Elsa goes to kindergarten
One of my earliest childhood memories is of my mother carting me around to various playschools in the neighbourhood, trying to find one I’d stay at without bawling. So it was disconcerting to find myself introducing Elsa to her local kindergarten last week. My daughter is now doing things I can recall experiencing myself. So if she’s taken on my old role, I must be … the mum.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that I’d have noticed this earlier. Childbirth is not exactly something you forget. But until my faded memories collided with Elsa’s current reality, I had somehow remained in denial. Mothers are responsible. They know how to fix things. They are old. I’m definitely having a delayed identity crisis.
Still, if I have to play the mother, it at least appears to be an easier part this time around. Elsa has been far more amenable to the idea of school than I ever was. Of course, she’d been pretty thoroughly primed: For weeks I’d been going on and on about how wonderful the local kindergarten’s lunches are. (Elsa isn’t one to neglect her stomach.) When the big day came, she was barely out of her pajamas before heading for the door. As I walked with her to the optimistically named Sweet Angel Kindergarten, she looked the picture of her Chinese compatriots, with an obligatory pink Mickey Mouse rucksack perched proudly on her back.
Imagine then my shame when we got to the gate only to be turned away. I had not understood that Elsa needed a medical check-up before they would admit her. We were given an incomprehensible form and sent to the local hospital. Elsa was distraught, her long-anticipated day ruined by my ineptitude. Mortified, I promised I would do my very best to get her back in time for the all-important lunch.
I should have known better. Sanlitun Hospital, in an antiquated building squeezed in between a police station and The Tree, was in chaos. Sparks flew around us as workers welded, and loose bundles of planks were hoisted up scaffolding, wobbling dangerously past our heads. Parking the bike, we headed inside, where it was safer but not much more orderly. Thankfully, another mother was there with her young daughter, a smiley girl in bright pink leggings, a little older than Elsa. They led us to the “reception,” where 3 kuai got us a stamp on the form and permission to proceed to an obscure room on the second floor.
For the next hour and a half we braved several more murky rooms, where Elsa was subjected to equally mysterious health checks. Most were fairly innocuous. I felt sorry for the lady who wanted to check Elsa’s teeth; she was no match for a 3-year-old’s tightly clenched jaw, but she good-naturedly accepted my assurances that Elsa did in fact have some gnashers. In the measuring room, I was disturbed to discover that Elsa was over one meter tall – it looks like the days of free admissions are numbered, unless I can teach her to bend at the knees. Only the blood test caused any real trouble, Elsa’s indignant wail a stark contrast to our stoic pink-legged friend, who’d gone whimper-less before her. Eventually our form was satisfactorily completed, and some fast pedaling got us back to the kindergarten gates just before the lunchtime deadline.
Since that first adventurous day, it’s all been smooth sailing. Li laoshi is charming, the food is indeed good – if Elsa’s reports are anything to go by – and I’m looking forward to Elsa making some new Chinese friends. Best of all is going to collect her each day. I borrow Charlie, the next-door neighbor’s dog that we’ve semi-adopted, and wait outside the gates for my charge. As other mums gather to collect their offspring, I am reminded again of my new grown-up status. But with the hospital checks successfully navigated, I reflect smugly that perhaps motherhood isn’t really so hard.