I’m fifteen minutes late for my first school appearance. Yes, three years into the post and I still have to go through that first-day-of-school trauma AGAIN!
I drive up on Central Avenue. I tune in to 100.3 hoping for a feel good song. Sure enough, one of my favorites is playing and I stretch my lungs out to sing my anxiety out of my system. Yes, I sing loud!
As I enter the meeting room, I tell myself: it won’t be so bad. It’s just another PA meeting. I’m a pro by now!, I’ve gone from shy shadow member, to elected PA president to outspoken member in three years and I loved every moment of it. But that’s in the boys’ small, family-style French School, where almost all 20+ families are expats, roamers like me.
This all American community school is a totally different story!
I step inside the meeting room and I see a judging panel: 6 or 7 moms and one dad facing the rest of us moms and also one dad who constitute the school parents body.
Everyone looks at me and I tell myself it’s only because I’m late!
But why are they seated as panelists? I pull out a comforting mental image of our French school PA meetings in Panera Bread coffeehouse where no one can tell who is a member, a treasurer, a president or just there for the coffee. We just all gather around the long wooden country table and do our meetings over crunchy bagels and hot coffee, while out toddlers enjoy turning our working papers into their coloring sheets.
I grab a chair in the last row of seats and I stare at the panel speaking about past and future events and I realize from the number of jokes floating around the room that:
1- I’m the only non-American in the room.
2- I’m the only new comer.
3- I’m probably only the only person who has no idea what a parish breakfast means!
I’m hyper ventilating. I try to find ways to calm my nerves down. But then I realize I’m simply hot because I forgot to take my heavy coat off! I do so as quietly as possible. I see one of the panelists inquiring about me and I wonder; how on earth will I introduce myself? What will I say? “Hey, I’m Laila. I’m the only Egyptian Muslim here, and I have two boys who go to the French school next door and one daughter who attends this wonderful American catholic school. But hey, I have no identity crisis… none what so ever.. I’ve only been a roamer for 13 years. I’m cool….all cool!!!”
I get my moment and I do introduce myself. It actually happens fast and without any bumps. Except, I can’t find my English words, and I have this weird Franco Egyptian accent that no one can identify. Oh!!!! I suddenly realize: I speak Franco English at the American school while my French friends from the French school think my French is tainted with English. I can’t think in Arabic any longer. Who the heck am I? Why can’t I master any language? Why am I constantly at a loss of words and proper sentence structure?
I’m grateful they don’t comment much about my obvious struggle with the vernacular. Some brush it off to normal anxiety for being a first time school mom (at this particular school) and they all welcome me aboard!
I come back home and I tell my husband all about it. I’m so excited I finally found a way into my daughter’s new school. Though it’s doubtful I will ever integrate as successfully as I did in an all-roamers school. But in a couple of years, when all those thoughts will be once again neatly tucked inside a memory box ready to be shipped to our next destination , I will sit in my airplane chair, look down on New York and feel good about it all…
Up until it’s time to brace myself one more time for my first PA meeting, in another roamer school, in another roamer post with another group of intimidating parents who seem to have already formed an invincible tight-knit community to which I can’t possibly belong!