What I Learned on My Field Trip

While getting ready for a field trip to the zoo with my first grader's class, I realized that I treat my children harsher than I treat other kids. The night before as I was getting prepared, I got an extra large back pack so I could carry the kid's lunches and coats and junk. I'd never do that for my own kids--they're expected to carry all their own "junk."

I figure they need to be taught that whatever you carry weighs you down, whether it's as obvious as the gear in a backpack, or the items you own that require maintenance and care, or as subtle as the attitude and point of view you carry within yourself. When we go an a hike, I always try to talk them out of bringing their favorite toy because it's just going to get heavier as we trudge along. But at the same time, I also force them to bring a jacket in case it gets cold. Of course, that's another argument and another lesson: you've got to be prepared for circumstances. And lesson number three is trying to figure out what the tradeoffs are between being adequately prepared with all the accompanying baggage or being unencumbered but woefully surprised. There are a lot of lessons, and I suspect I'm trying to teach too many of them too often.

Once last year when I helped the first graders trade in their reading books, they all headed outside for some activity. My daughter Karen ran up behind and gave me a hug and I said, "Hi Punkin." One of the other girls walking by asked, "Did you just call her Punkin?"

Future visions jumbled in my mind. Her being called 'punkinhead' in 5th grade by a bunch of taunting boys. A supercilious high school grammar teacher sneering down her nose saying, "Punkins obviously do not know how to properly diagram a sentence." Her crying at the prom as the boy in a tuxedo says, "I don't dance with punkins." I'd hoped I hadn't ruined her entire life by inadvertently using a pet name in public, but I had to be honest so I nodded, "Yes," to her classmate. "Oh," said the little girl, "My Daddy calls me Flower." She ran outside with the rest of her class.

The kids are surprisingly honest. The teacher said most parents would be mortified if they heard what their children shared in class about their home life. But they just talk. Everything is equally interesting and they'll eventually grow up and learn discretion. And shame. I guess there are both good and bad lessons to be learned in life.

When I arrived at school for the zoo trip, I got my assignment. Another parent, Joy, and I got to shepherd four K-girls around: Karen, Kayla, Kellie, and Kelcie. (That last name is very popular if you include alternate spellings. Next year in the combined 2d/3d grade class, we have Kelsey, Kelsi, Kelcie, and Kelsee.) The teacher said the parents were chaperones, not pack mules, and that each child would have to carry his or her own food, jacket, and other paraphernalia. Since we ate our lunch about ten minutes after we got in the zoo, there wasn't much left to carry, but I had my backpack and was carrying everyone's jacket just in case. (But I didn't carry the lunches because they were scared I'd eat them.) It seems ironic, but this Dad didn't think a school field trip was the place for a lesson in preparedness.

Field trips are for fun: The pleasure of a day off from class, the excitement of a new place and the breaking of routine, the camaraderie of classmates in a new situation. I need to treat life more like a field trip than like an ongoing lesson (assuming that I learned anything on that field trip).