And breathe….

We did it! We are officially on the other side of our first day at school. We now know what the next many, many weeks have in store for us. And to my relief, both my kids are still smiling, still joking and showing signs of not having been completely wrecked by the experience. 

And what an experience it was – we will most certainly look back on these as the character building years. Because of the logistics and the language barrier, we brought in the big guns to assist with the day. Auntie Bea and Auntie Monika joined us to act as translators and all around moral support. We couldn’t have done it without them. The journey to school involves two busses each with a transfer point in the downtown of Winterthur. At that point we go in separate directions, Diego with Monika and me, Helean with Manolo and Titi. As is typical of our two, Helena was chirpy and excited about showing Titi the route we had practiced and D was slightly green and brooding.

A quick selfie on the bus on our way to school.

From this point I really can relay just the perspective of Deigo’s morning. The arrival at the school was a bit intimidating. Kids, large kids, in groups (gangs as they appeared to us) were everywhere. We found his classroom after inspecting the washrooms (top marks there, I nearly took a photo!) and looked around in quiet horror at the site of all the big kids. (And by big I mean actual adults…) A few younger ones wandered in too which rounded out the motley crew.

His classmates are from Iraq, Ghana, Eritrea, Ukraine, Thailand, Sri Lanka and, thank heavens, USA!!! It is the most multicultural space we have ever witnessed. His teacher has an amazing job ahead of her and must be a true angel. Some speak Italian, some Spanish, a couple English, very few German and the two from Eritrea spoke none of the above. Her ability to guide this group is phenomenal.

D was wide eyed, teary and totally freaked out. To be honest, there was a moment when I was just barely holding back the tears of my own, so overwhelmed by how hard this is for him and how completely frightening it was.  Thank goodness for Monika who translated and chirped away in Diego’s ear while I concentrated on swallowing. And slowly but surely his shoulders came down and I started to exhale. 

From over D’s weighted shoulders, the view from his desk.

We were able to stay with him until after 9:30, all of us becoming a bit more oriented with this strange new world. At one point, the student from Ghana (who was at least 20, no word of a lie) put his giant dark arm around D’s shoulder and said “so, you speak English too?” So sweet and somewhat comforting to know that one of the most intimidating looking students in the whole place has a soft spot for my boy. 

His classmates and his teacher, Frau Studer.

As we left, leaving D behind, doing his best to be brave, we caught sight of him smiling on the play ground with the boy from Florida. A buddy! Thank heavens.

Word from Manolo was that Helena did great – no sign of stress or anxiety in that one. He and Titi were dismissed after the first 20 minutes so enjoyed a coffee and a croissant while Monica and I continued to sweat it out with poor D. Helena is in a school that has only grades 1-3 in it so she’s surrounded by sweet little ones. The school schedule for this age is quite different than at home. Her only full days are Tuesday and Friday. All other days she goes just in the morning. That was news she was quite happy about. D was less happy to learn that. He gets Wednesday afternoons off but he is NOT impressed that he has to go to school two other afternoons when Helena will be hanging with me. 

Here is Helena, posing at the front door of her school with Auntie Bea.
We swapped schools for the lunch pick up. Kids here get 1 3/4 hours off so that they can go home for lunch. However, in that 50 minutes of that is taken by the back and forth bus ride, it makes for a fairly rushed lunch and not at all a relaxing time together at home. I’ve already decided to refine this plan and will pack a picnic lunch for us to enjoy together at our first bus stop in one of the city parks.

Picking up Helena was easy peasy and she was delighted to show us the horror of her school washroom. Taking a page from the Italians, they have opted for the no-toilet seat approach. So she may get 2 extra afternoons off per week but D has by far the nicest school washrooms I’ve ever seen. Quite certain that doesn’t actually count as a point for him as far as he’s concerned.

So after a quick lunch of KD, one of the remaining boxes I smuggled into the country for comfort food emergencies just like this, I realized that D and I had to get back on the bus, my 9th & 10th ride of the day, to get him to school. This trip involved more sprinting than I’m comfortable with so clearly we need to fine tune this plan. His afternoons are only 1 3/4 hours which really isn’t enough time to go back home again for any worthwhile time. So instead I set out mom-guilt-shopping. You know, the shopping you do when you are feeling so badly for what you’re children are having to endure that you’ll pretty much buy them anything? Quite sure that through the course of the day I promised Helena a pony and D a Ferrari. They figured out pretty quick that I’d say yes to pretty much anything today so both scored a brand new yo yo and a can of coke. (Do I know how to spoil them or what!?)

Once all reunited at the end of the day the very best part was fading into the background and listening to Diego and Helena excitedly try to outdo each other’s first day experience. It fluctuated between “don’t you wish you were as lucky as I am to have toilet seats” and “my school is so bad that a kid in my class was selling cigarettes at recess.” (True story…D has a real live wire in his class. Have you read Lullibies for Little Criminals? Fantastic book but the main character is in D’s class. Not so sure anyone is baking home made chocolate chip cookies to pack in her snack. ☹️) 

All in all we made it through. Not so sure we’d say it was a great day but D did say that it wasn’t as bad as he expected. I realized after dinner that in the chaos of it all I missed capturing the quintessential first day of school photo! And such an epic first -day to have forever captured on film. So I made them put their back-packs back on to pose for a fake “we’re all ready to go” photo. Here’s what we got.

Best effort at recreating the feeling of the morning.
And how they felt now that the first day was done.

The teariness returned at bedtime when we talked about tomorrow. Begging me to consider homeschooling, tomorrow is another big hurdle. This is our first day to tackle doing it without our angels Titi & Auntie Monika, but most significantly, without Dad. Tomorrow is his turn to be the new kid. He sets off before 6am for his new job leaving me to navigate the 4 busses required to get the kids to school. Thankfully we have our cousin Mireille willing to come along in the morning but by the afternoon D needs to be ready to ride the bus solo. Gulp – nothing like jumping right into the deep end!

As for me, all this bus riding has pretty much eliminated my hope for a job. In total, I rode 16 busses today. While accompanying at least one of my children to school, this will be my reality. I like to think of it as the start of my career as a professional bus-rider who actually pays to work rather than getting paid. With having 1 or both kids with me three afternoons as well, I think finding work may be out of the question for me here in Winterthur. Hopefully I can find something to get paid for online which won’t result in a huge embarrassing scandal when I decide to run for mayor one day. 

Mind you, there could be some money to be made depending on how much the kid in D’s class is selling those cigarettes for. Maybe I could resell them for a tidy profit…

 Add to this stress, tomorrow is my one of two assigned laundry days for the month. Somewhere in between the bus riding and picnic lunches, I need to do our laundry!

Thank you to everyone who has been sending well wishes, love and prayers for today. It helped, every ounce of it. It helped us to know that we had an entire army of angels watching over us today.

Oh, and look what made our wee local paper!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Kim says:

    My heart goes out to you. It’s so tough to see your kids so far outside their comfort zones. The good news is, of course, you are expanding the size of their comfort zones immensely…and that’s a good thing.


  2. Elisabeth says:

    Love the picture “mother and son” on the bus, Diego looks so much like you! What an experience! Good luck with the second, third, fourth day, every day will be a little easier I’m convinced. Love to you all, I’m thinking of you.


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