On field trips and laying on the floor...

Is it just me or does it seem like our elementary aged kids go on a lot of field trips these days? I can’t recall going on more than one each year as a kid, and, honestly, I don’t even remember what they were. Must have been riveting. But both of my elementary school aged kids have gone on no less than 4 field trips each year! Don’t get me started on nickel and diming me for bus fees every time one rolls around (pun intended)… why can’t that money be built into the “fees” I pay when school starts each year????

Anyway, all of these field trips are both a blessing and a curse. Our particular elementary school pretty much lets any parent who wants to, be a chaperone for a trip. So, when our son, who is our oldest, had his first field trip in Kindergarten (I can’t remember where we went – the zoo maybe – am I blocking out field trip memories on purpose???) and there was nearly one adult for every child on the trip I laughed out loud. I guess all parents want to chaperone the first field trip. So, basically, I paid money to walk my son around the zoo (which I already have a membership for) on a weekday.

In the years since, I decided I would chaperone ONE field trip each year. And, I would try NOT to do the art museum field trip because you know what’s not a fun time??? Telling 6 year olds not to touch the priceless artwork 85 times in 15 minutes. That’s a day when you better make sure you bring your "A" game because, sure, they have a very lovely retiree docent who walks them through the exhibit and tells them stories and asks interesting questions, but the guided tour ends and then there is still an hour of “explore the museum on your own” time and I’m fresh out of ways to make art seem super exciting after the first 10 minutes.

So, here we are in 4th grade with our oldest and there’s a BIG field trip in 4th grade at our school – an overnight at the zoo. Again with the zoo! This is the school’s 3rd visit to the zoo in 5 grades. I smell a scam and I think I’m the one getting the raw end of the deal. I had been warned by those moms who had gone before me that the zoo overnight is not for the faint of heart. You have to spend the night laying on the floor (notice I did NOT use the word “sleep”) and there are supposedly roaches crawling around the rooms where you “sleep”, and its 18 hours with hordes of stinky 4th graders. You know when kids start to stink? 4th grade. You know what’s not a high priority for 4th graders? Hygiene.

All that to say, I had already mentally decided that I was NOT going to sign up to chaperone the zoo overnight trip. I would gladly NOT check that box on the permission form and send my dear son off to sleep with the wolves, or manatee or whatever species they were studying in science. THEN, my son came home from school one day and PLEADED with me to chaperone the zoo overnight trip. This is the child who has NEVER asked me to chaperone a field trip. A boy of very few words. A boy I sometimes feel like I have trouble connecting with. A boy who will very soon morph into a man and I will find myself wishing I had chaperoned the zoo overnight field trip. Maybe that’s overdramatic. Maybe not. I also have a 1 year old so I feel like my perspective has changed since she was born.

So, I checked the box and paid my money and got drawn out of the hat to chaperone the trip. (As luck would have it, this particular field trip was not a “come one come call” chaperone opportunity. Only 6 parents from each class were chosen. There are apparently lots of us who are dumb enough to sign up, so they have to draw out of a hat. I, of course, was chosen as one of the six. Sort of smacks of The Hunger Games doesn’t it?)

The day of the overnight came and we arrived at the zoo at the appointed time of 6:45 pm with a cooler for snacks and lunches for the next day, toothbrushes and toothpaste, sleeping bags and pillows. The end. No pajamas or extra clothes. We were told to sleep in our clothes and just keep them on for the next morning (yoga pants anyone???).  The packing list was so short and finite that I was scared to pack anything else. I’m 39 years old and I was afraid of getting in trouble by the teacher if I packed my face wash. The most disturbing part was that there was no mention whatsoever of packing food for breakfast. We were told to pack a snack for that evening and lunch for the next day. What I’m really saying is that there was no mention whatsoever of coffee. I couldn’t imagine laying on the floor all night in a room full of 4th grade boys and not having coffee at the end of the tunnel. Forget light, I need coffee.

The teachers divided us into groups and I was given charge of my son and 3 other boys. Our group was paired with 2 other groups and we set off for a guided tour of the insect and nocturnal animal houses. Our tour guide, Christen, was really great – very enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable. She even got us chaperones asking and answering questions. At the end of our tour we got a ‘behind the scenes’ peek at the kitchen where they prepare the food for the nocturnal house animals. One of the items she showed us was mealworms. She offered any kid with a chaperone present or anyone over 18 the opportunity to eat a mealworm. I knew my son wouldn’t want to eat one, and none of the other adults wanted to do it, so I volunteered. I think my son was horrified, but I figured I wouldn’t have the chance to both gross out and enthrall a bunch of 4th graders any other time. It kind of reminded me of that show Fear Factor. Anyway, the mealworm was so small that it didn’t have any flavor at all.

After the tour we went back to the zoo’s education center and had a snack and one of the boys in my charge started crying. Good times. Then we got to see 4 different animals up close. Then it was very late – like 11:00 pm late - and we were divided up into “sleeping” rooms for the night. Our room actually settled down pretty quickly, but sleep evaded one of the boys for quite a while. He kept scooting around the floor in his sleeping bag and poking the other boys. Eventually I had to get up and pull his sleeping bag (with him inside it) back to his original spot so we could all get some “sleep”. Side note – I did not encounter any cockroaches outside of those we saw behind glass in the insect house.

When morning came I found that there was indeed coffee. It was not the perfectly brewed cup from freshly ground beans that my husband prepares for me each morning, but after a long night, I was not about to complain. In fact, I cut in line in front of about 50 4th graders to get to the coffee. Why would they put the coffee at the end of the line???

The zoo has a pretty cool bird show in the summer months, so they did a mini version of that for us in the auditorium after breakfast and then we had about an hour of free time to check out other animals at the zoo. There’s a whole new Africa exhibit in our zoo and so we wanted to check that out. We had just the right amount of time (I’m looking at you Art Museum with your WAY TOO LONG “explore on your own” time) before meeting up with everyone for lunch and loading up for home.
My boy feeding a giraffe.
The kids were dismissed for the day after lunch, so we had the rest of the afternoon free before the other 2 kids came home. We had to run to the grocery store for 1 thing before collapsing on the couch back at home. As we walked through the parking lot toward the door of the grocery store, my son took my hand in his. 
And we held hands all the way through the store. 
And that was worth every minute of lost sleep the night before.


  1. What wonderful story! I'm glad to had the chance to spend the day with your little boy - while he's still little.

  2. What wonderful story! I'm glad to had the chance to spend the day with your little boy - while he's still little.


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