Again I am struck by the image that forms, of a very sad, intensely self-involved little girl. I would come out of my shell for brief periods, try to reach out, get burned and retreat hastily.
But I also am struck by the completeness of the records on me. Even the reports that I got at private school in the USA were nowhere near as detailed and insightful as those that I got from the Ecole Hamaide. They truly were full academic, social and psychological profiles that told parents exactly what was going on with their kids at school, from the perspective of the teacher.
This is a sharp contrast to the reports that my brothers got from public elementary school, never mind the ones I got from public high school.
At the beginning of fifth grade, I was already looking forward to the decision of where to go beyond Hamaide, with more dread than anticipation. To my mind, I wasn't a very good student. I knew I was smart, but I felt like I wasn't keeping up with my classmates as the material got more and more abstract. I retreated more and more into books at home to escape the feeling that I was a failure at school, no matter how hard I tried.
Another thing to look forward to in sixth grade was the "classe verte" or "exploration Belgique" that every sixth grade class took every year. This was a trip around the country, similar to the "class de neige" that we did in fifth grade, but for a longer amount of time and in many different places around Belgium.
Furthermore, in sixth grade teachers started to mark papers with grades instead of the familiar "Bravo, Grand Bravo, Tres Bien, Bien, Insuffisant." The prospect of grades terrified me after the results of our first graded Controle came back in fifth grade, a preparation for things to come that had me shaking in my boots.
Despite these rumblings of things to come and the persistence of gloom that seemed to hang over me like a shroud during my last two years there, school was fun. Something to be looked forward to every day.
In fourth grade, I started walking to school by myself. I was old enough now to know how to cross the street safely and the school was a mere two blocks distant from our house. Furthermore, now that I was in the upper grades, I had to be at school earlier than my brothers who were still in the kindergartens.
I left to arrive by 8:30, while my brothers had to be there at 9 o'clock. In the morning we had lessons, either grammar or math, sometimes both and on certain days of the week, we had Observation or Association instead. History, current events and other social studies came under the purview of Observation and Association.
At ten o'clock we had a short recess and snack followed by more lessons until lunch time at twelve-thirty. The younger kids had lunch at twelve and got an extra half hour of recess. By fourth grade we only had an hour of recess. After recess, we went back to the classroom to sign up for afternoon activities. Activities were my favorite part of school. I signed up for drawing, clay or painting most often, though in fourth grade one day a week was reserved for flute now.
Activities ended between 3:30 and 4 and we had to return to our classrooms before we could leave. We weren't allowed to leave on our own unless we had a note from our parents, otherwise we had to wait in the hall until our names were called.
I remember the mass chaos of that hall, packed with kids shouting laughing and talking until their parents arrived.
Since I lived so close to school, my mom wrote me a standing note so that I could come home every day on my own. I was on a list of very few who had the privilege to leave on their own. I was even allowed to go and fetch my brothers from the other building and bring them home myself without my mom in fifth grade.
Wednesdays were always a half-day and my mom often scheduled my ballet lessons then, over the years. The best cartoons were always on Wednesdays too and Tom Ted and I would spend the hours right after lunch watching TV and playing games and drawing all at the same time.
Wednesdays were also a favorite day to have friends over, or to walk over to the Lamantias house with Russell and Beth and Annie.
The Lamantias were another American family that we'd known since my first day of school at Hamaide. I met Russell and we bonded over a common language and were close friends throughout elementary school, until his father, who was with the State Department, was posted to Australia.
Russell's departure at the end of fourth grade was a big blow to me. I lost one of closest and most long-standing friends. This on top of Andrea's betrayal at our birthday party made for a very difficult year and a rather melancholy summer, despite a very interesting trip to Yugoslavia ...
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