It’s that time of the year. In France they call it ‘la rentrée’, which is very roughly equivalent to the British ‘back to school’, a concept beloved of the sellers of school uniforms, and stationery supplies. Yes, and supermarkets, who start pushing sales pretty much the week before the children break up in July. Damn their eyes.
La rentrée is, however, a much broader and more satisfying notion altogether. For a start, it encompasses everyone. Adults have la rentrée too, largely as a result of having mass lemming-like seasonal exoduses to the seaside for either all of July or all of August (or for the resolutely indecisive, the second half of July and the first half of August, neatly between the national holiday of Bastille Day on July 14 and the secular state’s public holiday in honor of the Catholic Feast of the Assumption on August 15). Anyhow, this leads to monumental and infamous traffic jams along the French motorways on the start, end and crossover weekends, and a general sense of business recommencing in earnest on the first Monday in September. Bakeries and bookshops and butchers all reopen, ending that month-long trek to alien emporia for daily staples to which the unholidaying citizenry has been subject (personally, I used to clear my freezer before my favorite baker went away, and store a month’s worth of baguettes against the evil of braving a dispreferred bakery. A radical solution, and one my French friends found eccentric, but not excessive). Paris puts on its working wardrobe and heads off to the Métro, ready, and oh so willing, to elbow the last lingering tourists out of the way.
Here in the UK, le rentrée is ostensibly for children, though everyone feels it really, even if we don’t have a good word for it.
In my house, it has meant two children back into the groove of school, calm with the assurance of experience. Neither are new to their schools (can the big jump to secondary school really have happened two years ago?) although there are the usual array of new teachers to be sized up. Child Two (the DMC) is apparently happy with her new teacher, of whose character and identity I have only the dimmest notion. At this stage, I barely know her name, and certainly can’t pick her out in the playground. As I’m now picking up the neighbor kid as well most days (we do a lot of child-sharing), I could equally well be seeing her teacher, or one of the numerous teaching assistants. Child One (aka ‘Beast’: collectively they are all ‘the beasts’, but she, bless her sweet, non-beastly heart, is proudly the Original and Best) is entertaining me with scathing descriptions of the hapless crew who fall under her 13-year-old scrutiny. A couple are pronounced worthy, the rest rather too casually dismissed. I fear the turning of that critical gaze on me.
Child Three (Yarnzilla) is experiencing his first taste of school, in the afternoon section of the nursery class. Now at the end of a full week of socialization, I am pleased to report no tears, tantrums or traumas, and as yet, no terrible habits of speech or behavior. They will come, surely, but we have been spared for one more week, at least. He’s had a particularly big week, actually, starting off with a fancy new big-boy haircut, and then getting a brand-new big-boy bed, which was spirited into his room during his first afternoon at nursery. The Beloved and I did exactly the same thing as we had done nine years ago for Child One: waited for him to find it on his own, and then plead complete ignorance. Well, she had frustrated us by taking hours and hours to go upstairs, but was vocal once she did. He, on the other hand, after quite some time of not going upstairs, came down again and Said Nothing. Had he somehow not seen it? An hour or so later I overheard him casually mention to the DMC,: “I don’t have a cot any more”, and that was that. Yet, he seems to have been perfectly thrilled, as has been clear every night since then when we tuck him in.
And in that autumnal cleaning mode that I go into along with millions of others (why do we speak only of spring cleaning, when so many of us have two bursts a year?), we bore ourselves off to IKEA for wool storage, so that I can reclaim the spare room/study for human habitation and use (at which time we also fell for Yarnzilla’s bed). That exercise now being more or less complete, I am proud to report that I can see the floor, see the bed, and see the desk (even if none of them are exactly tidy). So there. Of course, the undyed wool downstairs in the hallway is a problem yet to be solved, and I am keen to do so before I place that new order I have been cogitating for a month or so.
The hallway. Yes, I’m glad I mentioned that, actually, because, well, all the Happy New has extended that far as well. We were finally moved to do something we’ve been discussing for months: rip up the sisal floor covering and expose the tiles beneath. The problem with the sisal was that, pretty and hard-wearing as it was, it was also, um, uncleanable. Yes, uncleanable, because you can’t get the dratted stuff wet. Perfect for a hallway in a soggy climate, and a houseful of small children. Quite. Now you guess what this looked like four years on from when we had it laid (at great expense, because in addition to being twice the price of carpet – and half as practical – it also required twice the expertise to lay, apparently. Or the carpet-shunning classes are twice as rich, or twice as gullible). Anyway, it needed to come up, and so up it came, along with the expensive underlay, and a small amount of the expensive and highly efficient glue. The remaining glue provided an attractive all-over chewing gum effect on the tiles, and we stuck to it, as flies on fly-paper for the three days in which I tackled the seemingly impossible task of its removal. In the end, just when I was considering giving up and throwing down sawdust, I hit on the solution. Undiluted white spirit, in liberal libation, and energetic wielding of scraper and heavy-duty steel wool. It worked. For three days I was afraid to strike a match, but other than that, it was great. Now there’s only the problem of the tiles to be dealt with. The fact that half of them are missing, and what exactly is that covering the rest of the area? Looks like a cunning concoction of ancient cement and industrial glue from some bygone era in which it was virtually mandatory to employ as many carcinogens as possible. Which is naturally why we are scraping at the floor with all our might, having heated the probably-poisonous glue with the cook’se torch that stands in (poorly) for a flame-thrower. Well, we can’t say we didn’t know what we were getting into. And Happy New Floor to us.
And there’s more. For me, it’s Happy New Decade. I’m learning to come to terms with this. I hope gracefully, and without undue whingeing. No-one has any sympathy with the whingeing anyway, as practically all my friends are forging through that decade ahead of me (and yes, I did listen to their whingeing).
Oh, guess what: we Jews do have a term for it after all: New Year.
So, Happy New Year, l’shana tova, to all of you, Jewish and non-Jewish who are engaging with the cycle of renewal right about now. Bonne rentrée!