We’ve mostly successfully rounded the corner on another Mother’s Day. It’s an odd holiday for anyone in a ‘mixed’ family – where a biological mother exists as well as a stepmother. Or maybe it’s just more odd here with our dynamics of having the kids full-time-all-the-time, making me much more mom-ish, maybe, than an every-other-weekend stepmom. Anyway, long story short – I want some thunder on Mother’s Day. And, other long story short – that’s what makes it odd and sometimes incredibly frustrating. I thought we nailed it last year, actually. The kids’ biological mother and I actually spoke throughout the week before to come up with a ‘shared’ plan. They would spend the weekend with her and return to our house Sunday at lunchtime for my turn. I was so proud of our co-parenting that I didn’t even share it with Rich. Until he texted me while I was returning early from visiting my own mother to say ‘oh, hey, C decided to just keep the kids through dinner.’ Oh, hello ALL the emotions. Anyway, I tried to tread lightly on this week with a ‘don’t expect too much’ hopeful attitude.
It does send me into a bit of reflection, though, and thanks to those pesky Facebook memories constantly telling me that my kids are growing up way too fast…I had a whammy of a reflection this week. The memory provided to me was ‘on-this-day-six-years-ago’ was my very first field trip as a fledgling mother. Pictures of a tiny Zack and his tiny friends around Henricus Park meeting Pocahontas (maybe, it looks like Disney her in the pictures), visiting sleeping huts and whittling a full size canoe send me right back to that day. And, well, the absolute disaster it almost became thanks to my rookie-ness in momming.
Zack’s second grade teacher was my lifeline the entire first year of my existence in the Ville. I came into the parenting role hot with zero training – other than basic babysitting – and a hind-sighted Rich assumption that parenting comes natural to everyone. Which is probably accurate if you are present when the child makes its first out-of-womb appearance. For those who step in at, oh, let’s say, age seven…it’s not quite as natural. It does seem like it should be super easy – I knew people with kids, they all seemed pretty normal and unstressed and together. Granted I mainly saw them on date nights where I performed as a third wheel during they begged for stories about ‘the single, no kids life’. But when handed the keys to the kid-rearing kingdom…well, it was a bit like jumping into a frozen lake. And, having never been a little boy – Zack was pretty much an alien to me.
As soon as I was granted access to the school, I started a daily influx of emails to his teacher, Ms. F. I did not have access in the beginning, when I was still ‘the girlfriend.’ At the time, that really pissed me off – but I eventually got it. I mean, I knew I had concrete plans to stick around forever, but the school really needed proof that I wasn’t a flash in the Rich pan. Our engagement solidified that and suddenly the cafeteria doors were thrown open with a ‘yes, we’d love you to make copies!,’ ‘can you help with gingerbread houses?,’ ‘how do you feel about Easter parties?’ I was IN! Ms. F had unending patience with me and an amazing willingness to gently help me figure things out. Her reward was getting every question I had about seven year old boys. He doesn’t like to go to bed at night. Is that normal? Why does he put rocks in the dishwasher? Can boys do buttons or do they just live in elastic pants? What’s that smell? He peed on my foot when he was trying to brush his teeth while standing on the toilet – it sprayed everywhere? Does that happen all the time? Will he ever eat vegetables? What’s with the Crocs?
God. Bless. This. Woman. Every question answered with such a sweetness and a wink and a word of encouragement. She saved me at a time when I couldn’t ask Rich’s mom or Zack’s biological mom anything as it would confirm their suspicions of my complete ineptitude.
When I made it as far as May and a field trip form came home asking for volunteers – I signed up so fast I nearly burned a hole in the paper. How hard could it be? Zack was so excited at the idea of having a fun day together and that I was going to take off work and that we’d pack matching Luncheables. What could go wrong (also, what was a Luncheable)? As the day approached, I shopped for field trip items – bug spray, sunscreen, a cute but matronly outfit so the other moms would like me. And, finally, off we went to the school with a ‘have fun guys!’ from Rich. Oh, we will have fun, sir. This was going to be a giant piece of fun cake.
Zack and I strolled into his classroom – abuzz with second grade excitement and a few parents holding large cups of coffee. Minutes later, Ms. F quieted everyone down with a weird clapping game (was this the resurgence of tee-tiki-tie?) and started doling out children to chaperones by the fours. Chaperone One….four kids…Chaperone Two…four kids…and so on – until I was the only Chaperone left…and Chaperone Me, we’re just going to let you hang out with Zack, today. Oh, I said, …so, just the one? Yes, just the one, let’s start with that. God. Bless. This. Woman. Hindsight, blah, blah, blah – how did she already know field trips would not bubble up as one of my talents (well, it was likely, the thirteen emails I sent her leading up to it)?
The lessons began as soon as we left the school. Parents sit together-ish. School buses are incredibly loud when you’re 42. And bumpy. And hot. And headache inducing. Holy shite, I was already in some new level of hell. What would happen when we actually left the parking lot? The ride was about 45 minutes, during which time I met the two parents closest to me – both absolutely welcoming and (well, now I see it) curious to see how this field trip virgin would fare. Riding to Henricus, I had no idea they’d be my saviors throughout the day – nary batting a eye at my inadequacies. We got to the park, which sat along the James River and shuffled the kids (or kid) to the welcoming area – a learning center where the kids answered questions about the history of Virginia and showed off their math skills while myself and my two new parents friends got dinged for, well, a load of giggles when a kid held the map of Africa in such a spot that it looked to have the shape of a jock strap. Easy peasy!
But was it?
We were sent in groups to rotating stations (easy) and summoned back to the welcome center for lunch (so easy) which the kids sucked down faster than a dog finding cat food (still, easy). I scrapped finishing my lunch to start a game of ‘where are we going, Zack?’ as he zipped around to talk to various friends and run in a field and which-one-of-those-seven-year-olds-is-mine? Like, really, I couldn’t even remember what he was wearing. The groups were re-assembled to finish off the stations (easy, phew, back to easy) and, upon completion, an angel in a ranger’s uniform appeared to say my four favorite words…there’s a gift shop…I vaguely remember something else about a river and to make sure you didn’t lose any of your kids in it.
Zack’s level of excitement for the gift shop did not match mine. I explained that we needed to head straight there, get in before the rush, get in before the cool stuff was gone, find the sales. He looked at me with his this-lady-is-nuts eyes and shuffled along. And I was right – there was cool stuff. There were things we both wanted and things we debated and, oh, dang it…we looked so long that there was a rather long line of tiny people waiting to count their change. Zack began vibrating as he could see his friends out the window darting here and there while he was stuck in line regretting his choice to invite me.
Fine, I finally said…go ahead out. I’m sure this won’t take long.
I really don’t know how long it took. What I do know is about four seconds later, I had lost him in a sea of kids outside of the building. I did not know what to do (I mean, I know now….put your stuff down and go find him). I had two thoughts racing around in my head: buy this stuff vs what if he falls in the river? What if my first field trip ended with a water rescue? But what if he’s fine and I don’t buy the stuff and he has a meltdown? I began to sweat, still trying to get a visual through the window, while I waited for child after child to listen intently as the volunteer told them which were pennies and which were dimes. Rich was going to kill me when he found out I’d lost Zack.
Wait, I finally thought, let me just text one of the other parents. Whose numbers I didn’t have. Whose names I wasn’t sure of. Who thought I was fit for this?!?
I quickly opened Facebook and started going through Rich’s friends list with the hopes that one of the other chaperones had made contact with him at some point in his weak social media life. Scroll, scroll, scroll, BINGO…I found one. I found a chaperone who was also the father of one of Zack’s classmates. I sent my request (please be my friend, please be my friend, please make it snappy). I got an almost instant ping back (thank you Lawd Jesus) and immediately sent what I hoped was a very un-worrisome message. Oh, hey…just here in the gift shop…no big deal…so is J hanging out with Zack?
As you know, Zack is very much alive and well. He did not, in fact, fall into the James River that day. As soon as I was reunited with him I basically threw him over my shoulder, carried him into the bus and strapped him to the seat with my shoelaces. When said bus departed, I pretty much collapsed into a heap of ‘I will never, ever do that again.’ Zack was unphased, chattering the entire way home while I nodded and tried to bring my pulse back down to a normal range. We arrived back at school, collected the car and went home. When I’d left six hours earlier, I looked as fresh as a daisy in my First Field Trip outfit, hair nicely done, a bit of makeup…. I returned looking like I’d jumped into a wind tunnel full of slime.
“Oh, hi,” Rich said, “How’d it go?”
“You’re going to have to do the next one.”
I did actually do another field trip eventually – that one to Williamsburg with the fourth grade class. I got a ‘real’ group of kids that time (five boys) and was paired with another mom. Again, she saved me. And again, I came home and immediately told Rich he’d have to do the fifth grade trip.
Field trips were not for me.
I’d rather focus on the rocks in the dishwasher.