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The problem with chaperoning a field trip

Field tripIt isn't that there are one thousand second-graders carrying paper lunch bags that are torn or half-open with bags of Sun Chips and baby carrots and hot Cheetos spilling out.

Or that they are supposed to be making notes on worksheets they've been given that are tucked into clipboards with pencils that have chewed off erasers. And that they must come to a dead stop to make those notes in the middle of a crowd of other school children that has a current that sweeps even the adults away quickly.

It isn't the bumpy, slightly stenchy, hot bus that makes even the most iron-bellied passengers feel nauseous.

It isn't that there is always one half of a seatbelt missing so that one of the three students squeezed into the bus seat cries when she has to sit with other kids, alone, or worse, the chaperone.

It isn't that the hours tick slowly, and that there are always too many hours to spend at the zoo, the museum, listening to a tour guide use that annoying baby-talk voice he thinks will engage kids who are in no way engaged.

It isn't the gripping fear that one child in your care will flee, vanish, pause momentarily, wander off, accidentally cling to another group or get pulled under in the current of kids in the ape house, backstage at the theater, while boarding the bus -- and will be gone. Like, REALLY GONE.

And it will be the child who has been whining, kicking, bullying, accidentally-on-purpose poking at your boob, pouting, talking incessantly, causing you to spontaneously think without thinking, "Wow, it's so gloriously quiet" in the split second after you realize he's not there.

It's not the guilt that follows that thought. Nor the panic after that. Not even the deep, ojai breathing you learned in sweaty yoga, therapy, Lamaze class, during the worst finals test ever to keep yourself just barely calm enough to see your way through a crisis and FIND THAT KID.


It's not the mom who seems to keep ending up steps behind you whose chirpy lectures on amphibians, co-sleeping or using your words are dialed up to the volume only other parents can hear. 

It's not that your own lunch was sacrificed to a harrassing seagull or child who only brought enough change for the school cafeteria meal, and that you know better than to buy a burger or bag of hot Cheetos from the vending machine because of the wild-wolf wrath of famished children who will overtake you and your dyed-flaming-orange fingers. 

Not even that lunch is at 10 a.m. and your next opportunity to eat will involve scarfing crumbs from the cupholder in your car at 3 p.m., just minutes before your child is let out of school for the day.

It's not the teacher who cannot remember which child from her class belongs to you. Or the boss who is texting, Facebooking, emailing and calling you over and over on the personal day you secured six months.

It's not the wound up kid who had a strawberry Fanta and four Oreos for lunch and then washed it all down with a Pepsi snowcone he somehow procured the cash for when you were reading a sign about how much space garbage is orbiting the earth.

It isn't the little girl with the tiniest cut in the world that will. not. stop. bleeding.

It isn't the project deadline that will not stop throbbing in your head. Or the 40-pound purse on your shoulder, weighed down by 12 kiddie sweatshirts, one child's laptop, another's Leap Frog, a golf umbrella, 8 half-full water bottles and a to=go mug of lukewarm coffee you desperately need to drink.

It isn't the rain or hail or puddles or pollen.


It isn't that you may have once gone out on a Jack Daniels-clouded date you'd rather fully forget -- with someone who very well could be the bus driver.

And it is not that you are pretty sure the child in the seat in front of you has lice, nor that the one behind you has just sneezed norovirus all over half the class and the teacher's Coach bag.

It isn't that the bus will be 2-1/2 hours late to pick the weary, whiny, hyperactive crew up to go back to the classroom. 

It is definitely not that your child is sobbing and frantic because he lost that one little Lego guy's tiny sword, and probably while inside the pitch-black movie theater that is inside the mock submarine back inside the maze of the World War II exhibit.

It isn't that the teacher promised the kids they could stop in the gift shop and the number of times the children in your group have asked when it will be time to go to the gift shop is now in the triple digits.

It isn't that it is the one day of the year you have a migraine, a blister the size of Iowa, a hangnail that is curiously excrutiating, or allergies that made you sneeze for four hours.

It isn't that you heard last month's trip to the art gallery was way more awesome. And that the dad who wears tube socks with his Birkenstocks but is otherwise forgiveably super-cute was a chaperone on that one.

It isn't any of this stuff. None of it at all. 

It is that your boy, the one who five minutes ago curled up on your chest like a little bug,

the one who pinched your elbow to soothe himself to sleep, 

the one who, asleep, you can see both reflections of the baby with the fleshy cheeks and all the hope in the world

and the man with the angular features and studious brow and all the hope in the world,

the kid who is running up ahead to jump in between his two friends

laughing at a joke you don't get and aren't meant to, 

writing way more on that worksheet than he needs to,

his chin dripping with a multi-colored popsicle, his notes filled with seven-letter words, his pockets missing a little Lego guy's tiny sword, his arms wrapped around his buddies in those precious moments between babyhood and high school when it is OK for boys to love each other this loudly, 


this boy who is still young enough to be excited about the facts written on the sign that his mother or teacher or tour guide are reading aloud and old enough to walk at a safe, appropriately individuating, cool-point distance away from that adult as soon as the sentences have been concluded,


that boy does NOT want you to be on the field trip with him.


The problem with chaperoning the excursion is the disappointed "aww-www" that he lets out when you tell him you will accompany his class to the recycling plant or Shakespearean play or pumpkin farm.


What isn't a problem is that you will go anyway. 

That you will choose to chaperone because, as a kid, your mother was a teacher and couldn't go on field trips even though you wanted her there very much. And now you have the freedom to take time off work or step away from your desk or delay a deadline so you can soothe that little girl's wishes and be the mom on the field trip.

That you will see that being there, even with resistance, is worthwhile. That it might sting to hear at first but then is kind of funny to show up with a paper-sack lunch and exaggerated enthusiasm anyway.

What isn't a problem is that you will set aside your child's request to be in another parent's group or that he rolls his eyes or pretends not to see you when you arrive. What isn't a problem is that, years from now, he may not remember that he wasn't his kindest self on that field trip, or even that you attended. 

What isn't a problem is that you will go and embrace and laugh and move through it all because you love that kid fiercely, you want to be a part of this mysteriously schoolday stuff. And because you want it for you.

That's no problem. No problem at all.


That's just one harried, hungry, motion-sick, exhausted way you will be a part of his life and bring your memories full circle. It's no problem to put up with all that for you. And maybe for the kid who won't get the glory and gift of it until his son or daughter brings home the first permission slip decades from now.

Or for the lost child you finally found, who is not your blood, but is curled up on your lap on the rollercoaster bus ride home, with his thumb in his mouth and pinching your elbow all the way back to school, where his own mom will be waiting anxiously.


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References (8)

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Reader Comments (1)

It seems like you had fun too during the field trip.

January 20, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbutalbital compound

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