School

The alarm went off at an unchristian hour early in the morning. Yet I was already awake for a while...not sure why. I wasn't consciously nervous about 'D-day' as I had called it mockingly a few weeks ago.

I quickly slipped out of bed, trying not to awake Jan and got ready.  After I had fed Kabouter half asleep and had returned him to the land of the sleepy, I grabbed a banana and a bottle of water and left.  It was still dark outside and not a car on the road, but the birds were wide awake and announcing the upcoming dawn.  Fortunately it was not cold outside and it wasn't raining.

While walking down the deserted street, I thought of the people that were said to be camping out at some schools a few kms further in the next suburb of Leuven and who must have been in big showers over the previous days.  Fortunately the school we'd like to enroll Kabouter in, a small nearby neighbourhood school, didn't have a camping habit and last year all people on the waiting list had obtained a spot in the school in the end.

But then again, it's a gamble: nobody knows how many people would show up this morning to enroll their child in this school.  Jan and I had made the conscious decision not to camp out for a school as there are sufficient places in Leuven....just not  enough in some popular schools.  If needed we'd get on a couple of waiting lists and see what would come out of it. Yet I can understand how you'd truly want to send your child to a school that you can connect to or eg the school that is right behind the corner.  As soon as one person starts the madness to go and camp in front of the door a long time ahead of enrollment day, the stress and pressure gets added to the other parents and it becomes contagious. I was fairly optimistic to be able to send Kabouter to one of the 2 schools we had in mind, yet I wasn't certain we would succeed.   As long as you need to be physically at one location at one moment for a limited number of spots you'll always have the stress that there will be too many people. So you come a bit before the doors open.   But if everyone reasons that way, you need to come a bit earlier than the others. Where does it end?  How will other people reason?  So in all honesty, I was relieved to see no one outside of the school when we drove by on our way back from the Ardennes.

But the Ardennes was 12h ago...had I put my alarm clock early enough or had it been a wasted effort?

The road was still deserted when I turned the corner.  Now I felt silly: I was first, so I clearly was the ridiculous parent getting up too early.  I had been dragged into the dramatic school stories in Leuven. I looked around up and down the street once more and since I was short on cash I took the risk of walking to the ATM machine 200m further down: how much people can show up in 5 minutes anyway?

At 5.30 I walked back to the school...a man came out of a side street and was just behind me.  It was somehow a relief to see other human life outside, yet at the same time I kept up my pace to ensure I landed just before him at the school door.
"Good morning, is this the place where we have to be to enroll for school? "
"Yeah, I think so, I just arrived here, it looks like I'm the first one, this is where I was going to wait."
"Good, sounds good, we'll stand here."
"Hello hello, so I'm not the first one"  another man arrived  while a bit further someone came out of his car   "Hi, I saw you guys assembling so I guess it was time to join".

I couldn't keep up texting Jan that I was first and that there were now 3, no 4, no 5 people already waiting as one of the neighbors had heard us talking and realised he now really had to join as well. Every single person who arrived, started to count the people before him and then gave a small sigh of relief.
"congratulations, you're still in"
"Yeah great,  ...we met last night, right?  "
"Yeah you were here too, I remember. I came by a few times to check whether there was no queue yet here. I'm so glad none of you stayed here!"
Everyone shared the same feeling in the conversation. Everyone had been passing by in the weekend, wondering what they'd do if there were people starting to queue.

Slowly the group grew and we exchanged where we lived (most of them in the neighbourhood), where our children were currently in daycare, stories we had heard about camping parents elsewhere, speculations when the doors would be opened, speculations about how many places were available here (11 or 12...and how many of these spots could still potentially assigned to less favored families that could still show up in the coming weeks:   was that 4 or more?), ...  And we counted the group again and we texted the status home and stared at the clock.

It had become light and the street got busier and people stared at our little gathering.  At 6.50h someone came to open the gate and invited us in with some coffee.  We noted our order of arrival and then continued the waiting. By coincidence there were exactly 11 chairs waiting around the table so we pitied the persons who'd arrive without chair to wait.  Now that the order of arrival had been properly written down, someone got out to the bakery to get us all breakfast pastries while others started working on their laptop or phone.   We got the paperwork to fill out and I discovered I was sitting next to Kabouter's daycare friend's grandmother.

At exactly 8.30 I was invited into the principal's office and 1 minute later I walked out with the precious paper stating that Kabouter had been enrolled in the school with a confirmed status. Yeaaaay no waiting list! I could phone Jan who was on his way to another school as a back-up plan that he could turn around and return home.

And now we sit at the table staring at the note in amazement that we have a little boy that is already enrolled for school (for 2016)  Incredible!  Fortunately there's still a year (and a half) until he has to start.











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