Last week I went on a field trip with my daughter’s first grade class. I expected to share knowing looks with other mothers, joke about our chaperone duties and and do our best to get a bunch of six year olds to appreciate live classical music. I didn’t expect to to be reminded of an important parenting lesson by someone else’s child.
From the moment the groups were assigned and I went to collect snacks and label them with each child’s name I already had a feel for the breakdown of my group. I had my daughter, generally a rule follower, 170% better behaved for anyone else’s parents. Typical. Another little girl who was sweet and soft spoken. A little boy I knew from kindergarten, a conversationalist. Another little boy who was excited and maybe a bit prone to wandering. And then there was the wild child.
Immediately upon leaving the classroom he was 15 feet behind or ten feet ahead. Running backwards, refusing to walk in line with the group. “How about you pick someone from the group to be buddies with?” I asked. “I don’t want a buddy.” Oh. I felt like the mother in a restaurant with a screaming child, embarrassed as the other chaperones effortlessly walked along with their groups of children while I try to stay with the other four children and keep track of him.
We get on the bus and for a brief moment I’m relieved at the thought of being in a confined space where one can’t wander. Which is the exact moment I realize we are on a bus with no seat belts. Isn’t that illegal in the state of California? (I’ll save that thought for another day!) The three boys immediately make a run for the back of the bus and try to cram into a seat that can barely contain them. The teacher and I catch eyes and I think she senses my concern as she declares “two per seat please!” I am immediately grateful and I manage to convince him to begrudgingly come sit with me for the 15 minute ride.
I get it. What could be worse than sitting with someone else’s mother? Coolness factor = super uncool. I do my best to strike up a conversation about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and point out the airplanes coming in for a landing and departing as we pass the airport between reminding him and several other children to stay seated on what is probably the most unsafe ride most of us have taken in years.
We arrive and line up to wait for our turn to enter the theatre and watch a classical music performance. It dawns on me that this is quite a lot of lining up, waiting and being told to sit still for six year olds. Especially energetic six year olds. My own child is pretty good at sitting and waiting somewhat patiently. Perhaps because she’s the artsy type, happy to sit with a box of crayons for an hour. Perhaps because she’s a girl. Whatever the reason I realize that my energetic child wrangling skills could use some dusting off. I can already tell that our one year old Blake is going to be a very different kind of child as he runs through the living room, tackles you and and then falls into fits of giggles laughing as he wrestles you to the ground. Mmmhmmm.
We sit for a good half an hour waiting for the other classes to arrive and fill the theatre. I move my seat twice, the first to sit between the boys and the girls the second as the conversationalist in my group asks if he can move closer to the girls since clearly the combination of excited child and wild child is too much even for him. These poor kids. All we have done all day long is sit, wait, stand, line up. And I know it will be worth it for a cultural experience but I feel for them.
So I revert to six year old mode. “Who wants to play telephone?” A chorus of MEEEEEEEE’s comes from our row and the row in front of us. Half of them don’t even understand how telephone works but don’t care. They just want something, anything to do. No matter who starts or what is said it pretty much ends up as a phrase along the lines of “blah blah bloogity blob.” Which naturally elicits some muffled giggles. For the first time all day I don’t feel like the worst chaperone or the awful old person forcing small children to fall in line. Relief. We tell jokes. Some of them are horrible, some are funny. My wild child is not partaking, he is too busy trying to wedge himself between the wall and the last seat of the row to cross into the row below us. I ask him to come back.
Finally, the lights go down and the show is starting. This poor little guy can’t sit still. He fidgets in his seat and starts kicking the seat in front. I feel awful having to ask him for probably the thirtieth time in just a couple of hours to stop doing something. The first song ends. Applause begins. We clap. I lean over and whisper to him “You know, I think you’re the best clapper in this entire theater.” From the glow of the stage I catch a glimpse of his eyes widening. I think we both just had an epiphany.
For the next 45 minutes my maybe not so wild child enthusiastically claps at the end of each piece. In fact I’m pretty sure that he spends most of each song just waiting for the end so he can clap. The one physical activity that lets him release a little energy and feel accomplished. I think about the day we’ve had which is abnormal to the usual routine but the amount of sitting and learning and listening that these little bodies are commanded do daily is a lot. It might feel easy to my child, but very difficult for others. And I can only imagine how soul crushing when not being able to sit still for that long makes you the wild child, the one who has to be reprimanded and reminded. I think I’ll be volunteering for the next field trip. Maybe there is still hope for me as a boy mom. And I want answers about that seatbelt-less bus.