The Field Trip

If you'd like to get a good look at the state of our youth today, take a field trip with a class of fourth graders. I'm not discounting the anthropological abilities that may emanate from ages in other grades, it just happens this was my first experience chaperoning a school group of any age. Until a few weeks ago, either by luck, fear or marriage mind tricks, I had yet to chaperone any of the kids' field trips, and my first foray into what is bound to be unyielding chaperoning service in the years to come was a real eye opener. If you have yet to participate or have an opportunity looming on the horizon, I suggest a destination field trip at least one hundred miles away for maximum exposure to the peculiar inner workings of the modern youths' cultural habits. An excursion that requires you to spend at least two hours on a chartered bus to reach your destination is ideal.

We departed in the morning thirty minutes after school began. The class of 25 students along with 10 chaperones loaded onto the bus, and we chaperones were asked to sit near our charges. In addition to my son, I was tasked with two other boys whom I had never met before. Upon choosing our seats, the teacher announced the guidelines for our ride. Snacks were allowed to be eaten in transit, trash was to be put in bags attached to every row and the bathroom was to be used for emergencies only and only for number one. No number two permitted. A dull murmur of 'ooohs' could be heard while the kids looked around at each other as if a dare had just been proffered.

The bus had barely been set in motion when a large majority of kids, out of the watchful eye of their parents, teachers and under the presumably lax oversight of unknown chaperones, tore into their snacks. Crumbs began accumulating at a rapid pace and then beverages appeared, large containers filled with liquids of color not found in nature and undoubtedly spiked with copious amounts of sugar. I thought about offering some words of advice but decided that my job was to be a marshall of civility and safety and a full bladder constituted neither disobedience nor serious danger. I kept mum and observed in silence the gulping of liter after liter and began making bets on which child exhibiting the least amount of self control would succumb to the sheer volume and pressure of liquid and bouncy bus.

We were ninety nine miles into our one hundred mile journey when one child near the front of the bus declared that he could no longer hold it. He was out of my view and not even a contender in the pool of self-uncontrolled candidates. Emergency status had been reached and when he strode at a quick pace towards the rear of the bus, whispers, wide eyes, giggles and commentary ensued from the class. All of the kids locked eyes on him and watched his every step, peering over their seats as if he was a superhero racing to save a cat in a tree or a groom ditching his bride-not-to-be at the altar. It was a mesmerizing moment for which I have no explanation and it is certain to be talked about well into the fifth grade.

Children unto themselves are not the only enemy of a tidy bus. Parents, especially those not participating in the trip, play an important role in providing disruptive factors. The child seated directly in front of me had a ziploc bag full of Cheerios coated in some type of viscous liquid. For two hours this bag sat on a cup holder and the child would frequently put his hand in and pull out a wad of cereal. It wasn't until we arrived at our destination that his chaperone suggested he seal it up while we exit the bus and then casually asked what was in it. The child said it was Cheerios coated with honey. The combination itself was not necessarily a bad thing but when you pair that with the fact that the child did not possess a napkin or handi-wipe, it clearly indicated the seat, his clothes and his personal electronic tablet were sticky as flypaper. And yes, personal electronic devices were allowed on the bus. Not only did we ride in the lap of modern luxury with an in-transit movie but we had more computing power than the space shuttle.

The first stop on our trip was the House of Delegates in Richmond, VA. The kids got to engage in a mock session and vote on a make-believe bill. The bill that boys and girls should have separate classrooms was handily defeated, helped along by one delegate's opinion that the girls would spend too much time obsessing over themselves without the balancing effect of males that are miraculously obsession free. It's expected the delegate will not be reelected.

After our brief visit to the House of Delegates we rode the bus over to Tredagar Iron Works where it was warm enough for us to eat our lunch outside. We walked up a large stairway and across the lawn to a picnic area. One of the boys I was minding had run ahead and by the time I caught up with him at the picnic table, he was checking his pockets and the ground immediately beneath him for his misplaced iPod Touch. We quickly backtracked halfway back to the bus and located the device in the grass, unscathed. From that point on, the device never left his hand and was a permanent fixture against his ear through the entire tour of Tredegar.

There were only minor issues through lunch. There was chocolate pudding with an impossible to peel top that had to be stabbed with the end of a spoon which provided just enough of a hole that the third child in my crowd could jab two fingers from each hand into it and rip it open completely. Which led to the other issue of him not having a napkin to tidy up from the chocolate covering all his knuckles. When it was time to clean up our lunch mess, the chocolate coated child didn't bother to put his items back in his lunch bag, he simply scooped everything up into his arms and began his trek back to the bus. Astonishingly, this child managed his pile of leftover food and empty containers pretty well in this manner except for a sleeve of Ritz crackers oriented with the open end facing the lawn. He had taken about 15 steps when I realized he was dispensing crackers like nickels from a Las Vegas slot machine. At this point I was able to achieve my full chaperoning potential and stepped in to save the remaining crackers from gravity's doom. I was no longer just some classmate's dad, I was a hero, a savior of the snacks.

At this point we were halfway through our seven and a half hour trip and it seems likely that continuing to dwell on the finer details of chaperoning would simply be gratuitous. Be assured that me standing guard at the bathroom, the child with his shoe in his lunchbox, the endless things spilled on the floor of the bus and then consumed and the jokes about gas (not automotive fuel but rather the kind passed from one's posterior) were all instrumental in support of the age old question, How did we as humans ever make it this far?

Wife has been reporting on her field trip experiences for years and until you actually partake in one, you really don't get to inhale the characteristics and observe the future of adult humanity unfolding in slow motion reality. Nearly every moment of the entire experience is punctuated by the feeling that something ludicrous, extraordinary or preventable is about to take place. It's a bit like watching Olympic ice skaters perform a triple axel and waiting for that moment just before they land when they either stick it or slide across the rink, splayed in spectacular demise.