Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Square Trees

On the surface Paris really does seem like an orderly place, filled with organized inhabitants. Parisian parks are lined with rows of trees trimmed into perfect squares, the neat, near obsessive landscaping lulls people into believing that there is structure here, that non means no, that lists are made then followed, and exceptions are rare. Polished white exteriors, daily garbage collection, potato purée pressed into neat rounds on your plate... all of these things add to the impression of order.

This impression, however, falls to pieces whenever Parisians have to wait in line. Arms reaching out, heavy sighs, shuffling sneaky feet, strategically placed market carts, innocent looking mamies claiming they thought the head of the line was the tail, are all common tricks around here that will leave you, the honest, trusting American, permanently last in line. Now, imagine if you will, what it is like to be in an "invisible line" or "waiting list".

Three months before Coco was born we were told to sign her up on the waiting list for a spot in the city run crèche or daycare with our arrondissement's town hall. We dutifully did so. Upon her birth we returned to confirm our request upon the request of the town hall. We did that as well. And then we did what all reasonable people do, we waited. And waited. And waited. It is after all a waiting list.

Three months, five months, ten months... at twelve months suspicions arrose and I started asking questions. Am I doing this right? Can I see the list? Where are we on it exactly? Is there something else I should be doing here? Mais oui Mary! Said every french person who I talked to about my situation. They would give me a cocked to the side sad face and say, "Ohh Mary, you are so sweet. There is no waiting list. It's only a pile of files that they sift though and the loudest, crabbiest, most insistant ones always float to the top. You better start squawking or you will never get a spot! Since they haven't heard from you in months they must assume you must not need a spot that badly!"

At first I refused to believe it. I marched right into the town hall and told them that my friends told me I should be writing letters and visiting more often, they said, "Non non non madame. Please don't. It won't make any difference." "Good" I replied, "because that seems like a royal waste of my time and yours to sift though all that mail and deal with desperate parents calling to confirm they are still on the waiting list as if they might somehow fall off it." My friends with spots in daycare simply shook their heads at my report, "Mais oui Mary! Of course that's what they would say!"

And so the campaign began. I found any reason I could to visit the town hall to update my dossier and prove my deep interest in Coco obtaining a spot. I have recently started a new job so I thought I would update my file with that new information. During that visit they pointed out that they were missing our CAF account number. Now, I could have called Greg and had him tell it to me over the phone, but instead, I tucked that detail happily away knowing I had just found a legitimate reason to come back next week, update my file, smile at the nice state employees and tell them how much I am looking forward to Coco eventually being in daycare.

Then the cherry on the cake. The letter. But what to say? Every logical bone in my body did not want to write this letter. I signed up for a waiting list. I am waiting. You will call me when I get to the top of this list. The end. The letter that I really wanted to write was one explaining the principals and vertus of waiting but no... I needed to think French.

Chère Madame,

[Scratch that dear, too cozy, too soon.]

Congratulations on finishing the remodel of the daycare's playroom. Colette and I walked by your building last week and it looks beautiful. You must be so pleased.

[Start with a compliment. Show them I have been paying attention to the situation.]

Our daughter Colette has been on your waiting list since her birth, 16 months ago. [Cue the violins.] Given that both myself and my husband work in the arts we have a very sporadic and complicated work schedule, I wish simply to communicate to you that a spot in your daily daycare would be a real relief for our family's organizational and financial situation.

[Talk about being an artist, they love artists here. Emphasis how much we would like this spot and what a difference it would make to our bottom line... true story.]

We hope that you consider adding Coco to your list for January.

[Recap. Keep it short. This woman has a whole stack of sob stories to read.]


Madame et Monsieur

[Surpress any desire to yell, swear, or show how incredibly silly I feel writing a letter stating something so painfully obvious as  Hi! We are on your waiting list and are just writing to say hi we are on your list and hope we come to the top soon.]

Stay tuned everyone! January is here.

1 comment:

Amandinette said...

I hope that Mlle Bouron will soon find her place in the world of French crèches! In the mean time, bonne chance with her at home- I'm sure you're enjoying every minute of seeing her grow a little bit older each day :)