Bilingualism on the school run

These days, the “school run” for me is going to get my son Rémy at the end of the school day. Thumpah takes him to school on her way to work in the morning, while my MIL takes him home to have lunch with her and Papy.

Unless my PIL’s aren’t there. That was the case last week, so somehow I shared the school run with Thumpah who came home for lunch, taking Rémy on her way back to the office.

As I walk to school with Emma in her buggy, I’ve always noticed that parents do have a tendency to keep themselves to themselves. Unless they already know each other because they live in the same street. Usually I see my SIL who is there to pick up Rémy’s cousin Amélie, so I get to have a quick chat to her and sometimes I’ll say hello to her Dutch friend, Anne-Marie.
I’ve noticed that Anne-Marie speaks Dutch to her kids as she takes them to and from school. For me personally I also speak my mother tongue with Rémy, even in the cloakroom at the entrance to the class, surrounded by the other parents. The usual thing is to try to dodge and dive aroud them to get my sons coat (unless I get in there quickly) and his doudou from the box in the corner (his Benjy stuffed toy), before the Maitresse calls my sons name to say he can come. I *always* speak in English to Rémy when he appears, occasionally dropping the odd sentence in French – it happens. But in general on the school run I speak in English, unless we are joined by Rémy’s friend Clarisse.

It seems the kids tend to accept that Rémy’s Papa speaks English. Perhaps less so the parents. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m used to the sideways glances as soon as I open my mouth.
Last week I had to take Rémy to school after lunch on one occasion, as Isa wasn’t able to come home. As there aren’t many children who go home for lunch we are usually the last ones into the dormitory next to the classroom where Rémy and his classmates have their sieste. Usually the Assistante Maternelle is in there sitting guard over the sleeping kids (or the non sleeping kids sometimes). Each time I’ve been in there she asks if I’m still speaking English to Rémy and comments that I *should* continue to do so as it’ll be good for him to speak another language. She must understand, as she is Portuguese. We have a nice whispered conversation, then once Rémy is settled in his little campbed, I usually find that I’ve been locked into the playground.

Last night I went to pick up Rémy from school, as we left his classroom and walked into the playground, a little girl in his class took his hand and off they went hand in hand towards the school gate and the little jitty that skirts around the school and Mairie, towards the centre of the village. I looked around for a parent and saw that a woman, who I assumed to be the little girls Granny, walking slightly behind me. So I said “Bonjour” and got a very frosty Bonjour back before she walked off. I got the impression that she didn’t seem pleased my son was hand in hand with her Granddaughter. She went on ahead, making no attempt to make any conversation with me as we walked through the jitty.
She called in French to her Granddaughter to stop running off (with Rémy) and to stop at the end, where there is a pedestrian crossing across the road in front of the mairie. Rémy is getting used to me telling him to stop there, mainly as you can’t see any cars coming from the right until you step onto the crossing.

So I called the same thing, in English, to Rémy – to tell him to stop at the bottom and wait for me. Once there the Granny, forcefully seperated the two kids, as she turned to go I called a “Bonne soirée” which she totally ignored and dashed with Rémy’s little friend to her car. Leaving me and Rémy to take the crossing then to walk up the slight hill to Grande Rue and home.

Charming, I thought – maybe I shouldn’t have spoken English, but I think I’ll continue to do so for Rémy’s sake, even if it could alienate me from the other parents.

What am I supposed to do anyway? Rémy speaks French much of the time anyway.

On the way back, as they’ve painted some new crossings onto the street at the bottom of ours, I spend my time teaching Rémy how to use them… in English.

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