Thursday, March 11, 2010

Patience's Day of Pain

I guess I agreed to chaperone Mr. McP's field trip to Pamplin Park, a Civil War museum in Petersburg, VA because I was attracted to the idea of being taken somewhere--anywhere--in a bus and not have to be responsible for anything other than preventing a handful of ten-year olds from getting lost or spilling soda on an authentic confederate uniform, which turned out to all be behind glass, anyway. That, and the fact that I actually can chaperone field trips, since during nursing school I never had any days off and was pretty much unavailable for all my kids' activities that took place during the day.

Mr. McP was so excited. He was excited about the bus--a bus with a bathroom! He was excited to be spending an entire school day with his mom. He was excited to eat his packed lunch, because I always put extra treats in field trip lunches. We had to be at school by 07:15, a time I figured was more of a guideline, like they tell us 07:15 because they really want us there by 07:30. But no, Mr. McP and I rolled in exactly on time and we departed within ten minutes. Twelve kids were late and got left behind.

Early morning vehicular rides are not my favorite thing and it seemed like the previous occupants of our bus had spent their time taking their shoes off and eating Cheetos. Was I going to be bus sick? How embarrassing! Eventually I fell into a drooling, open-mouthed head-lolling sleep against the bus window while Mr. McP played twenty questions with his friends. My dreams were punctuated with questions: Does it have seeds? Does it lay eggs? Is it a vertebrate? Indeed, I was groggily impressed with some of Mr. McP's probing questions until I realized he was reading them from a tiny computer. It appeared that the other parents were all passed out too, except for the neatly turned-out mom near the front, who I saw passing a copy of The New Yorker to her ten year old daughter to read on the bus. OK--I used to read The New Yorker when I was ten, too, but only for the cartoons and the funny end notes they used to put at the ends of the articles. Do they still do that? I haven't looked at a New Yorker in years. Anyway, later, I heard the father who'd been passed out in the seat across the aisle, say that the dramamine he took had made him sleepy and I was glad to learn that I'm not the only adult who still gets car sick.

By the time we arrived, I felt like I'd OD'd on Valium. I staggered about for a few minutes and clawed through my backpack for my little thermos of coffee. Mr. McP wanted a sip but I snarled at him that I needed my coffee, and he couldn't have any, and I saw the New Yorker mom do a quick double-take.

We were led to a large gravel plot where a man in a confederate uniform gave a demonstration of how to load and fire a rifle.

The rifle shot revived me somewhat, and soon the kids were all issued wooden rifles and went through a mock load-and-fire drill.

Fixed bayonet

Then they learned how to march and how to charge, and how to fire from the second row without blowing off the head of the guy in front of them. They learned how to fix a bayonet and charge with a bayonet and why a bayonet wound was so feared. The confederate soldier fixed his own (real) bayonet and did a mock charge at the children. Oh, it's OK. He stopped a whole two feet from the front row of kids. Now, this was all very interesting, and appropriate to a museum devoted to the experience of the civil war soldier, but my brain had awakened enough to see the irony.

Just last week, a high school student in the next county was expelled, under the zero-tolerance policy, for having a toy gun, locked in the toolbox in his truck. That's right. It was a toy, locked, in his truck. I can see why there are rules against toy guns in schools, but when you have a zero tolerance policy, you are committed to outrages against justice like this one, or the case where the 13 year old girl was strip searched because it was rumored she had some ibuprofen, or the myriad other cases in which kids, doing normal kid things, are humiliated and treated like dangerous criminals, all in the name of "zero tolerance" which is so freaking ridiculous I can't stand it. Then we take them to Civil War museums and give them rifles and teach them how to use them.

Later, before the obligatory gift shop visit, our guide asked if the children were allowed to buy toy guns, and one of the teachers said, "Sure," and I thought how nice it was that Charlottesville's schools aren't bogged down in pointless rule-mongering. A few kids did buy guns and one of them spent the bus ride home merrily pretending to shoot people. Nobody seemed to mind, and I fell asleep again until Mr. McP woke me and told me my mouth was open and it was embarrassing him. That Valium overdose feeling came back to me on the bus, only I suspect it was actually a little carbon-monoxide poisoning. Mr. McP and I both felt awful on the bus, sleepy and headachey and vaguely nauseated, and continued to feel ill for the rest of the day.

When we got back to the school, a teacher made a hurried announcement to "the kids in the triad that WERE allowed to buy guns." He told them they couldn't go back into the school building and that riding the bus was going to be a problem too--I'm not sure how they sorted it out, but most kids had parents to pick them up anyway. So, Charlottesville does have a zero-tolerance policy, but at least the teachers showed common sense and didn't freak out and no one was expelled.

Our tour guide, demonstrating on Mr. McP, how a soldier would carry his blanket.

I dare you to wear these earrings.


  1. Oh boy, am I ever glad that I didn't chaperone that trip. I thought about it and decided that you could not pay me enough money to be on that bus.

  2. you really wanted to go on a bus ride? or you were being ironic? I accompanied my son's 4th grade class on a 3-hour ride to Sacramento once. It was o.k., but I know that groggy feeling well.

    I am jealous you got to go to a C.W. site, though! Don't have many of those around these parts...

    As for the earrings... the heart shape softens the Confederate sentiment?? hmmm.

  3. No, the New Yorker rarely has those pithy comments at the end of articles now. I do read the New Yorker, but not in public since I don't want to be taken for the kind of person that reads the New Yorker in public. You are not the only adult with motion sickness. My husband suffers from it terribly, and as a consequence is quite insufferable. He was reading over my shoulder and exclaimed that he, too, learned to fire a fake musket on a field trip, but then he quickly realized that he was portraying a Union, not a Confederate soldier. Ah, the South.

  4. You CRACK me up--especially the section about how zero-tolerance policies commit...
    My son went to Discovery World in Milwaukee Wednesday, and like your son, thought a bathroom on a bus was a remarkable thing.
    I couldn't go--not yet--I still have a kid for half the day at home with me!

  5. Tiff, I seriously thought it would be nice to just be a passenger for once, even if it was for a school field trip to a dreary museum.