In one my last posts, I mentioned that our family was preparing for my oldest child to start school this year. I know it is a big deal in most countries, but in Germany, I think it is an even bigger deal, partly because the first day is wonderfully ritualized by such things as a special church service, an informal reception at the school during the first graders’ very first hour of school, and a peak inside the classroom and chance to take loads of pictures while the kids are there. It’s usually a family affair in the league of birthdays and holidays including the extended family. Often a special lunch is organized either at home or at a restaurant followed by Kaffee und Kuchen.
Fuss surrounds the new Schulkind (school child) as everyone excitedly files into the church hall or school building for that momentous first day of school. And one of the props in addition to the lovingly selected Schulranzen that crowns this moment is the Schultüte. Loosely translated, a Schultüte is a decorated cone made out of cardboard that is filled with sweets, school supplies, small books and other treats to celebrate the day. First citations of the Schultüte were made from eastern Germany in the early nineteenth century. (Source: Wikipedia) Every picture of a German schoolchild on the first day of school includes her or him proudly holding up a Schultüte.
In addition to the special events of the first day of school, this milestone really marks a new life phase in the school child’s life. In our little city, while some Kindergarten kids walked home to Kindi alone during the last year or so, school kids walking to and from school by themselves is the norm here in Germany. At the first Elternabend (parents’ night) a couple days before school started, a police officer gave us some information about how to prepare your child (and yourselves) for walking to school. One of the statistics he shared was that more accidents happen when school kids start walking to school during the third grade (3. Klasse) than with children who start in the first grade (1. Klasse). It seems that the earlier kids start, the faster they learn. Meanwhile, my daughter (and all of the other kids in our neighbourhood) could not wait until the parents stopped walking with them after the first week of school.
But while I’ve been watching my first born flourish in her new role in life by settling into her new rituals readily, taking on more responsibility eagerly, and setting goals and pushing herself, starting school hasn’t been just a big deal in the life of my child, it’s also marked a change in my life as her mother too. The most significant change has been the number of hours my daughter is out of the house. At earliest, she is out the door at 7:20 and at the latest, at 8:05. She typically comes back home around 12:30 though. This was the biggest adjustment I’ve had to deal with. While I was used to getting my kids to Kindergarten between 8 and 8:30, I then had an uninterrupted stretch of time until two o’clock in the afternoon, when I had to pick them up. My two younger kids still come home at two, but I need to be ready – with a hot lunch on the table – by 12:30 for my new schoolkid. That’s basically a two hour difference. Until my two Kindergarten kids are home, I not only feed my oldest child, I also make sure her she gets her homework done and practices piano and recorder.
So, it’s funny that while this new life phase has marked new independence and more responsibilities for my six-year-old, it seems that she has also come closer, rather than further, to my wing. We spend more total number of hours together each day and we eat all three of our main meals together. I’m still struggling to figure out how to get everything done with two hours less each day, but I love the quiet and significant time that I now get with my daughter as she explains which kid was sick today, how she always has to make sure she has a hair tie for gym, and what new letter they learned that day. It’s been an education for us both as we figure out what going to school in Germany is all about.