I’m now feeling a bit familiar with the functioning of preschool 149 in Warsaw. You enter through a gate, wheeling bikes which you park at the top of the stairs (mostly); or waving willow wands which you park behind a seat (“Not a seat Nanny Meg. A bench”): then you tap in the code to get into the building. In the entrance hall, there are a number of containers: a kitchen tidy for the blue plastic covers for your shoes; a plastic crate to collect bottle tops and lids; and, in season, wooden crates of apples for the taking. There is also a display of work from each of the classes: butterflies with little shapes glued on, silver swans, street scenes made from boxes covered with newspapers, and a splendid garbage truck (a long-term fascination for the twins) made from bottle tops. The learning for the month for each Grupa and the menu for the day are pinned to notice boards, as well as an invitation to help yourself to apples and to join Grupa 1 for a performance.
Then you move into the cloak room. A shelf at the top is the spot for bike helmets. A small pigeon hole underneath is where you put the scarf, mittens, beanie, and odd dice or hairband. A double hook is where you hang coats and a bag containing a change of clothes and a bench is where you sit for clothes changing. Finally there’s another pigeonhole for shoes and slippers with a grated bottom: shoes are removed and slippers put on before you venture upstairs.
The stairs are wide and shallow, with a child-height handrail as well as an adult one, making me think the communist era building was probably purpose-built. As you enter the classroom area, there is a tub to receive the lovies, those toys brought to school for comfort in difficult moments: a leggy pink flamingo from a Stanthorpe op-shop, a bean bag frog, a little pink pig finger puppet, a ball, a possum, a dingo, a recorder have all served this purpose for the twins. Kitchen staff buzz in and out with trays of bread and cheese and ham and fruit for breakfast: the children sit at small tables. I don’t know how much our two eat – they’ve already had porridge or scrambled egg or toast at home. If you’re a bit late (or maybe a bit early) they’ll join their classmates sitting on a mat in the classroom.
At 3.30 you return for the pick-up. You ask through the intercom for Maja and Janek O to be brought downstairs, and wait at the bottom as they descend. Usually Jaś is talking nineteen to the dozen. Then there is a ritual performance: “Want daddy” it’s called. Soon however recalcitrant feet are in shoes, and the last rebellion (“Not put on coat”) is acceded to, guessing that cold will accomplish what babcia can’t. You sign them out and begin the 90 minute stroll through the park (you, ageing and slow, can walk it in fifteen minutes), rescuing “poor hurt flowers”; playing on grass islands left by the lawn mowers and brush cutters, and enjoying whatever other entertainment you happen across or create.
On Friday my daughter and I head down to the preschool for the concert for mothers and fathers and gate crashing babcias. We join M and many eager parents for a delightful hour as the children dance and sing and recite. From where I sit the stage is framed by heads and iPhones recording every minute. I’m awed by the amount these small people remember, and their energy. In the first sequence of dance, Jaś is dressed in black tunic, black leggings and a white bow tie, Maja in a pink tutu. I don’t manage to get good photos of this. The reports we had were that she doesn’t dance and yet here she was wiggling and twirling away. In the second sequence Jaś wore cat ears, which seemed to have trouble staying put, and Maja was a bee, with waving antennae. There was a gift for Mama, a candle on a stand made of pasta gold-sprayed and for Tata a cardboard tie with sparkly stick-ons. I doted and grinned and felt privileged to be there.