Saturday, May 17, 2014

Une Journee Portes Ouvertes De L'Ecole

My little chimney sweep peeking out to
make sure his parents were there
As parents of an up and coming student, this past week Glenn and I participated in what will be the first of many for us: the annual spring performance. I remember my own parents attending my performances and I'm realizing that regardless of the decade, the country, or the student's age, some things just never change. And now that I have been on both sides of the performance stage I have a whole new appreciation for everything it entails.

I'm not sure whether it is just the way Belgian schools communicate with their parents or my lacking of clear understanding of the French language (most likely it is a combination of both), but this whole spring performance remained somewhat of a mystery right up until the moment it went live. (And other parents, regardless of their mother tongue felt the same way). Back in March Sidney began talking about practicing for his show but never elaborated on what that actually meant. Early last month a notice was sent home in both French and English announcing a school wide open house that would be held over the course of two weeks and asking permission for our children to participate. With no times or further details forthcoming we granted permission. It was around this point when Sidney found the original Julie Andrews version of Mary Poppins at the library and asked to bring it home. As he danced along to the music in our living room he said that he was practicing for his school show. Ah-ha, I finally put two and two together to realize that his class would be staging a performance of Mary Poppins. I still didn't know when it would be and beyond his dance moves Sidney couldn't tell me what his role would be but at least I began to understand what was going on.

Two weeks ago on a Wednesday I received a notice from the school that I was required to provide Sidney with a costume of a black hat, black pants, and black shirt no later than Friday. Sidney did not own a single black item and Thursday was a Belgian holiday where unlike in the United States, everything is closed for business. Still not sure what his role was we scurried off to the mall after school and secured the required items which were (thankfully) met with Madam's approving nod. I still had no idea when Sidney would be performing and wondered how an open house could go on for weeks. Surely they wouldn't have little four-year-olds performing every day. Would they?

It turns out the answer was no. Two weeks ago we were told that Sidney's class, des Cerises, would be performing at 13:45 sharp on Thursday and that parents were to gather in the small gymnasium ahead of time. Under a strict warning from Sidney that we were not to embarrass him, Glenn and I crammed into the stuffy room with the other parents at our designated time. There were very few chairs so most of us stood. The room grew hot as we waited for the performance to begin. It gave me an opportunity to check out my fellow parents, many of whom I recognized from morning drop off. Attire included everything from a spandex biking outfit and short shorts to jeans and tons of camouflage and flight suits. (This is a military environment after all). We were a motley crew ready to watch our little international actors perform. There were cameras, iPhones, iPads and even a few full fledged video cameras poised and ready to go when the small students, under the watchful eyes of a cadre of Madams entered the room and tentatively acted out their scenes. The kids just looked so small as they stepped out in front of the parental paparazzi. No tears were shed although a few kids looked as though they wanted to bolt. Others, including our little chimney sweeper of a son, were hams as they fearlessly jumped and danced their way around the room. The lyrics were all in French but this didn't deter Sidney as he moved right along to the music. Seeing my little boy out there smeared in paint and acting so sure of himself was one of those moments that my mother had warned me about. I felt such enormous pride that it just made my heart melt.

After the show Sidney showed off his artwork which was decorating the hallway. As I've mentioned before we are not an artistic family so it was wonderful to see his colorful drawings and scratched out name that were on par with his classmates. (Now if only I could get him to do something other than scribble with a black marker at home since I now know he can do it). Sidney was bursting with excitement and pride as he showed Glenn and I what he had been doing at school. Then the entire class hustled back into their room where they stripped down to their underwear and back into the street clothes while the Madams looked on and parents milled about. (Yes, we are in Europe and no one was batting an eye as all of this went on). Then there were kisses for the Madams, backpacks were collected and the kids were dismissed early.

So we survived our first Belgian open house. I'm not sure I would call this whole experience an open house by American standards but at the core was a ritual that we will be repeating for years to come. With short notice I assembled a costume (I wonder if my mom remembers the reindeer incident of Christmas 1979?) and watched my little boy have his acting debut. I'm sure each school performance will become more sophisticated but I'm mighty proud of my little four year old dancing his heart out to a French Mary Poppins. So here's to the years of performances that are to come.

Surprise! Here's to the little actors and their
 amazing (and patient) Belgian teachers 

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