My kids go back to school on Monday. Nine is almost finished with his summer homework. He didn’t have that much to do but it has been kind of painful. We left the English for the end, and of course it is ridiculously easy for my bilingual son, but we can’t figure out how to get to the exercises on the CD-Rom that came with the reading/listening comprehension book. The same thing happened last year too, and he went to school without completing any of the listening activities. We also lost the English grammar workbook last year; it is floating around somewhere in Colorado. This year we didn’t even buy it. I told the teacher he’d read chapter books and keep a journal. In reality, he read comic books and was too busy at day camp to keep a journal. He did, however, pick up an extensive repertoire of American jokes, and that should count for something, even if the teacher is British. Hey, they are not all about farting.
Five is starting first grade. There is no kindergarten here so it is a big deal and of course we are excited for him. They go straight from preschool to first grade and the way it works in Italy is the kids all learn the rules of a primary school classroom in September and by Christmas they can read.
You’d think by now I’d have it all figured out, this being my fourth year in Italian primary school, but no. I still have a hard time with the back-to-school materials. The teachers give out these lists of all the things our children will need to bring on the first day, and to me they seem impossibly complicated and convoluted. See that list on top of the pile in the photo below? That is just for Nine. The two sheets of paper under it are the lists for Five.
Once you find all the things on the list, smooth art paper of a certain weight and size, colored art paper of a different weight but same size, tracing paper, drafting paper, special “protocol” paper, a million notebooks, you have to cover all those notebooks in special colors. It’s not enough to buy a red notebook that has lines the right size for fourth/fifth grade and has margins, but you must provide a red plastic cover for it. And the blue-covered ruled notebook must have squares that measure 0.5 cm. With or without margins? “My teacher ALWAYS wants margins,” explains Nine. “Except when she doesn’t.”
Everything must be labelled. You are supposed to write their names very tiny on the pencils and the pens. I draw the line at the markers, which they trade off with all the other kids anyway.
Then they go to school and receive their workbooks, which also must be covered in clear sticky covers. Covering workbooks? Who ever heard of that? I refuse to do it.
One day I should show you a picture of their pencil cases, you wouldn’t believe everything they must keep on hand, and mothers are instructed to check the pencil cases EVERY SINGLE NIGHT to make sure all the contents are in order. I’ll do it in first grade but after that I tell my kids it’s their responsibility.
“Sorry,” I say. “But your mom is American, not Italian, and that means that it’s your job to tell me when you’re out of glue or have chewed your pencil to a tiny nub.”
I have no idea how these things work in America anymore to be honest, but I fear that if I don’t put my foot down somewhere they will be expecting me to get the books on their college syllabi. And cover them. Which will seem only natural, as they’ll still be living with me, I’ll still be cooking all their meals and making their beds (on days when the beds get made) and when they go to the bathroom, they’ll still be shouting out, “OK Mommy, I’m dooooooone!”