Daycare + Espresso = Italy

Both Victor and Eleanor will attend school in Italy at Scalopi, a progressive Montessori school in the same blocks on Via della Marmora as Jason’s work. Victor starts tomorrow, and Eleanor begins on September 19.

Part of the Italian pedagogical approach is a very soft start with lots of support and monitoring. On the one hand, it is really nice – in the US, our approach with so many things is “jump in, sink or swim.” On the other hand, when you have done a lot of swimming for fear of sinking in your native culture throughout your life, ever encouraged to swim more vigorously else sink more precipitously, this all can seem bit overwrought and silly.

And yet I maintain that one of the aspects of Italian culture I have always appreciated is that, on a human level, Italians are always concerned about your comfort. Are you hungry? Tired? Would you like to sit here, in the shade, or over there, in the sun? Would you like a cappucino at 4 pm even though no one here would dare do so after 10 am? It is not an obsequious culture, but rather one in which Italians consider paramount the quality of the experience.

Italians do not kid around when it comes to education; this program runs from daycare through high school. We have attended a total of four meetings in the first week were were here in Florence – one for Victor, three for Eleanor, to orient ourselves to the school, their method, the teachers, our fellow parents, and more. Although private, its school fees are very modest by American standards – about 260E per month for Victor, with daycare fees running about the same for Eleanor as they would have been at home, at 540E per month.

Eleanor is an old hand at daycare, charmingly called, in Italian, “asilo nido” = literally, “asylum nest.” She started at St. Joseph’s in Norman at 12 weeks, and moved rooms twice in her year and a half there. In Spokane, she spent the summer at St. Aloysius. So this is her third school, and her fifth “room” to be in with different kids, new teachers, new faces. Eleanor will probably be running for president in 2064. She is confident, social, and chatty. We have almost no concerns about her adjustment to life in Florentine daycare.

The Italians, on the other hand, are VERY concerned.

Who are these cavalier American parents who assert that their one-year-old daughter needs virtually no transition monitoring, no shepherding with close monitoring and handholding by extremely well-educated, advance degreed, decently paid professionals?

They haven’t met Eleanor yet. But let me tell you how they think our first week of daycare is going to go.

First, the mother must be the parent to follow this script. Dad is acceptable in a pinch. But studies show again and again that this person must be the mother.

Ideally the mother will not work because this process will take a ton of time. We asked them if I could use the WiFi in the lobby during this weeklong process and were met with blank looks. “Check with the segretaria,” they finally recommended.

I will drop off Eleanor and sit with her in the new space. She will be greeted. After a time, I will be released from the room by the teachers to go elsewhere for a short time. A SHORT TIME. Like, fifteen minutes.

I will take an espresso at this time. There will be an espresso stand in the lobby for this parental purpose. The espresso may or may not be free. I still have not figured that out. At any rate, there will be a holding area for parents who have been sent outside the room by the teachers.

I will return to the room after a short while. Eleanor will be pleased I came back. She will continue to play while I sit there, until the teachers release me again. To go back to the lobby. For another espresso. Etc.

At this point in the meeting I am actually giggling. We are seated on miniature kid chairs with all the other parents. Really? “How many espressi must I take in this process,” I hiss to Jason to my right. “I am not sure,” he said. “Be patient.” I can tell you now how patient I’ll be after 3-4 espressos spaced out at about 30 minutes each in an institutional building with no WiFi.

After I take the espressos on the child-acclimation schedule, I am pretty sure the teachers are going to send me out of the building, based on what was explained in Italian to the group. I will salute my child each time, reassuring her I will be back. My next task will be to go buy a scaciatta (a kind of mini-focaccia all the kids eat here) . I will tell Eleanor I am buying a scaciatta. BUT I MUST RETURN WITH THE SCACIATTA. Or she will lose all faith in me for the rest of her life.

Do not return senza scaciatta! Do not even think about it. You can go to whatever panificio you like to buy it, but for God’s sake, come back with the scaciatta in a little sack and show it to your child.

This goes on all week. They literally have a script.

Okay, I am into it. I’ll do it. I love Italy. I am so glad my children will benefit from their attentive and informed approach to early childhood education. Soon, I have no doubt, I will have need of their handholding as an expat mother with two very small children in their school. And I will be very glad that they are patient listeners with appropriate responses.

For the moment, however, I need to work on my caffeine tolerance threshold to make it through their acclimation game plan.

This all starts September 19. I have two weeks. RAMP UP.

It just really makes me think of this Muppet clip. This will be me.

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