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816 Diversions

Susan Vollenweider: Winning the chaperone lottery

I won the lottery.

Not the set-for-life financial lottery, but a windfall of sorts. I cheered and grabbed Noah for a happy dance.

“ ‘Only a field trip’? Oooh, no, Son, it’s the field trip. Go ask your brother and sister.”

“Best field trip ever,” said one.

“I love that place! Lucky! Mom didn’t go with either of us,” said the other.

It’s true, but not for lack of desire. Some field trips are a free-for-all of parental accompaniment. Last year’s zoo trip had 1:1 ratio of parents to kids — “meet us at the zoo” was the only stipulation. Some field trips empty the chaperone pool with criteria like, “We can only take parents who are not bringing a younger child along.”

But this special field trip was even more exclusive. Only a couple of parents from each class.

Based on attendance at the last class party, I figured the random-drawing competition would be fierce. I had sent my “YES, I WANT TO GO” form in return backpack-mail and waited.

And waited.

Weeks later, I got the word: I felt like I had won the lottery, because I kinda did.

Where was this magical, wondrous field trip to?

A cave.

The caves, actually. The field trip was to EarthWorks, which is located in the Hunt Midwest SubTroplis caves! All science all the time in an interactive learning lab for kids in third through fifth grade. Their trip was years ago, but both of the older kids still lit up with memories.

“They will weigh your lunch trash!”

“There is a giant, arty globe that spins in the middle that is made of garbage.”

“Mom, there are snakes.”

Even the — gulp — promise of (caged) snakes didn’t dim my enthusiasm. I was very excited to follow Noah around and watch him have a day packed with science.

We were up early on field trip morning. I packed our lunches entirely of reusable, compostable or recyclable materials, put on comfy stand-around-and-watch shoes and followed the bus into the caves.

“If I could have all of our parent volunteers over here please?” One of the staff asked. The few, the chosen, were seated around kid-sized tables and learned about our day of work.


No slacking at the back of the pack for EarthWorks. Parents oversee the experiments, guide the kids through the lessons and help get the rooms back in order at the end of each one.

I speak volunteer: “Back in order” is fancy lingo for “clean up the mess.”

And you know what? I loved it! I loved it for all the reasons kids love field trips: It was a chance to step away from a normal day and do something different. I loved watching my son get his science geek on. I loved that the kids cheered when the compost and recycling from lunch weighed more than the trash that was headed to the landfill, and I loved the (caged) snakes from across the room. I loved the confirmation that all over town parents were raising kids who are smart and funny, kids who want to learn and make messes and be a little bit of a jerk but at the end of the day are a joy to be with.

I even loved cleaning up. No, not really, but I was happy to do it.

It may have been just a field trip, and I may have been just another parent volunteer, but that day I claimed victory to a windfall of memories with my son.


VOLLENWEIDER at svollenweider @ gmail.com

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