06 July, 2006

The Latin Prize and other thrilling events

Before I get to what's shown in these photos, I'll tell you what times we are having, these last hectic days in London before the end of school and time to whisk ourselves off to Connecticut for the summer. Having school last until the second week in July certainly does alter one's perception of summer: it's here, and yet it isn't.

For example, our version of the Fourth of July was rather muted. John went to work, Avery went to school, I guess I cleaned the litterbox or some such thing, and hung around killing time with household chores. Finally we got an email inviting us to a barbecue at the Smiths', hooray! As always happens in such situations, I decided to take potato salad to them and immediately the day turned from boring and slow to a race against the clock to grocery shop, boil potatoes, chop herbs, mix dressing and assemble, all in this awful heat wave we've been having. Try boiling potatoes and then having to cut them up, in a kitchen without air conditioning in 90-degree heat! I felt like a pioneer woman in Kansas. But it turned out perfectly, if you'd like to try it. Boil potatoes as usual and cut in bite-size pieces. Then chop finely handfuls of chives, lemon thyme, dill and parsley, as well as a red onion. Mix equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream with the juice of a lemon and its zest, salt and pepper. Toss all this together and chill. The potato salad, I mean, not you (although that would be good too).

A rush to pack the salad in a cool bag, wash my hair and face and sling Avery's ice skates over my shoulder, and off to the rink to meet her class for the last day of skating, waah! Always such fun to watch their little selves and gossip with Angelica's nanny and Coco's mum. All over until next year.

I decided that with potato salad, a bag of little cans of that Marks and Spencers gin and tonics I was waxing lyrical about recently, a backpack, a gym bag, skates and handbag, I was unequal to the task of finding the proper bus, so we splurged on a taxi and arrived at the Smiths' to find Emily closeted with some extremely important Russian art historian, unexpectedly, so I dropped Avery and the food off with the kids, and Mick and I went up to Blenheim Books in Blenheim Crescent, to find birthday presents: his for an Eton mate and mine for Anna's little sister Ellie. Only in such a charming shop might one be able to satisfy both requirements! I bought "Tim in Danger" for her, a fantastic book from the 1940s in a series by Edward Ardizzone, known mainly for his illustrations, but the "Tim" books are completely charming. For some fantastical reason, little boy Tim has convinced his parents that if does well in his schools, a proper reward would be to let him hire himself out as a merchant marine on the high seas. Naturally! They're just wonderful stories. Of course I came across one old copy of "Tim and Charlotte" when Avery was tiny, and found that they were all out of print, so I laboriously tracked down vintage copies from all over the globe, of the whole series. Whereupon the publisher promptly decided to reissue them all. Darn! Mick found a particularly winsome cookbook and a tempting novel for his friend's birthday party, and we walked home in the intense late afternoon heat, discussing his plans for his first year at Harvard in September, how to ship 300 books to school and still have money for tuition, his specialization in Middle Eastern languages. With this area of interest, and his parents both ex-Marines, John has immediately concluded that he will become a spook. Cool, my own Tom Quinn!

A very nice evening. We staggered home very late, and did not really get enough sleep for the big day that was to follow: Prize Day! Now, everyone in Avery's class had been warning her in the nicest possible way not to expect a prize, because she had been in the school only half a year. Fair enough. Underpromise, overdeliver, as John used to say (generally in terms of when he was coming home from a business trip). We all got dressed up and went to the Royal Institute of British Architects, and chatted in the lobby waiting to be summoned into the enormous Great Hall. Such excitement when the gulls came in from their walk across the street, all scrubbed and shining and excited to get their prizes. We were given a program, which all the English parents knew listed the prize winners, but we didn't, typical American dodos, so we didn't even look at it, just kept talking to friends, until several people said, "Avery won the Latin Prize," and "Avery won the Howard de Walden essay prize, third place!" Howard de Walden was the original owner of all the land that is Marylebone, and his estate still controls the daily running of the neighborhood, as the Grosvenor Estates controls Mayfair. There, I've provided my little London educational titbit for the day. Back to the really important stuff: she really did win! A silver cup with "Latin" on one side and the names of all the past winners, with her name and the date on the other! She gets to keep it for a year, and then gives it back for next year's winner.

We all filed in and sat down and tried to behave ourselves under the censorious eyes of not only Mrs D, but the Chair of the Managers of the school overall, built like the bow of a ship and just about as warm and fuzzy. Until she gave her very funny, very wise speech, that is.

A very odd, apparently pornographic writer was the prize presenter! It's traditional for the school to commission a minor celebrity parent to officiate, but hello, erotica? Well, all right. She was a Miss Kathy Lette, and I must say she was funny, if not quite the role model one would expect the school to choose: she confessed to never having been to a Prize Day before, and to having left school at age 15, "so I'm an autodidact, which means self-taught, and lets anybody else off the hook." Mrs D made the Annual School Report, which detailed the many curriculum points the children study, the new librarian to begin in September, the big changes in school life since they acquired the building adjacent and allowed them to accept more pupils (like Avery! thank you, Mrs D). Then it was prize time. There were dozens of silver cups and salvers and platters lined up on the long table, and Mrs C presided in a sort of nervous way, trying desperately to give the right thing to the right gull. Avery did not find out she won anything until she and the other Form Four winners were plucked from their seats, and even then she didn't know what she had won until she heard Mrs D announce it! Her little smile just went from ear to ear. All the parents in our row were so very gracious and pleased for us, the New Family.

Coming as we do from the American school of "no one is better than anyone else," in which singling out is a crime punishable by death, it was very hard to get used to the idea that right out in public, announced with a microphone, children could be differentiated from one another. Several others of Avery's classmates received two awards, and many received none at all. Amazing. Of course I don't know how we would be feeling about all this if she hadn't received a prize. I suppose it would have to be taken as an opportunity to encourage the child for next year, which could work if you said exactly the right thing. But in any case, that is the system here. Of course Becky's elder daughter Ashley looked back in our direction in time to see me all teary-eyed, very embarrassing! I couldn't help it. It seemed an incredibly touching, rewarding event, to celebrate how hard everyone, including the teachers and staff, have worked all year. We are so proud of her.

Professor S's speech was very interesting, focusing as she did on the importance of contributing to the greater good. She said sternly, "Hold up the index finger of your right hand and place it on your chest. Good. Now say to yourself, 'this is ME.' And as you're saying that, and thinking about the Big You, realise that aside from the people in this room, very few people in the world care, or know, about the Big You. They're thinking of the Big Me themselves, and most of them do not come from the advantages that you gulls have. It is your responsibility to take what you have been given, and think about what contribution you can make in the Great World." Very interesting, considering that the rest of the day had been very much about back-patting, praising, giving to them. It is difficult sometimes to know how to temper all the giving that our child experiences, with some limits, and some sense of her place in the greater scheme of things. Of course it's wonderful to give to her, not just things but attention, and approval. But how to moderate her perception that the rest of the world, and the rest of her life, will treat her that way. It can be a quandary.

But we didn't have much time to ponder these large questions, or to enjoy the triumph, because Wimbledon beckoned! So I put Avery into Becky's hands, the poor thing off to organise her youngest daughter Ellie's birthday party, so of course what she needed most was an extra child. It bears saying again: Becky is a saint. We headed off in the most expensive cab ride of my life, to the tennis. Traffic was understandably horrendous, but for some reason we just sat back and chatted and didn't obsess over the rapidly mounting fare. As we arrived, it was clear that the skies could open at any moment, but nothing could dampen our spirits.

More about Wimbledon later, but right now must go collect Avery from her friend Sophia's birthday party, at a place called "Build a Bear," which is, according to Avery, a veritable Shangri-la of childhood. I think the parents who do such a birthday party deserve medals, because it must be more than slightly enervating to take a large group of little girls to choose flat bears, put them through the stuffing machine (including a real plush heart of the child's choosing), dress them in minute little outfits and come away with an adoption certificate. Imagine the decibels! Imagine the pushing and shoving and "you got the dress I wanted for Kiwi!!" potential disasters. But Avery will be in heaven, I can guarantee you that. One more creature to add to the several hundred now in her bed every night! Bliss.

1 comment:

Library Lover said...

Kiwi turned out to be ok because there were 30 of each dress