Yesterday I had the privilege of chaperoning a field trip to the Oregon Zoo with my daughter's first grade class. When the permission slip came home, my immediate thought was, "Oh darn. (sarcasm) With two other little ones at home, I won't be able to help with that one." But sweet Katie, who rarely asks for anything, found me shortly after I spotted the permission slip on the counter. With a HUGE smile, she showed it to me and asked sweetly, "Mom can you come? PLEEEEEEEASE? It's going to be SO much fun."
I couldn't say no, so I set off to find a place for Paige and Alli to go during the all-day field trip. At pre-school pickup, I smiled my best smile and jokingly pleaded with some of my mom-friends, "Will someone PLEEEEEEASE take my kids for me so I can go to the zoo?" All three of them made themselves available immediately. Aren't they the best?!?! So I marked the box "YES, I can chaperone" for the field trip and sent the form back to Mabel Rush and Mrs. Cone's first grade class.
The night before the field trip, I went over logistics. I would drop Paige and Alli at at Faith's house for the first two hours. Hurry over to Mabel Rush so Grant, Katie and I could be in the classrooms by the requested time of 8:25. Savannah's mom would pick Alli and Paige up from Faith's house and transport them to Sherwood where they would spend the remainder of the day until I could get there to pick them up. We'd pile into the van and rush home to beat Grant and Katie's school bus. The well-orchestrated plan teetered flimsily on the pinnacle of staying on-schedule.
Thursday morning dawned with ten times more drama than I had patience or time for. As wailing and fighting escalated, I glanced at the clock and made a game-day decision to switch the plan and send Grant and Katie to school on the bus instead of dragging them with me to Faith's house. After they left, I realized I never even got to hug them goodbye. When the dust settled, time outs were done being issued, tears were dried, lunches packed, and each of the two remaining kids were buckled in the van, I glanced at the clock. 8:21 a.m. I was supposed to be in Katie's classroom in 4 minutes and I was pulling out of my driveway. Inwardly growling, I called Amber and she agreed to meet me at Mabel Rush to pick up my two car-seat-toting fugitives.
I ran to the office to grab my volunteer badge. Thankfully, the office staff is more responsible than I am and they hollered at me, "Wait. You forgot Katie's epipen." Oh. Right. I forgot she's allergic to bee stings. I grabbed the school-issued epipen and dashed down the blue hall to Katie's classroom feeling slightly embarrassed at what an irresponsible allergy mom I am.
I had promised Katie that if I didn't get assigned to her group, I would throw myself on her first grade classroom floor, yell and scream and pound the ground like Alli used to do when she was three (and four and oh, let's be honest. I'd seen a good tantrum minutes earlier). Thankfully for all involved, Mrs. Cone was wise enough to assign Katie to my group and the tantrum was avoided. My group consisted of Katie, Samantha, Gretchen and Emma, all little girls that Katie frequently plays with and I was excited to spend some time with them.
The scene in Katie's classroom was organized chaos. Kids left in groups for a last-minute potty stop. Parents introduced themselves and engaged in small talk. Mrs. Cone passed out pre-packaged packets to the volunteer parents with zoo tickets for each kid in our group, first aid supplies and detailed directions on where to meet for lunch, what to do in case of an emergency, and what time and where to meet the bus to head back to school.
Each person going on the trip was required to bring a sack lunch, a water bottle and a back pack and it was our responsibility to carry our supplies the entire time. I am the Queen of The Overpack and couldn't find it in my heart to wean out any of my "essential" items. As I strained to pick up my purse, my camera and my back pack that was laden down with two 1.5 liter water bottles and enough food to feed an army, I realized I just might get my workout in after all.
All FIVE first grade classes (each consisting of at least 24 students) from Mabel Rush, their teachers and a whole passel of volunteers piled on the waiting buses. Most kids were three to a seat and the volume in the bus approached ear piercing as they all excitedly talked about what they wanted to see, first, next and last. The occasional loud adult "SHHHHHHHH" disappeared in the cacophony of sound and all the kids ignored it anyway.
No good bus trip is complete without some form of physical emergency. When I saw the girl in the seat in front of Katie grab her mouth and hunch over, I was certain I was going to head down memory lane to the image etched permanently in my mind of a kid barfing on the bus, the stench and the bus driver dumping sawdust on the pile. Thankfully, she had only been jabbed in the face with an elbow and her breakfast stayed put where it belonged. WHEW!
We converged on the Oregon Zoo at precisely the same moment that every other school-aged child within a five-state radius arrived. It was a total zoo (pun intended)! I have never seen so many children and adults crammed into such a small space in all my life. Moms with little kids in strollers anticipating a leisurely day at the zoo were glaring at the hoards of kids mulling around and getting irritated as they tried to maneuver their big strollers through impossibly small passageways. It didn't help that half of the zoo is under construction and several exhibits had only one way in and out, clogging up the one entrance/exit with volunteers frantically trying to keep track of their groups, moms pushing strollers with screaming kids and grumpy tourists no doubt wondering why they chose Thursday, May 21st, as a perfect day to visit the zoo.
I am a social person, but I can't stand large crowds, especially if I feel my personal space is being infringed upon. I find myself feeling claustrophobic and getting nauseous and panicky, and I felt those symptoms coming on. All I wanted to do was bolt, but I had four eager girls, all wanting to view different animals at the same time, and I knew I needed to get a grip. We grabbed a map, waited in line for 15 minutes to use the restroom, and in that time drew up an agenda for the day. I quickly memorized what each girl looked like and since I'm used to counting four heads everywhere I go, I started relaxing a little (well, not really, but I told myself I was).
I passed the plan of attack on to the girls, emphasized ad nauseam the need to stay together, and we headed out to discover the animals. The animals showed off for us and I got some really great pictures of the sun bear appropriately basking in the sun, the hippopotamus drinking from a skunky looking pool of water, and the ginormously tall giraffe grazing next to a teeny tiny antelope-sort-of-creature and an exotic bird. A zebra couple basked in the sun and monkeys perched on their trees looking bored. The sea lion swam right by the glass in front of us. and we gagged at the stinky penguin house - how can they live with themselves? A highlight for most of the girls was seeing Sam, the baby elephant born at the zoo this summer. The zoo keepers had him outside and were working with him and he really was cute.
We snacked by the primate exhibit, lunched in eastern Asia, and snacked again in the African rain forest. The girls were impressed that they walked all that distance in one day and couldn't wait to come home and tell their parents about their world travels.
At precisely 1 p.m., we arrived back at the entrance. Exhausted, more familiar with each other, and slightly more educated about animals. Mrs. Cone checked us off her list and we waited (and waited and waited) for the rest of the class to straggle in. I have no idea how, but all 125 first graders, chaperones and teachers all safely made it back on the bus uneventfully. Talk about a reflux-inducing experience in and of itself.
The ride back to school was a tiny bit quieter than the ride home, but even though the kids were exhausted, they still chattered excitedly about their discoveries from the day. It might have been a zoo, but I'm so glad I had the day to spend with Katie, and I just might, MAYBE, volunteer again next year.