I cleaned out her third-grade folder, shuffling through the “Return to School” papers. The absence of a field trip permission slip meant I could breathe easy again. Until tomorrow, anyway.
When my daughter was one and a half, she cursed me for being a working mom. For the next seven years she would remind me of how much I was missing out on and would swear up and down that when she grew up, her children would never have to step foot into a daycare because she would be a stay-at-home mom.
Are ALL strong-willed children early talkers with sizable vocabularies?
Now, yes, I would suffer from mom guilt anyway because it just comes with the territory—but the self-condemnation that had taken place over the better half of a decade was enough to make a perfectly sane mother rip blinds clear off her wall (it wasn’t a proud moment).
Once my daughter started preschool, I was rarely able to attend classroom parties or participate in events during the school day. I had depleted my sick days every year since having her, and I needed to save them for true emergencies. Besides, I was busy running a classroom of my own and sub plans are exasperating. But come spring of second grade, she was ready to disown me if I didn’t do something, anything really, with her at school.
You can imagine that when she brought home a field trip form for the zoo (I love the zoo!! Errr, I used to love the zoo.) I immediately filled out the paperwork, giddily checking the box, “I am interested in chaperoning this field trip”. Then I prayed hard to be picked from the parent pool.
I walked in from work the next day to shrieking: “MOM! YOU WERE CHOSEN FOR THE FIELD TRIP!!!” We jumped and screamed and held each other. I put in for my absence from work immediately and for once, this scatter-brained mom felt ahead of the game.
Scatter. Brained. Mom.
Weeks passed and the field trip was approaching. It was Friday and on my commute home, it hit me like a ton of zoo manure that I had taken Tuesday off for the field trip. Tuesday. The day after Memorial Day. In my district they take your first-born child if you take the day before or after a holiday break off of work. And if that was going to happen, I’d have no one to go on the field trip with. I needed to find a loophole. I contacted my boss, my teaching partner, my union, to no avail. I would have to report to work for at least the first half of the day. I broke the news to her: “I’ll be late, but I will be there.”
She clung to that last statement, asking me repeatedly over the weekend if I promised to show up and take her home afterward for early dismissal because “that’s what allllll the chaperones do.”
Well, darn it, if I couldn’t be a SAHM, I was going to be the best chaperone in the history of second grade chaperones, and if that included taking my daughter home for early dismissal, then so be it.
Tuesday…go time. I reported to work, all the while watching the clock with a funny stomach. (clue #1)
Noon…forty-five minutes before I could leave due to my late lunch. I’m typically famished at this point but surprisingly, I didn’t have an appetite. (clue #2)
12:45…I bolted out of that place faster than you could say Deadbeat Mom and began my twenty minute trek to the zoo.
1:05…I pulled up, feeling quite nauseous at this point, parked the car and something happened that we will call “The Unmentionable”. I still can’t talk about it…so don’t ask.
1:06…In tears, I called my husband, mentioned “The Unmentionable,” and he ordered me to go home immediately. And I should have. Instead, I stared straight ahead through the zoo’s large iron fence border which screamed for me to STAY OUT, took a deep breath, and went to find my girl.
1:10…I entered the zoo and called the other chaperone to get their location: The Polar Bear exhibit, which was coincidentally at the polar opposite end of the zoo. Awesome. I walked swiftly in that direction, my stomach lurching and rumbling.
1:11…To my surprise, “The Unmentionable” occurred again. I pushed on. Best. Chaperone. Ever.
1:19…Finally, the heavens shone down upon a statue of Polar Bears. I had made it! I entered the walkway, pushing through droves of people, stretching my neck and searching for a familiar red ponytail.
1:24…I was deep in the crowd when the other mom called, “We just came out of the Polar Bear exhibit. Where are you?”
1:25…I turned back (rumble) and fought the crowds (rumble rumble) heading back toward the entrance (rumble rumble lurch). And there, at the entrance, her beaming face met mine. Hers, from seeing the chaperone of the year, her mom, standing in front of her. Mine, from the clenching and the rumbling and the lurching and the sweating.
1:30…We had time for one more exhibit before heading to the entrance to load the bus. It needs to be outdoors. Lord, please let the exhibit be outdoors. Fresh air and outdoor vomiting options were my top priorities in that moment.
1:35…We entered the building for the chimpanzee exhibit. Darn it. (rumble lurch rumble lurch)
1:45…We exited the exhibit and walked briskly toward the entrance. (lurch lurch lurch luuuurrrccchhhh) I knew that if I didn’t find a bathroom immediately, I was most certainly going to vomit right there on a second grader’s shoes…
- Positive: My daughter would probably never make me feel guilty about my lack of participation in her life outside of home.
- Negative: I would be the mom who barfed on the second grade field trip.
1:47…. I spotted a bathroom and called over my shoulder that I’d be right back except that I came to an almost immediate screeching halt because the line was out the door and wrapped around like a snake. I had no choice but to wait. And wait. And wait. And wait.
1:52..I texted my sister to say my goodbyes. The waiting was going to kill me.
1:53…Dying on my daughter’s second grade field trip would probably upset her more than me not being a SAHM. Perseverance was my only option.
1:54…I was close enough to the bathroom door to spot an orange-vested zoo employee directing bathroom traffic as if working a busy concert parking lot, swinging stall doors open, stretching her arm toward the next bathroom patron, beckoning with her fingers to summon them her way, then wildly swinging an arm to guide them to the desired stall.
1:56…None too soon, zoo bathroom traffic lady wiggled her fingers at me and directed me to the stall on my right. I took a step–one step closer to nausea freedom when another bathroom goer snuck up on my left, cutting me off and going into my stall. MY STALL. On a normal day, I’d want to scrap with someone who should be so rude and as the lady behind me chirped in my ear about the audacity! and what I should do about it, my eyes remained fixed on the lady with the glowing vest, silently begging her to show me the way to the next open stall.
And she did. That reflector vest-wearing angel pointed to my left and I scurried in, sweat dripping from my forehead with each frantic step.
I made it inside, mouth watering…yet nothing happened besides the lurching and rumbling and sweating. I texted my sister again and told her I was clinging to life but that she needed to pray and pray hard. The bus was scheduled to leave in minutes and we still had a long walk to the entrance.
2:03…Still nothing. I exited the stall and bustled toward the eager foursome. My daughter grabbed my hand. I pulled away and bent down, “Mommy doesn’t feel good. At all. Please wash your hands as soon as you get back to school and until then, keep your hands away from your face.”
What on Earth was this devil bug inside of me? Who gets sick in the middle of the day?! Stomach viruses are supposed to come on in the middle of the night, in the comfort of your own home, where you can puke in your own Tupperware bowl, chew Saltines and sip on Ginger Ale, then puke in your own Tupperware bowl. Is that not misery enough?!
We reached the entrance, I spotted a zoo employee and remembered the sign in the parking lot stating that I would have to pay $7 for parking before leaving the lot. Shoot.
I went to her and explained that I was a chaperone on my daughter’s field trip and had already paid for the trip through the school but last minute circumstances meant I had to drive myself. I didn’t have $7. I didn’t even have $1. She smiled sympathetically at my concern, or maybe my ailing complexion, and assured me that there is never anyone at that parking lot to check and even if there were, I would just explain. No worries at all.
I said goodbye to my daughter as she got on her bus and told her I would pick her up at school but to be ready. I wasn’t sure how much longer my body would cooperate.
I got into my van and breathed a huge sigh of relief. If I couldn’t be at home on my couch, I would gladly take the privacy of my van as an alternative. I gathered myself and drove through the parking lot. Bus after bus after bus filed out, one-by-one, while I trailed behind.
Nearing the exit, and a parking lot’s length closer to home, I could see a zoo employee on the curb smiling hugely and waving her arm over her head like a windshield wiper, “Goodbye!! Come back and see us again!!”
What a jolly lady. I’ll just wave and scoot along with these buses. I was about 40 minutes from home and the nausea was making me so delusional that I was only able to see the good in people in that moment.
Mrs. Hyde stepped off the curb nearly colliding with my van as I mustered my happiest, sick wave. I applied the brakes and rolled the passenger window down.
“That’ll be seven dollars,” she said with a sort-of smile. I mean, her lips were sort of turned up at the corners but her eyes were calling me bad names.
“Oh, see, I was supposed to be on that bus right there,” I pointed to the bus in front of me. “It’s a long story but I did pay for this field trip through my daughter’s school.”
“Seven dollars, please,” her brow furrowed, mouth still sort-of smiling.
“Listen, I talked to someone at the front and she said there wouldn’t be anyone here. Then she said that all I had to do was explain this situation and that I’d be all set!” I neared tears. Stomach bug things were not going to hold off much longer and a long line of cars had filed in behind me.
“That will be seven dollars.” If you’ve ever seen “Teen Wolf” where Michael J. Fox tries to buy beer from a crotchety store owner, and his voice goes all deep and scary and werewolfy, that’s pretty much what happened there.
I let my foot off the gas and began to creep forward, “I’m sorry! I don’t have seven dollars! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” I began to roll the window up as I crept and she had no choice but to stumble backward to her curb perch, her fake smile fading from her face. I cried and sped toward the freeway scouring my rearview mirror for the zoo security that was undoubtedly going to hunt me down to collect my debt.
Right then and there, I decided that I hated the zoo with its smelly animals and confusing maps and overpriced Dippin Dots and bathroom line cutters and mean parking attendants. And over the next thirty minutes I came up with even more reasons than anyone should ever have to never return to the zoo again. These included, but weren’t limited to:
- Those annoying maps that you can never get to fold up the same way as when you got them.
- Heads being a target for bird poop–they don’t care if you are visiting the zoo for the first time with your new baby and that you actually washed, dried and styled your hair for the first time in a month. Birds don’t discriminate. Especially zoo birds. Your head is as good as the next person’s.
- Spoiled kids with their fancy convertible umbrella wagons.
- Indecent monkeys with their bare red butts hanging out–totally inappropriate.
Ten minutes from home, I scoured my car frantically for a bag, a cup, something to get sick into. Thankfully that morning, my sister put a plastic bag of clothes on my passenger seat. I flipped the bag, shook the clothes onto the seat and put it in my lap, just in case. As I reached my exit with nowhere to pull over and little warning, an eruption that would make Mount Vesuvius look like a puny drinking fountain geyser happened right there into the bag, except that the bag was just a temporary vomit blocker, as it was full of holes on the bottom. To add insult to injury, I had on a shortish skirt, and my phone was under that bag, now submerged.
When the heaving ceased, I debated whether I should pull over or just get home. Home won. And then I remembered my daughter, waiting for me for early dismissal. I picked up the vomit-drenched phone, shook it off as good as I could, and dialed the other chaperone’s phone. I told her I was sick and to please tell my daughter that I couldn’t pick her up, she would have to take the bus home and that I was a failure as a parent. I didn’t actually say that last part out loud, but it was implied.
Despite being inseparable from the couch and my Tupperware bowl, I anticipated my daughter’s arrival home from school that day. How could I explain to her how bad it was? How, if there was absolutely any way I could have, I would have picked her up as promised. How I wanted nothing more than to be at the field trip all day and take her home early and be a stay at home mom so I could go on all the field trips and how the years of taking her to daycare and dropping her off crying nearly killed me and how I know I’ll never get that time back and how I hoped she wouldn’t resent me more than she already did.
The door closed and I called to her from the couch, choking back tears, “Honey–”
She dropped her backpack and ran to my side, “Mom. Mom. Don’t say a word. You don’t need to say a word. I know you’re sick. It’s okay. I’m so sorry you don’t feel good. Please just rest. It’s okay. It really is. It’s okay.” She rubbed my forehead, I breathed a sigh of relief, then vomited into the bowl, then closed my eyes and slept because I knew it was okay.
That’s life, isn’t it? You disappoint someone, try to make it right, everything goes wrong in the process, yet it somehow turns out okay. She took me by surprise, like many other things, that day. And while I dread–D-R-E-A-D–going on another field trip, the bright side is that I have nowhere to go but up. All I have to do is get there on time and not hurl all over myself. Perhaps the “Best Chaperone” award is in my future after all.