The first Monday in September feels like the beginning of a new year. People are back from vacation, children start school, businesses answer phone calls again and, right on cue, the weather has snapped from sunny to cold.
We were in Paris yesterday, on the way back from Brittany. At our patisserie, adopted because the owner knows Caroline by name, the locals were out in force, greeting one another with kisses and exclamations in honor of the end of the holiday season. August was over - Parisians were ready to take back their streets from the tourists and the silly season. The church across from our hotel had a regular circulation of families in their Sunday best, girls in navy cardigans, mothers in sensible skirts, fathers with smoothed hair and tennis tan lines. In the middle of rue Mouffetard, right where a playground meets the market, retired hippies sang and passed out song sheets. Couples with long grey hair and flowing skirts and shirts danced polkas to accordion music, the next younger generation, dressed still for church, watched sedately while their parents frolicked in the square and their children swung through the playground.
We’d walked by stores and restaurants closed for the month, promising to wake again on Tuesday, September the 4th, and I thought about their owners, wondering if they were part of all of this celebration and settling in; who might be who in the great crowds of people enjoying the day. We sang some of the songs, danced none of the dances and drank coffee on a playground bench while Caroline practiced her one French expression - “Regardez moi!”
On the boulevards the chestnut leaves have already started to fall, and when the weekly rollerblading parade swept down St. Germain in the late afternoon, the skaters swept the leaves in front of them. We watched the skaters pass, Caroline waved once more, and then we walked down the Saint-Michel metro stairs to an RER train and the airport. We were ready to be home too.
Prague is not as adamant as Paris is about its right to take the entire month of August off, and so September first is not as big a date here, but even Prague had a more than usual bustle about it today. Outside the schools on our block, parents waited for their children to finish their half day, students whistled as friends appeared, Caroline whirled in her new dress and posed for pictures before walking into her first day of school, summarily dismissing me with a “bye mommy” and a languid wave.
I hung out for an hour anyway, sitting in a chair for toddlers, the only barefooted person in the room*, trying desperately to decode the whispers of the other mothers and at the same time assure them that although, and uniquely, Caroline had arrived at school with a team (Will, Marie and myself) we really weren’t that unusual. I picked her up again at 12:30 and the director told us she’d been a hodne holcicka, a good girl.
Tired out from being good, Caroline started to cry as soon she saw me, and I carried her home, sobbing on my shoulder. She told me that she didn’t have a flower for me and it had broken her heart. The flower turned out to be a finger painting, all in red. Marie found one for Caroline to take home. Consoled by strawberries, hot cocoa, and a card of flowery swirls, Caroline fell asleep as soon as we pulled up the covers at nap time.
* Avoid sandals at Czech pre-school events - you'll have to take off your shoes to enter the classroom. If you must wear sandals, bring slippers. At least half the mothers brought their own.
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