Every year as I pack for the 8th grade Washington D.C. field trip, my husband eyes my suitcase with contempt as if I am abandoning him and embarking on a week-long vacation while he’s stuck at home with two squalling children. She gets a week away, a stipend, free food, and sight-seeing, he thinks. But I know that this trip is far from a fun-filled week away from the family. Yes, it can be fun, but it is also a lot of hard work. That Monday morning as I board the bus, I morph from Spanish teacher into bus leader and subsequently become nurse, counselor, and mother to fifty-six. That’s right folks… these fieldtrips are not for the faint of heart—especially when you are on the principal’s bus with the kids who need to be kept in line—the rowdy boys, the girls who buck the dress code, and yes, sometimes the kid who started the fire in the school bathroom several weeks earlier.
Every year is eventful to say the least, but one trip always sticks out in my mind as the trip to end all trips. I began that week armed with aloe for sunburns, bandages for turned ankles, duct tape for broken flip flops, and a pair of small scissors for gum-in-hair removal—the usual. But after a few hours it became clear that things were going to get even more interesting. The girls behind me on the bus began to perk about the text messages that were whizzing around about the drama between Eddie and Clara. At the first rest stop, Eddie from our bus had asked Clara from bus 2 to the Thursday night dance. Under pressure, Clara had said yes, but now regretted her decision, as she was actually hoping to go to the dance with Matt from bus 4. Clara wanted to back out, but at the second rest stop Eddie bought her jewelry, so the situation got awkward. Clara talked to him a few times, trying to let him down easy, but Eddie, being a different kind of kid, wasn’t very good at picking up social cues… like the pained look on Clara’s face when he did the old yawn and stretch at the Nationals game with Matt sitting just on the other side. We chaperones were worried about Eddie getting his feelings hurt. And since the three of them, Eddie, Clara, and Matt were all in my Spanish class together, the principal appointed me to help them sort things out.
As if that weren’t enough drama, later that week I was forced to invade a protest circle in front of the White House in order to extract one of our fourteen year old girls. Natalie, a bright but naïve girl of Middle Eastern decent, had walked up to the group of college students who were chanting in Farsi because she recognized the language her parents spoke and wanted to practice. She saw nothing wrong with it and neither did anyone else. At first. That is until I heard one of the college guys asked her where she was from and say, “Oh, well, now I have a reason to visit Ohio.” As red flags flew up, I charged in and escorted her away. She was confused by my concern, until I explained that the young man, obviously deceived by her beauty and maturity, was hitting on her. “Oh,” she said with a laugh. “Maybe I should have gotten his number. My parents could have traded me to him for a goat!” She wandered off toward the bus with the rest of the kids as I breathed a sigh of relief, but my relief was short lived.
By the time we reached the Department of Treasury less than a block away, a new situation had arisen. The same girl was being approached by afore mentioned fire-starter, Ned. Ned, another socially challenged young man, had been ogling her all week and talking to her any chance he got. Being the kind-hearted girl she was, she laughed and joked with him each time, not realizing how easy it would be for him to misinterpret her “Kindness”, which of course, he did. As he crossed the street toward her in the darkness that night, I knew what was going to happen. I saw it coming like a train wreck and I was powerless to stop it. Sure enough, shy, quiet Ned managed to summon up the courage to ask Natalie to the all-important dance. As I heard the words come out of his mouth I cringed, fearful of what the rejection might do to his fragile psyche. Thankfully, Natalie, though clearly out of Ned’s league, handled things with more grace than most teenagers–or adults for that matter–and explained that she thought he was a very nice boy she already had a boyfriend at another school and just wouldn’t feel right about it. She later asked the principal and me why we thought he had asked her and the principal once again called on Relationship Counselor Cat to explain how being too nice to a boy can easily be misconstrued as flirting.
Some years aren’t quite as exciting. Some years, the big deal is being called to boys’ hotel in the middle of the night to deal with a Swedish-Fish-related eye injury. But every year I return home thoroughly spent. I collapse on the couch, thankful to be off duty for the first time in five days. And every year hubby asks me the same question. Why do you do it? I understand why he asks. I ask myself the same thing at the beginning of every trip. But by the time the week is over, I know without a doubt that I will do it all again in a heartbeat. I’ll do it because it’s an adventure. Because even though I’ve seen the White House nine times, every trip will be different. I’ll do it because I love the history of our country and I love seeing it rediscovered every year. And I’ll do it because I love those kids, and I love watching them as they make memories that will last a lifetime. It is not an easy job. It is at times at times exasperating and exhausting. But it is, above all, rewarding. So much so, that I’d do it for free. But I’ll take the $700… as long as their offering.