Global Mom: French School, A Scream

From Global Mom: A Memoir

(Continued from last post, “Scooting Through Paris”)

Entrance to Parc Monceau

Entrance to Parc Monceau

Sometimes, Randall took the Vespa to the office because his work was just across the street from Dalton’s school. The two would head off together, helmeted and wearing biking gear, Dalton holding around his Dad from the back. They could drive right up to the gilded gates of the Parc Monceau where inside was the splendid converted mansion that housed l’École Active Bilingue. Here, Dalton spent his days and earned his French stripes.

parc monceau

The Parc Monceau is about as far from Norwegian barnepark as you can get. In fact, it’s much closer to a Japanese Zen garden, only without bonsai trees, a stone replica of Mount Fuji, and bamboo rakes for everyone to comb the sand. And because it’s French, it is sumptuous but just about as ornamental. This elegant park is where Dalton, and then Luc when he joined the same school a year later, spent their recré, or recess periods every day. Dressed in navy and white uniforms, they stood in packs – boys here, girls there – for their thimble-full of outdoor time. Half an hour of a nine-hour day.

Parc Monceau through the eye of Claude Monet

Parc Monceau through the eyes of Claude Monet

Under the shade of huge old sycamores, the children huddled to play a rousing set of billes, marbles.  They sometimes drummed up a modest round of tag or ran after one another’s Yugio cards, very popular that year.  But that was the extent of their movement for the day. “Your boys should participate in one or two sports outside of class,” the diréctrice of the school had advised me in our first private consultation. “Swimming, soccer, tennis, anything you can find to energize them will help them metabolize all they’re learning.” She was a small boned woman with a strong brow and imposing presence, flawless Parisian French, and always a gold insignia ring on her left pinkie finger.  For someone so no-nonsense, she sure wore delicious perfume.

Monet again under the shade of sycamores in Parc Monceau

Monet again under the shade of sycamores in Parc Monceau

“This is why we have the open Wednesday afternoons,” she continued. “The children are encouraged to do all their sport then. I suggest you sign them up. Vite, vite!”

After the requisite bureaucracy for which I was braced this time around, we did sign them up: swimming, chess, choir, tae kwan do and then finally because we were in France, we of course signed up both boys for escrime.

fencing 3

fencing 1

That’s pronounced  eh-scream, which should have made me nervous, but somehow didn’t.  That is until I saw that the boys’ fencing instructor had no right ear. It was a detail that inspired in me both confidence (hey, this guy really fences!) and worry (hey, but, uh. . . .?) The gymnasium full of twenty young fencers in tight white unitards and mesh-fronted helmets looked like an audition hall for Star Wars Stormtroopers wielding swords instead of lasers. For months and months they swung fearlessly, my two youngest did, while mincing and shuffling back and forth, arms raised just so, feet poised just so, an exhausting and beautiful discipline cum sport cum art. Fully French.

fencing 2

8 thoughts on “Global Mom: French School, A Scream

    • Nancy: I cannot claim they loved it, :-), but they got their fill of weaponry. It’s darned demanding, too, mentally, physically, artistically, strategically…When it came down to it for the blog, they forbade me posting the actual shots I took of them in éscrime class: “Uh, those jumpsuits were tiiieeeeght, Mom.”


  1. I hope this school has chnaged a lot since I was there in 1988. I was locked in dark rooms if I cried for my mum at the age of 4. I speak French fluently as well as English, no thanks to this school as I left within months of this happening. Good luck to parents whoes children are there!

    • rnvianna-Was this the same École Active Bilingue, as there are two EAB’s in Paris; one in Parc Monceau (my boys’ school) and another in the 15h, off Rue du Théatre. We deliberately chose the school in Parc Monceau (with its satellite branches in surrounding streets all in that same area) for more reasons than the location. If you attended EAB Monceau in ’88, and you were treated like that at age four, I’m simply crushed for you. And sick. And am glad my boys didn’t report any sort of abuse. Rigeur. Protocole. Vous savez bien de quoi je parle.

      Thanks for the message and for adding depth to this topic.—M

  2. Hi Mellisa. Thank you for your message. Yes, it was at Parc Monceau. Mme Robinau was the head mistress at the time when this happened. I then went to Le Petit Cours as my parents knew I was unhappy but they didn’t know what I was subjected to until I was much older. I stayed at Le Petit Cours until I moved to the UK where I enjoyed my schooling a lot more! I just felt I had to say something as I’m now so weary of schools (private and state) since becoming a mother myself. Like you, I really want to give my children the opportunity to learn other languages especially since I am half English and half French, with my husband being Italian and Brasilian.

    I just know I wasn’t the only one who had a hard time at school in the 80s in Paris. Shocking really since most of this sort of abuse stopped in schools in the 60s I thought.

    I came accross your site when searching for more information on the shocking news about the man who entered a school in Paris and shot himself this morning. I couldn’t help but think it might have been there! I also thought it might have been an old pupil returning! Awful isn’t it? Anyway, apologies for the sad nature of my message. Thank you for your informative site. It’s really interesting to hear your perspective and to hear of some of the changes. 🙂

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