were touching.

Then some kids started screeching a call and response chant into the PA system, and all the older kids knew what to shout back. I couldn't really understand it, but it was probably one of those lockstep nationalistic slogany things I was worried about. LE gave me a bewildered look and I shrugged back at him. Some of the moms were moving their lips along to the chant and Bossy Teyze was trying to get the little ones to join in.

With that, it was time to march into class, so they did, smallest kids first. LE tried to pretend he wasn't waving back at me.

At the end of the day, after the meth had been administered to the younger kids, LE came out and ran up to me for a cuddle and then acted like he hadn't. I asked him if he wanted to run around and scream for awhile and he did. I looked away for a second and lost him in the crowd.

My kid is the one in the white shirt.
Lucky for me, he has a Spider Sense about where I am. After running in circles and screaming for a minute, he came back to me and said he wanted to go home.

And with that, the first day of school drew to a close.

I'm sure he'll be fine. Really.

No, really.

5 comments:

William Metzker said...

You cried, huh.

Anonymous said...

You weren't kidding. That IS crowded like a rock concert. I think if I had been in your shoes having to leave my kid there would have sent me into a full panic meltdown. You are strong.

-mel

Backto Bodrum said...

Remember not to chew gum while they are "chanting" I got told off by the headmaster over the pa system for doing that.

Stranger said...

I cried for first grade? Poor you :(

Gosh, I hope I wasn't chewing gum. I bet the PA guy could have spotted me through all those people even. Maybe that's what the 2nd PA guy was saying...

Claudia Turgut said...

gosh you made me laugh with your depiction of bossy teyze and that pic!! But otherwise you are so right: I don't think much has changed since I saw off my 2 little daughters some 25 years ago into the depths of Turkish education. But don't despair: they have done perfectly all right:))