08 September, 2006

a day in the infirmary

Poor little bunny. Avery woke up Thursday morning feeling just generally off-colour, as they say, a little fever and a sore throat. We made the joint executive decision that she should stay home for the day. Luckily she had Hat, which is technically a hat, but is more importantly a crucial sleeptime item and home to many of the smaller fry among her bedtime animals. Hat was made lovingly for her by Judy, our dear farmer friend and neighbor in Connecticut, with wool from sheep that Avery had fed milk to as lambs. I suppose in the intervening year or so it has been actually worn, but really it presides over bedtime. Most comforting.

So we spent a very quiet day, Avery mostly horizontal, but rousing herself to root around in her doll clothing and change all the American Girl dolls' outfits plus hairstyles. Among her things she found a lace doily given to her by the artist Miriam Schapiro, who used to show at my gallery, and it turned out that the doily made a very good hat for Tacy (perhaps not in Tacy's opinion). All of us curled up on Avery's bed and I read aloud from Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, and we drank countless glasses of Sprite and apple juice, and then I realized I had a pot of chicken stock in the refrigerator, or rather a pot of chicken bones that had simmered in salted water and only needed to be made into soup. This is pitifully simple to do, practically free, and there is nothing more comforting. After simmering, the bones in their water can sit in the fridge overnight, and then the layer of fat that solidifies on top can be skimmed off, the water brought to a boil again, poured through a strainer into another pot, and any good chicken bits left in the strainer returned to the broth. Check to see if it needs salt (it will), and voila. Homemade chicken soup. Of course, to this simple soup you could add carrots, onions, turnips, parsley, almost anything. But Avery likes her soup plain. Believe you me, it perked her up considerably. But not enough to allow her to go to Anna's for the planned afternoon and evening, during which John and I were meant to go to school for the Early Year Meeting of Form V parents with Mrs D, so he stayed home with her and I headed to school for another of those sessions that makes me feel entirely inadequate as a parent.

Honestly, the level of seriousness that is applied to these girls and their education (or more to the point, their achievement on the all-important senior school admissions exam next January) boggles the mind. I really am a slacker mother at heart, and luckily have been blessed with an almost entirely self-motivated child, because I have a really hard time buckling down to the importance of homework, the centrality of the PE kit, and most awful, the eventuality of leaving King's College for someplace even more achievement- orientated (I love how the English add that extra "ated" to the word). I remember my own education as a rather lowkey affair, and certainly not involving my parents to a great degree, although I could be wrong about that. Of course my mother drove me to swim practice, they attended musicals in which I had some lame part, had my friends over for sleepovers, read my report cards ("Kristen is a nice little girl but she talks too much"). As far as I can remember, my parents' interaction with people in authority was entirely limited to a visit by my father to the principal of my 5th grade, when I was caught swinging on the girls' bathroom door bars when I was supposed to be in French class. But I don't recall a lot of thought or planning going into my education as a process. I think we just went to school. It's a whole different ball game here.

All of us parents crowded into the music room at school, had glasses of wine or water pressed into our nervous hands, and made small talk while waiting for Mrs D to be ready. She and the Form Teacher, a divine lady called Miss L, quickly got us in line and the meeting began. Such matters were discussed as the importance of our children learning the 24-hour clock, drilling the multiplication tables, parsing sentences at the speed of light, and most crucial, buckling down to homework. No more mid-week playdates. These gulls will be sent home with homework on at least two subjects per day, sometimes three, and my word, the supervision it's meant to require amazes me! Currently my supervision of Avery's homework consists of trying to make sure Tacy doesn't eat it, given her proclivity towards ingesting any and all bits of paper around the house. But Mrs D is very concerned that the gulls not be allowed to "faff about" when they're meant to be memorizing 9 times 9 and where Northern Ireland is on the map. It never occurred to me that Avery would be inclined to faff! I don't think she is. But I've got to take this mother thing more seriously. I immediately feel about 9 years old myself in situations that involve women in authority.

All the language is so different, as well. We are at the beginning of the "Michaelmas" term, a word I'd always associated with daisies (why? I have no idea) which turns out to refer to the festival day of St. Michael on September 29, and has been generally extended in the academic sphere to mean "autumn". Much was made of the division of class into the "A" group and the "Alpha" group, separating the children into faster-learning and slower-learning groups, and how important it was not to turn this into a value judgment. I wonder what the gulls themselves make of the distinction, and what happens to children like Avery who can spell anything under the sun but can't remember from one day to the next how much is 9 times 9. Poor child, inheriting my completely skewed abilities. Also apparently there is something called "study skills" that will require some hired outside expert to explain to the children. This has not happened yet, and we parents are not to worry about it... yet. What can these skills be, if the kids haven't learned them already? We were warned off the notion of hiring what in America would be called a tutor but here is called a coach, which is sort of a relief because I wouldn't know where to begin.

Avery told me that she had to work on her "resting smile," because Miss L wants them to look cheerful as they work. Left to her own devices, Avery's resting expression looks like she is about to be run through with a sharp object, or has been already and is in shock from loss of blood. She looks very, very serious. We call it her "pony face," a look of utter concentration. Under Miss L's tutelage, however, a more friendly expression is to be desired. "She explained it like this: would she rather look out at us and see happy children, or gloomy children?" I can't imagine anyone less gloomy than Miss L, but this does not translate into light-hearted at all. Rather, she has the demeanor of someone in her element, someone who has a very clear notion of what life is about and is perfectly capable of transferring this knowledge to a bunch of 9-year-olds. It should be an interesting year.

In May they will all go for five days to the Isle of Wight! Properly chaperoned of course, for a sort of Outward Bound experience called PGL, named for the founder's three initials, but the gulls call it "Parents Get Lost." This is intended to help them bond as a class, I suppose to counteract the reality that they are all competing for what sounds like about four spots in all these posh senior schools. Ah well, a good attitude is what's important, no?

I came home in the bloomy twilight, feeling overwhelmed. But John seems to feel everything is under control. Our next move is to have a meeting with Mrs D herself, in her intimidating Private Study, to assess what sort of school would be right for Avery. I think she'll lose interest in us when it turns out we're not considering boarding school! The three schools that sound like possibilities are Godolphin and Latymer, where one of Erin's girls goes, City of London School for Girls, and St. Paul's School for Girls. Miss Leslie told me that St. Paul's has a curriculum like a university, for 11-year-olds. Does that sound like Avery? I can't decide. Maybe home schooling is best. Sigh.

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