02 September, 2013

Remembering: September 1

Moscow, 1st grade
When Danny started 1st grade on August 20, I posted his "lining up to go to school" pictures on Facebook. The first response I got was from my childhood friend: "What, school starts before 1 September in America?" Yes, it does.*

As I stood next to Danny, gently patting his head from time to time, I looked around. The sight  of students lining up was familiar to me, almost nostalgic. But, there was something missing... And then it hit me – flowers. There were no flowers for the teachers on the first day of school.

First day of school in Russia was celebrated with flowers. Every kid brought a bouquet of flowers for their teacher. Mostly gladiolas, I don't know why. I always brought something else instead, one of my parents (and we're still debating which one) was not a fan of gladiolus. Teachers kept vases in classrooms to store the flowers, and at the end of the day carried the huge heaps home. Often they asked their spouse to come and help them carry the flowers, there were too many for just one person to manage. The flowers were a sign of celebration and appreciation of the teacher's work in the upcoming year.

The sight of students lining up in front of school, everyone holding flowers, was a strange one. We had uniforms, designed by Lenin's wife, and basically looked like the maids from the Ritz about to go and clean the rooms. Boys wore blue "suits" with white shirt, and girls had a brown dress with white aprons. Everything was made out of polyester. (White aprons were for "special occasions", during normal school days we wore black aprons, which made us look like maids even more.)** It was the flowers that provided color, and some indication that this was an important day (and not a sign of apocalypse). And it was the sight of the sea of flowers that was missing from Danny's first day of school, and I found that strangely odd.

It was so odd to me, and I was so bothered by the lack of flowers that I rushed to the store and got a nice bouquet for Danny's teacher. I gave it to her when I picked him up. She was surprised and flattered at the same time. Right then and there I decided that, from now on, I would uphold the Russian tradition of bringing teacher flowers on the first day of school. I might not end up liking the teacher toward the end of the year, but on the first day she'll get flowers. Might have to provide a small vase as well, because I doubt the teacher will be prepared for a bouquet.

* Russian academic year starts September 1 and ends May 31. There are only 1-10 grades, there is no pre-K or K. The group of kids that are in your class in 1st grade is the same group that will be with you all the way through 10th. You become a close bunch and classes don't interact with one another. 

** When communism fell, so did the uniforms. Students now wear regular clothes. Thank God!

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