Tuesday, February 17, 2009

'100 Days' in the Life of a Child.

I feel I have had to learn more about American culture than Albanian since living here. My son is at an international school, which is more than 50%, American (including the board) and my daughter is at the other international school (because it has a pre-school), which is an ‘All American’ school. (In every sense of the phrase.)

There do not seem to be many Albanian festivities or celebrations throughout the year, but this is more than made up for in my children’s schools, where Halloween, Thanksgiving etc are all huge deals, and then this last week we had Valentine’s Day & the 100th Day of school. All of which involve dressing up & scoffing vast quantities of sugar.

I remember in Sri Lanka my son informing at 6.45 a.m that he had to dress up as it was Halloween that day and the class were having (another) party, & so I grabbed a sheet, slashed 3 holes in it and, shoving it over his head, propelled him out of the door.

The only slight flaw in this, otherwise ingenious, plan, was that it was a fitted sheet, so the ghost’s floating was somewhat curtailed by elasticated corners. Still I had only been conscious about 20 minutes at that stage of the morning, so I was still quite pleased with myself.

However, it doesn’t always fall into place quite so easily….

The day before Valentine’s Day my son said he had to take cookies or cakes into school to share with his class to ‘celebrate Valentine’s Day’. We duly made pink heart shaped fairy cakes. My daughter had come home with no such message & there was no note in her bag. And after all she’s only 4. Ha, the naivety…

When I took my daughter into school, there was a scene something akin to a closing down sale at Charlie’s Chocolate factory. All the mums & dads were there with bags of sweets, cookies, one mum had two, what I can only describe as meat platters, one on each of her upturned palms, laden with cinnamon buns, others pulled decorated cookies & cellophane wrapped lollies from their bags. The prospect of sugar-shock candied the air. My daughter burst into tears and said she wanted to bring something in. Explaining that I felt sure there was plenty to go round was evidently unacceptable placatory behaviour.

Negligent mother strikes again. Actually it’s ‘Culturally Bombed Out Mother, who gets something wrong, in one of the cultures she is juggling, nearly every day.

So HOW did all these parents know to do this?? No message came home, or maybe they entrust messages to their 4 yr old to relay back to mum. W get email news from the teacher, & nothing was said in that. I’m told if you know about Valentine’s Day, you just know. This is what you do.

I have now gleaned that Valentine’s Day amongst primary school children in America is a friendship day, and you make & give cards to ALL you r classmates. It ha s to be inclusive, never mind if they’re not your friends ‘you just do it’ according to my 8 yr old. I get the impression they should be home made, and ‘candy’ is an integral apart of the day.

My son decided to make the most of this directive and sent a card to everyone, including the girl in his class who bullied him all last year & has started up again. In this card he wrote:
“Happy Valentine’s Day. Please stop bullying me.”

Of course I also felt duty bound to inform my husband about just how seriously Valentine’s Day was taken in Albania/America. He is of the opinion that Valentine’s Day is strictly for pimply youths & love-sick teenagers. But he duly handed me a (home made & admittedly hilarious) card on 16th February. Better late than never I think is the appropriate response here. I’m still working on the “how about a Valentine’s Day present of a massage treatment?”

And of course the children were troopers using their little observational skills to ask:

“Daddy how come you got so much chocolate & mummy didn’t get any?”

So, next up, the ‘100 Days of School’ celebration.

I was definitely Negligent Mother last year (read: more than usually culturally bombed out as we had been ‘in country’ 6 wks, we were in a temporary apartment, with 6 suitcases to our name, & no shipment, we had another 3 ½ mths to wait before that turned up) so my son didn’t enter the 100th Day competition because I had no idea what it involved, no resources, a distinctly small number of used yoghurt pots & cereal packets, nor any idea where to buy anything or how to communicate.

But this year I was forewarned, I knew about the 100th Day. I was prepared, I had girded my loins, wracked my brains with my son to choose a category:

New From Old

We chose ‘Something New From Something Old’. I decided to teach him to sew. He has always been fascinated by my sewing machine, & was thrilled at the chance to see how it worked, so we decided to make a quilt with 100 squares. I like sewing, My 8 year old likes the machine, and a quilt seemed quite an American cultural icon to make. Win, win, win.

Except he didn’t. There were only 11 entries in his category. One was a necklace made of 100 jelly babies, another was 100 one lek coins written as 100 with one penny hidden amongst them. Another was a student who had taken 100 pictures showing 100 different emotions. Lots of creativity. And then there was the robot.

It was a rubbish robot, well it was made of rubbish, 100 bits of boxes, yoghurt pots, loo rolls etc, it was 5 ft tall, but frankly it WAS rubbish. At this point I know I sound like one of those fiercely competitive parents, whom I can’t stand, who derides the opposition and yells instructions from the sidelines, like a true American Soccer Mom. Maybe I’m becoming more adapted to American culture than I care to admit??

It wasn’t so much that he had spent over 15-hours making it, or that the kids voted (& let’s face it, what kid would vote for a quilt. Boooooooooooooooring!) Or that the
winner was the same girl who won last yr and gets to be class rep every term because they won’t introduce a fixed term (in a class of 10 girls & 4 boys). Actually they are good friends, but I do think it's quite hard on him. He feels she always wins everything!

No. It was more the simple fact that it wasn’t a worthy winner. It was big yes, it was fun, it WAS made of 100 pieces, but at the end of the day it was just rubbish.

I was actually helping that morning receiving the entries & numbering them etc. I did this with my son’s teacher as it happened. Having submitted his quilt, his teacher a few minutes later turned to me and said, “you know as a mum AND a teacher, I always helped my son too much with his projects. I so wanted him to do well, that I often helped him too much or undid it & with hindsight, I now realise I was wrong to do that”
I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but I did wonder afterwards whether she was giving me a message & didn’t believe he had made it all himself.

It reminded me of my younger brother who is very artistic and is a brilliant cartoonist. He was from a very early age. Often teachers didn’t believe it was his work, so much so that on occasion he wd add a little note to his H.W, even when very young, saying "Please Note This is All My Own Work”

Perhaps my son should have done that.

He was his normal philosophical self about it all, said it had been fun to make, he was glad he had learned to sew, & fun to dress up as a 100 yr old man. When he got home he immediately disappeared to work on his speech for the class rep election. I admire his perseverance I must say. He doesn’t give up easily.

But today, the day after the 100th Day of School, I had to pick up the pieces of a very dejected boy who lost the class election for the 3rd time running. He said,
“Miranda won. I don’t think I can ever win anything against Miranda & Ellen”.

She was the co-winner of the 100 Day competition & the girl who bullies him. As fate would have it, it was an equal number of votes. His two best friends, however, were away today, or they would have voted for him, so the teacher cast the deciding vote. She picked Miranda, despite the fact that the winner had spelt out her plans through an acrostic, (mis)spelt TRAC (As in ‘get on TRACK with me’) & had handed out sweets to the class. Her teacher commented, “I hope those aren’t meant as bribes Miranda”

The girl has obviously been living in Albania too long and decided to 'go native', in accordance with the corruption in Albanian culture. It seemed to work too.

This happened to my husband recently too; a young female interviewee at the end of the interview, offered him money to be given the job. It didn't work for her.

It’s a tough life being a kid and having to learn so many lessons of life in such quick succession. Winning & losing, dodgy voting systems, feeling not even teachers are on your side sometimes, how to negotiate with bullies, being in a class with someone who wins everything. But I’m proud of his generosity in defeat & his determination to keep going and try again. And as his grandfather perceptively pointed out about his competition entry,

“you’ll have that quilt forever, and all the winners will have is a load of rubbish”.


Iota said...

I'm developing a theory about why American schools have all these different celebrations. Could it be because the semesters are so long, with very few breaks? In the UK, we are never very far from half term or the end of term. But if you don't have those breaks, the school year stretches out interminably. So they need Halloween, Valentines, St Patrick's Day (did you know that one is coming soon?), the State day, etc to provide light relief.

I have come to like all the celebrations - but the amount of sugar consumed by the kids is unbelievable. My daughter was physically ill on Valentine's evening, and yes, of course it's my responsibility to look after her, but she had her own preschool party, and then came along to her older brother's school party, and it's very difficult to swim against the sugar tide with a 4 year old. I think, actually, it's the red and pink food coloring, more than the sugar.

I recycled some of the lollipops left over from trick or treating in my son's Valentine's cards!

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

Darn it (as I'm sure they say in America), I didn't know about St Patrick's Day. Surely not?? It's a very plausible theory. I don't mind the celebrations so much as the input required. (Imagine if you had FOUR children??) What I really mind though is getting it wrong, or being sideswapped by my lack of cultural know how,not being'in' on how it all works.

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

oops, that was meant to be side-swiped!

Potty Mummy said...

Sounds like a pretty cool grandfather to have. Bet Miranda doesn't have that...

Iota said...

Sideswapped is a great word.

I'm told that in Chicago, they turn the river green for the St Patrick's Day parade (can't imagine how).

Wife in Hong Kong said...

Wow, that's a lot of lessons in 100days. He's quite a fellow, your little man. I love the fact he wrote "Please stop bullying me" in his Valentine's card - honest and courageous. And I love your "The prospect of sugar-shock candied the air." But the quilt is just amazing! You've given him a skill for life and memories of making it with you. I would guess the class bully doesn't have anything to touch that.

Grit said...

the quilt wins here!

A Modern Mother said...

In California I remember everyone bringing in cards and candy to school "way back when" and when we moved to the UK my daughter was very dissapointed she only got one valentine card!

Jo Beaufoix said...

He did so well and it sounds like he has a strong character to keep trying. I really hoe he wins one day though, or at least pushes them into an enormous puddle of something nasty. Great post.