Friday, September 25, 2009

Kenny's school doesn't run buses so I volunteered to drive on his class field trip yesterday. It was all day, 8:30 to 2:30, so Jeff had to take the younger two to school and pick them up at the end of the day.

I took Kenny and three classmates with two other carloads to the Stony Brook - Millstone Watershed in Pennington. If I had made it to that final lecture in Ringoes in late August, the drive to Pennington would have been more familiar. It was probably about fifteen years ago when I attended some RCIA training-type thing at St. James. And my preference would have been to detour a bit and take the scenic route down 29. Anyway. I'll get Kenny over to the Delaware one of these days.1

We left town via the Assunpink, some very rural roads. Reminded me of Iroquois, actually. And I suppose it is the same sort of thing, but state rather than federal.

I couldn't set my GPS to a proper destination no matter what, so I had to stay close to the other cars. And getting there was no problem. It was unbelievably humid. We ate snack as soon as we arrived. Then they put lunches in the fridge and our guide talked with us about insects. I was embarrassed with how much my kid wanted to monopolize the conversation as if it was only him and the guide. Looking over the pictures I took, I noticed in all of them he is always right next to whomever is talking.

She asked them which insect was their favorite and Kenny said that if the giant millipede were an insect it would be his favorite. Then he said that one night after Vacation Bible School this summer, he saw a stag beetle. I do remember a creepy bug on the sidewalk one night but mostly I remember Ella screaming her head off at the sight of it. It was hard to be interested in it with her doing that. And Kenny said that he removed a walking stick from the tennis court on Saturday morning to outside the field house. We watched it move towards and disappear into a nearby shrub. Ella was not scared of this one.

So then another kid tried to describe his favorite insect and he said, "I don't know the name ... Kenny would know it." And then Kenny said, "Rhinoceros beetle" and the kid said, "Yeah."2

The guide distributed butterfly nets and, with a class this small, she had enough for everyone. She explained how to sweep for bugs then turned them loose in a nearby open field. Kenny's science teacher announced that she wasn't going to enter the field. The other two moms made it clear that they were principally chauffeurs. One boy caught a butterfly straight away which got all the girls set on also catching butterflies. The yellow ones were the easiest to see against the green grass but they were also rare. The blue ones were more numerous but harder to see. You had to walk slowly through the grass to stir them up. The girls caught them and I helped them bottle them. Meanwhile, Kenny was catching grasshoppers with his bare hands.

We spent too long in the open field so we couldn't do the planned walk through the woods. That was alright with me, actually. But we caught plenty of bugs and after lunch we released the butterflies into the butterfly house. Kenny was only three when we went to the Bronx Zoo and walked through their butterfly garden. I forgot to remind him but I should.

The note sent home reminded people to bring extra water. Well, so I did and it's a good thing because half the kids either didn't or went through what they had brought. It was very humid.

The final 20 or 30 minutes of the field trip were spent in the gift shop. Now, I suppose gift shop purchases are a form of donation to the facility. At least I hope so. And I was prepared to dump whatever I had in my pockets into a plastic bowl marked "Donations" when we were all done. But then the teacher said something about ice cream before returning to the school and I thought I'd better hold onto my money, just in case.

No one helped the kids shop. And it seemed to me it could have been a good occasion to teach some life skills. One boy with $11 tried to buy $30 worth of stuff. The cashier had to help him pare it back, embarrassing him, making her uncomfortable and causing the check-out line to build up. Another girl warned before we left school that she didn't have any money to buy a souvenir. She was promised that she'd be taken care of. I saw her wandering around the store, muttering, "What can I buy with a dollar?" Her teacher had given her a dollar. I picked out a scarf with wildflowers on it and gave her a ten and suggested she buy it. I wasn't expecting her to pay me back but she did today. The teacher and her friend bought some nature books.

Look, I'm not a teacher. I don't know these kids. I understand that if the teacher helps one kid, she's got to help them all. Maybe. So she helps no one. I've helped out at many school book fairs and holiday boutiques. I handle my own kids differently because I know them. For instance, I wouldn't let Kenny buy these wooden snakes for his younger brothers because I knew they would break right away. I was happy with what he bought, actually. He made a good choice. And, of course, it's possible kids can take advantage but given the option between pleasant memories of a field trip and rotten memories, what's a few dollars?

The kids seem to have to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and have to endure some hard knocks. I remember never wanting any breaks when I was young. I'm not saying I was stupid then, I just now think everyone needs a break now and then.

Our first choice for ice cream, along 31 South, was closed for the season. I searched on "dairy queen" in my GPS but didn't find anything reasonable. I suggested the one by Six Flags even though it was the exit after ours and the teacher went with it. I guess they should have let me lead because they got off at the wrong exit and had to turn around. But it wasn't a major blunder. I told the kids I knew a shortcut, words that didn't convince any of them except my own. By the time I got my Blizzard and sat down, the boys at Kenny's table were questioning him about which level he'd attained in Gears of War.

1 He was excited enough to see the Trenton factory visible from 295. A flying pink pig would have made me excited.

2 Kenny had taken an insect book to school last week and showed it. He had taken it to camp too, I remember. So this was all a recent discussion for the kids.

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