January 4, 2008
A Moment When I Understood Something About the World Beyond Me
“Bye sweetie. Don’t worry, I will be back soon.” That was my Mom.
I stood hugging the enormous tree in the center of la cour in my maternelle. Sorry, but three-year-olds from New York City do not notice what kind of trees are hovering over them, thousands of miles above their heads, so I cannot include that detail.
I sobbed, and no language flowed in my head. Martha no está aquí. Ella no me habla en español. Ahora tengo que aprender le français. Et maintenant je suis dans la classe de Madame Labbé? Elle est méchante. Well maybe languages clashed in my brain, but none of them were complete enough to dominate my thoughts. Why does Mama make me go here? I hate this place.
I sat in the line of French boys and girls. Madame Labbé made us draw a picture of our mothers because it was Mother’s Day on Vendredi. So I made Maman! She has a papillon necklace. How do you say that again in English? Oh yes, a butterfly. And wears a lot of velvet. And she has curly black hair and blue hair. But it’s only blue in the front.
I finished. The coloring pencils frustrated me because I could never have enough control. No matter how I shaded the bleak colors, the texture looked the same. I wish they would smear more because Mama’s hair does not have holes in it. I showed my teacher the drawing.
“Mais Cloé! Pourquoi tu invente tout ça? Ta maman n’a pas les cheveux bleus! Le bleu n’est pas une couleur naturelle! S’il te plaît, Cloé. Ça ne va pas faire plaisir a ta maman.” That was Madame Labbé.
She grabbed me by the pigtails when she wanted me to stay in line. And she had never met my Mama, so she couldn’t know what she was talking about. I know that my Mama has blue hair. But she was the teacher. Elle est la maîtresse. Donc elle doit avoir raison. No, how could she be right?
I sat still in the corner with a new blank sheet of rough white paper. I had the same selection of colored pencils littered around me. My tights were sticking to the backs of my knees because I was sweating from the heat of the other kids and from my frustration. A boy next to me had snot running down his nose and it bubbled when he breathed out. The windows were never open, and continued to remain closed in most indoor spaces that I ever spent time in while living in France. Excuse the stereotype, but French people tend to be afraid of a courant d’air because they think a cold breeze will make them sick.
Everybody else is finished. And now je dois recommencer. No quiero. I picked up a black pencil to start with Mama’s hair. Madame Labbé wanted me to remake Mama without blue hair. But Mama has blue hair. But la maîtresse is never wrong. Do I still have to listen to her even though Mama really does have blue hair? The other students left the room to go to lunch. Madame Labbé came over to me to tell me that I could not eat until I redrew my mother properly.
Je ne vais pas le faire, I thought to myself. She is wrong. La maîtresse can be wrong. All grown-ups can be wrong. Kids just think they are always right. But they can make mistakes like me. So I don’t have to listen to her. I will just make her happy so she will let me go to lunch, and I can tell Mama what happened. She will be proud of me.
I looked at la maîtresse and smiled at her. I drew a smiley face with two green eyes and black hair and a red mouth. I drew her in a dress with pointed shoes. Even though Mama never wears pointy shoes like all the other Mamans.