As a counselor working in an elementary school, it is sometimes required of me to accompany certain classes as they go on field trips. Once, when I was working closely with a first grade class, I was asked to go along on one of these trips. It was a joy and a pleasure. Please note: my use of the words “joy” and “pleasure” are dripping with sarcasm. I still argue that sarcasm needs its own font. Or possibly its own punctuation.
In the weeks leading up to this field trip, I was somewhat excited. A field trip meant a day away from the school. It meant a change in routine and a breath of fresh air. Little did I know that fresh air would end up being vile and full of virulent contagions.
The day before the planned trip, the first grade teacher began sharing her fears about taking this class on this trip. The plan was to ride into downtown Roanoke (an hour drive by bus) to the history museum. There, we would meet Santa Claus and see an exhibit of antique toys. Apparently, the museum provided a list of rules which included staying quiet and not touching the exhibits. Inability to adhere to these rules could result in being asked to leave. Thinking about the majority of that first grade class, I could understand the teacher’s fears.
The day of the trip arrived. We all loaded the bus without much incident and we were on our way. Oh, I should also mention, we were traveling with two kindergarten classes as well. This means there were approximately twice as many kindergarteners as first graders. If you had a bus with 30 or so kindergarteners and 16 first graders, which group would you think would give you the most trouble? I’d say kindergarteners, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong, though. It’s the first graders.
They were constantly standing in their seats, yelling, screaming, complaining about who they had to sit with. A few, no matter how many times they were told, kept getting up and turning around. It was quite irritating (really not a strong enough word).
By some amazing Christmas miracle, we did not get kicked out of the museum. But the kids were pretty rude while Santa explained the importance of being good and following directions. Some laid on the floor, not listening. Some rolled around on the floor. One girl peed in her pants. She was sitting right next to the teacher and didn’t think to ask to go to the bathroom. The class picture with Santa was not without incident. The girl who had the biggest problem listening, who we’ll call Annoyance, pulled Santa’s beard. Not a fake beard, by the way. And good for the old man for not backhanding that kid. That might have been my first impulse in his boots. On the plus side, the kids didn’t take turns sitting on Santa’s lap. He didn’t have to deal with Peed-In-Her-Pants Girl.
Lunch was in the Market Building, which was always a highlight of downtown field trips when I was a kid. But that’s back when the international food court was a big thing. Not many options after the renovations that had recently taken place. We ate our packed lunches up on the mezzanine level overlooking the food court. Annoyance attempted to lift a kindergarten girl over the rail of the barrier. I’d never heard her teacher yell that loud before.
When lunch ended, we had the students line up outside to await the bus. Annoyance decided it would be a great idea to start pulling flowers out of the decorative planters surrounding the Market Building. More yelling from the teacher. Would you believe that Annoyance was not one of my clients?
I can’t believe I left this out. It’s kind of important to the story. A coupe of us grown-ups met the bus at the Market Building before lunch to unload all the packed meals. When the bus pulled away, it knocked over a metal pole at the curb. Two of the four bolts holding it to the street were ripped up, sending chunks of asphalt and concrete flying. I set it back upright so no one would get in trouble. But a strong wind could have knocked it over again. Anyway…
I offered to intimidate the children, frightening them with my feats of strength. The plan was to knock over the metal pole at the curb, threatening to do the same to the kids if they could not wait quietly. I should have done it.
Back on the bus. More complaining, screaming, yelling, standing. The kindergarteners were still fairly quiet. This may have been because many of them were feeling bus sick.
Throughout the trip, we may have been seconds away from becoming a rolling vomitorium at any given time. That nauseating feeling was only perpetuated by the stench of urine coming from Peed-In-Her-Pants Girl sitting in the back. It was, I wanna say, really bad.
Here comes the part where I get mean. It doesn’t happen often, so people who witness it are sometimes impressed. I wouldn’t describe it as a loss of temper. I think I just choose to speak or act with authority, whether I actually have it or not.
Annoyance was constantly getting up. Shocker, right? I stood up and towered over her (I’m short, but I can tower over a six-year-old). “Sit down!” I shouted. Again, with authority, not anger. It was enough authority to probably shock most of the other kids into silence for a moment. Amazingly, she sat. And she stayed seated until the bus stopped at a gas station halfway to the school.
We needed a short break for the kids feeling queasy. The first graders took that opportunity to stand, whine, yell, complain, and scream some more. I stood up again. I faced all the first graders.
“You are all being entirely too loud. The kindergarteners are all sitting quietly, the way you’re supposed to when you ride the bus. We have 20 minutes left on the bus. I expect each of you to stay in your seat and sit quietly. You can talk, but I don’t want to hear anyone yelling. Raise your hand if you understand everything I just said.” Every hand shot up. “Good, then all of you can follow directions.”
Before I could even sit back in my own seat, Peed-In-Her-Pants Girl stood up and turned around in the aisle. “Peed-In-Your-Pants Girl! Didn’t I just tell everyone to stay in their seat?!” She sat immediately and put her jacket over her head.
We started moving again. It wasn’t long before Annoyance found a loophole in my directions. She wasn’t getting up, but she put her legs in the aisle and turned around to annoy a boy behind her. Eventually he became so annoyed that he slapped her (after asking her several times to turn back around).
I stepped back in. “Annoyance, if you turn around again I’m going to come back there and sit on you.”
Two minutes later, she was facing the back again. So I stood up, ready to follow through on my promise. Annoyance stood up, not wanting me to sit on her lap. She told me she didn’t want me to sit on her. “Then you shouldn’t have turned around again. Sit down!”
Annoyance sat. She, too, covered her head with her jacket. Pretty sure I made her cry. I was a little concerned that my actions may have been frowned upon, but I received a high five from the principal upon returning to the school.
And that is the true story of my first field trip as a grown-up.