Taxation System (shudder)
All unyielding bastions of procedure and protocol so steeped in local traditions as to seem forever beyond the befuddled foreign arrival: surely if I learn enough of the language, or resort to quizzing my local friends before any System-related encounter or, god help me, try to find information online, I’ll conquer it?
But no, all too often the maze remains impenetrable. And, in Italy at least, depends very much on whether the person sat behind the counter on the day you drag your sorry and ungrammatical ass over with your forms and stamps and seals in hand is feeling benevolent or not. (Although fortunately benevolence actually seems to work wonders when you do find it - no Italian law or procedure is too rigid for a little bending, a little improvisation).
So Systems are the bane of our expat lives, and any encounter is to be dreaded. Encounters are unavoidable though: as of this week we are engaging with the Italian Education System. Because, you know, this boy is growing up.
But the crack is this: given the uncertainty over whether we’re staying or going, we need to carry on as though we’re staying. Which means making sure that, come September or January (depending on which entirely unsystematic System rule you apply), the Bean can go to preschool. Applications start round-about now. There are thousands of kids in Milan needing places.
God. Help. Us.
So far we have sort of managed to navigate Italy’s other Systems. My taxes get paid and my maternity allowance eventually materialised. The medical system, though a bit stuck in the fifties, got us through pregnancy and birth at very little cost to us. Fifty-seven thousand signatures later, Mr P&P and I have a functioning bank account, an internet connection, a phone. There was a moment before we got married when I thought war might break out between the Belgian and Italian authorities over whose bit of pretty, official-looking paper was most official, but we got there in the end.
This, however. E-dyu-cay-shon.
Are there many more weighty decisions you make, as a parent? Is it harder as an expat parent, when you need to consider several languages and bear in mind your child might have to fit into another system elsewhere, at some point? Or is it simply hard for everyone full stop?
I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know this: I’m wary of the traditional Italian education system. Although I feel snobbish saying that, I think it’s important to be honest about these things. I don’t like the idea of him going into a mainstream, traditional Italian school because I associate them with rigidity and conservatism. This is based on personal experience: as a former teacher I have taught within that system and I saw 7-year-olds dragging along school bags so full of books they couldn’t physically lift them, 9-year-olds being encouraged to take expensive English lessons and exams. The focus is on rote learning, stacks of homework, and getting good grades or the child is branded “cattivo” (bad). I’m aware that the Italian education system isn’t unique in this approach, nor is it necessarily ineffective for everyone, but it’s not what I want for the Bean. It doesn’t make sense to me.
What does make sense to me, on the other hand, is the Montessori method. And here we are incredibly fortunate: there are two Montessori schools within walking distance of our flat. We went to see one on Tuesday.
We think it’ll be a great fit. We believe the logical choice with regard to education for a boy who may need to move several more times before he’s done learning, who will probably grow up with a very fluid sense of culture and identity, is a method that focuses on the individual and which has been successful the world over. We might be wrong, of course, but for now we’re pretty convinced and we’re going ahead on that basis. We'll do the forms and sign fifty-eight thousand times, if that's what it takes.
As is always the case with these things, however, the school we saw is completely oversubscribed. We may not get a place. And if we don’t we shall have to engage with the mainstream Italian Education System after all.
Next week we have an interview for the Montessori school. Che sarà sarà, and all that, but PLEASE. Keep all your fingers and toes crossed for us, so that we may come out of this particular encounter with the System having made a positive and happy step to adulthood for the Bean. Please.
I think I need another little lie down now.