First of all, let me just say that teachers are saints. If you have a child, or even if you don’t, I’d like you to please take a moment to silently applaud the teachers who are taking care of our nation’s children: teaching them history, encouraging manners, spending entire days with rooms full of children who aren’t their own, smiling, clapping, telling our kids they are awesome, dispensing hugs and band aids, and cleaning up barf on charter busses to Jamestown. Every time I am around our children’s teachers, I am in awe of what they do, and I am deeply grateful for them.
This past Monday and Tuesday I chaperoned our son’s fourth grade spring field trip to Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown, Virginia. Our son has been excited about this trip since the first week of school when they found out they’d be going. Fourth grade Virginia curriculum includes Virginia history, and in our school and many others, that means a field trip to the places where the United States as we know it began. Our son raised money selling Virginia Diner peanuts, and after many long months of preparing and waiting (and a five-hour bus ride in the rain) we donned ponchos and foul weather gear and stepped out into the drizzle.
The thing I love most about my job as Mom is doing things like this. Even though I bitch and complain about having to be around all these kids, and how loud it’s going to be, how it’s going to be like herding cats, how we have to be vigilant about keeping the kids away from the river, and constantly counting heads, and looking for the ever-shifting red hood, blue poncho (distinguishable from the other blue ponchos only by the pink soles of the shoes that peek out from the bottom), clear poncho with a blue hoodie underneath, and green raincoat – even though I complain about all of this, the thing is, the kids are actually awesome, and I secretly love every second of it.
I love volunteering in the classroom, I love chaperoning, I love watching our children in their non-home habitats because I learn so much about them when I’m present but not in charge, when I’m standing quietly on the sidelines. In sports I get to see how motivated our kids are, how they interact as a team player, whether they respect and respond to their coaches, how they react to winning or losing. In the classroom I get to observe while our children’s attention is focused on something else; I get to observe the other kids in their class – who are the attentive kids, the class clowns, the sweet ones, the troublemakers?; I get to experience the teacher’s style; I get to see when my son laughs, which lessons engage him, which kids he gravitates towards. I get to see what his days are like so that when I ask him at the end of a school day, “How was your day?” and he says, “Fine,” I am able to accept his introversion with grace because I will have an idea of his experience, will be able to picture his classroom, will know something of his day beyond the one-word answer he gives me.
On field trips I get to experience what they experience, I get to learn what they learn, and most fun of all, I get to witness their unfettered joy at being out in the real world, learning real stuff – stuff that they learned from books and in the classroom but that is so much more exciting when you experience it in real life. In Jamestown I got to see our son’s interest in the Powhatan canoe, the way he scanned it from stern to bow with his eyes, held his hand over the still-warm coals reenactors used to burn a hollow in the tree trunk. In Colonial Williamsburg I got to gently prod him because he was lagging behind, too busy taking pictures in his awe. I got to hear him giggle at the slapstick 18th-Century Grand Medley of Entertainment – the type of theater production Thomas Jefferson might have attended – at the Kimball Theatre. I got to watch him touch the plaque that marked General George Washington’s church pew, I experienced the pride of hearing him explain the Virginia House of Burgesses – the first assembly of elected representatives in our country – to our tour guide, and to seeing him sit on a jury in the Capitol building’s courtroom.
The following day, with aching muscles from the cabin’s hard mattress, with no real coffee in my system, with puffy eyes and ratted hair, I got to experience with our son the feel of the Yorktown encampment on a cold, wet, muddy, raw day. I could not imagine being a soldier there, wet and dripping and sleeping on the mucky ground, and I think the day gave the kids a tiny feel of what it might have been like for our Revolutionary War ancestors. Despite the cold and wet, the kids loved the musket demonstration, where the reenactor explained the difference between the match-lit musket of Jamestown and the flintlock musket of Yorktown, and where she showed them how to load and fire the weapon. They gagged and squealed “GROSS!” when our guide demonstrated the surgeon’s tools on volunteer musket-maimed kids, and they grinned as they squeezed into tiny solider tents.
The kids were pretty worn out by the time we stopped at the battlefield, the real Yorktown battlefield, and stood where George Washington stood, on the same ground that General Washington paced and strategized and gave orders from, but their exhaustion did not stop them from shouting out answers when their teacher stood atop a bench with a semi-circle of cannons around her and asked, “What happened here?!”
“The Siege at Yorktown!”
“Where is Surrender Hill?”
“Redoubts 9 and 10!”
“Well let’s go look at them!”
And she jumped down from the bench and all the kids ran for the hills. We oohed and aahed and paused to take in the panorama, and then the kids were running again, towards the busses and their potato chips, their DSes and their pillows, as we, the parents, dragged our tired feet from the battlefield. We basked in memories from the trip on the long, dry drive home, where our work was done and where our little ones munched candy and worked quietly on their trip journals, watched videos and giggled, and slept the beautiful sleep of children.