The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Au Lit, On Dort and Eye of Cat

By Anne Chudobiak

So I went to the QWF awards gala last week. It had a mainly unsettling effect, perhaps because it coincided with the first real storm of the season. When I left to go out to the Lion d’Or, the snow was light and fluffy and charming. On the trudge home, it felt more demanding. Was this rain? sleet? hail? The next morning, it was simply unbearable. When had it gotten so cold? Who was responsible for this ice? It was giving me a headache, or maybe that had something to do with all that red wine, but whatever. All I wanted to do was eat potato chips and watch Miami Ink—until March, maybe April.

But of course I had things to do, things that I couldn’t put off any longer, like that letter to my daughter’s teacher, the one where I gently, artfully suggest that she might want to keep a closer eye on the girls in the schoolyard. A gang of hopscotch-taggers was going a little Cat’s Eye, by some reports.

This wasn’t really a letter that I wanted to write. The whole concept of bullying made me sad, especially where it concerned my daughter, and trying to express those concerns in a second language only made it harder. No wonder Esme was having trouble! Her teacher and I hadn’t read the same books. How could we ever understand one another? Had Madame Atwood's Oeil-de-chat been as widely read as the original? Why had I never gotten into the habit of following the French-language media here in Quebec? If I had, I wouldn't be in this awkward position of not knowing which books to reference in my pointed letters to elementary school teachers.

I decided in the end not to mention any novels. It was too dangerous. No one was ever more shocked than me by what English-language authors managed to find additional success in French translation. Joyce Carol Oates, for example, seemed inordinately popular here, judging by her constant presence on prominent display in at least one local book chain. I also remembered a long year where the only thing that anyone in the entire province seemed to be reading was Arthur Golden’s Mémoires d’une Geisha, but maybe that wasn’t unique to Quebec.

I focused instead on making my letter friendly and accessible. It was crucial that my information be well received. I led with a sincere compliment and closed with a nice salutation, before putting the letter in Esme’s backpack and sending her off to her fate. I hoped that the hopscotch-taggers wouldn’t choose that day to up their game. At least grade-one girls weren’t known for physical violence.

I spent the day waiting nervously. What if the teacher wrote back that I was a parent-roi? I’d learned that term from her, at a parent-teacher night. She’d said that we’d probably all read about the phenomenon of overly pushy parents making needless demands on tireless educators in that famous exposé in Le Devoir. I hadn’t. When was the last time I’d even glanced at that paper? 1999? To make up for lost time, I now try to use the term “parent-roi,” as often as possible. It makes me feel more in step with Quebec society. “I’m not trying to be all parent-roi, but I think that something’s amiss on the hopscotch court. By the way, my daughter adores you. Cordially, Anne.”

When Esme was returned to me that afternoon, I dove into her backpack, looking for my reply. What I found surprised me. My letter was still tucked inside her agenda, apparently unread. I wanted to ask Esme how it had happened that the letter I’d taken such care to write had been overlooked, but she was too busy, telling me about the great day she’d had, playing outside with all of her friends.

“Friends,” I said. “What friends? I thought that you didn’t have any.”

“Sure I do,” she said. “Lots. I have lots of friends. Marguerite et Catherine et….”

“What about the hopscotch-taggers? The ones who made you cry?”

She stared at me blankly.

I discreetly removed the letter from the agenda. I wouldn’t throw it out—I would keep it in reserve—but clearly I couldn’t send it either. Had I really threatened to pull Esme out of the school? How drastic was that? What planet was I from? Or was I simply more of a Quebecer than I gave myself credit for?

Viewed in that light, this wasn’t a gaffe, but a milestone, worthy of celebration. A subscription to Le Devoir might do nicely. It would be wise in future to keep on top of these trends before falling victim, moi et mon enfant.


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

What a great story. You do have to be vigilant and be sure your kids aren't bullied but it's true their perception changes frequently. My grandson used to say everybody hated him at the Montessori school he attended a few years ago. Yet, when I'd pick him up or drop him off, so many kids would greet him warmly and hurry over to play with him.

Wed Nov 28, 03:43:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Anne said...

I'm still trying to figure it out. I sent a revised letter today and just received a puzzled e-mail from the teacher, who says that she will have to observe the girls for a while. From her perspective, it looks as though they are having fun.

Wed Nov 28, 05:15:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Chumplet said...

So many times, my son tearfully begged me to allow him to change schools. The other kids were mean and cruel, they pushed him, they hit him. But I knew he had a short fuse and no patience for immature behaviour. I simply asked him to look at the bigger picture, that going to another school wouldn't change things. Only he could change things.

It was a rough ride, but now he's Mister Popular, well-regarded by friends and teachers alike. He finally learned how to adapt, how to 'go with the flow'. He still marches to the beat of his own drum, but at least he doesn't hit the cymbal too many times with a hammer.

Wed Nov 28, 08:19:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Anne said...

Chumplet, I am wondering how much of it has to do with a changing tolerance for "immature" behaviour (as so far as one can use that word in relation to six-year-olds!) I do think that things that were okay in kindergarten suddenly seem unacceptable in grade one, to the kids themselves.

Thu Nov 29, 07:07:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

The best thing a parent can do is talk to their children about their day and keep plugged in with the other parents as well. I've learned a great deal from the parents of my kids' friends - even about my own kids. I hate to tell you this Ann, but you may need to save that letter until grade three when things really start to get dicey - especially with the girls.

Thu Nov 29, 03:23:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Chumplet said...

Andrew was a bright boy, ahead of his classmates in many ways. He almost made it into the gifted program.

He felt more comfortable with kids much older than him. He couldn't connect with the kids his age, even in kindergarten. To him, they were all jerks. If they didn't communicate with him on his level, he lost patience, and his temper. Probably out of frustration.

I had to teach him patience and empathy as a result. Not everyone would figure out where he was coming from and he had to accept it. Eventually, he figured it out and things are much better. He's sixteen and focused on his future, enjoying his friends and family.

Thu Nov 29, 04:38:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Anne C. said...

I had a feeling other moms might have something to say about this post! This is very helpful, thanks.

Fri Nov 30, 09:13:00 am GMT-5  

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