We went to the zoo on Wednesday for the first time since it warmed up this year. We loved it so much last year and had a great system down: go early, midweek, pack some food, let the kids nap in the car on the way home. My critical error was in not realizing a Wednesday in late MAY is not the same as a Wednesday in late JUNE. I live in New England. Late May is “Who The Hell Cares About School Anymore, Take Those Kids On A Damn Field Trip” season.
Initially, things weren’t bad. It’s a medium-sized zoo so even with half a dozen field trips it wasn’t crowded. I had the stroller and no agenda, so we went slow and tried to avoid any groups we ran into. The water sprinkler wall at the Big Back Yard play area was undergoing maintenance so I promised we’d go back and play there last instead of first. Evan and Caroline were super fun for 90 minutes and then had low-blood sugar meltdowns of an epic degree, but I saved the day with cheese and cucumbers and grapes and water from Mommy’s water bottle (100% more delicious than the exact same water from their own water bottles).
Unfortunately, lunch only made the field trip kids worse. Ok, wait. That’s unfair. I’d say 75% of the field trip kids were fine. Great, even. Evan and Caroline have no fear of big kids, so they both tried to talk to the elementary schoolers about the animals. I thought it was adorable (and so did most of the kids, who kept saying “Awwwwww, she’s so CUTE!” when Caroline tried to tell them about the oudads) but perhaps all the chaperons were thinking “Gawd, why doesn’t that woman keep her loud kids away from us?” Even as a mother who is around a lot of children a lot of the time, I don’t necessarily love kids in general. Children aren’t a homogeneous group any more than you can say “All blondes are dumb” or…actually, I’m not going to list any more racist/group stereotypes. That seems like a good way to get called dumb. Some children are terrible.
After lunch, a girl plowed into Caroline on the walking path. Caroline fell over, scraped her hands and knee and started crying. When I asked her if she was OK, she pointed at the offender and said “THAT GIRL JUST KNOCKED ME OVER.” Because she’s little, not an idiot. The girl stared. Her chaperon stared. I stared for 20 seconds before I said “I’M SURE IT WAS AN ACCIDENT AND SHE’S VERY SORRY.” No one noticed, even though I was speaking in all caps.
When we made it back to the Big Back Yard, it was almost deserted and the water was fixed. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and sat down to supervise (i.e. play on my phone, because, let’s be honest, with only 2 children to watch and no one else around I get to play on my phone for a minute). I hadn’t even finished checking my email before one of the field trip groups appeared. Then I heard this for 20 minutes:
Chaperon: Bobby, don’t get wet. Bobby, don’t get wet. Bobby, don’t get wet.
(Bobby runs through the fountain, gets wet.)
Chaperon: Bobby, don’t get wet. ETC ETC ETC.
It was obvious none of the field trip organizers had anticipated water features at the zoo, since none of the kids were dressed or prepared to get soaked. I had planned for my kids to get soaked – because they always do – but made the obvious mistake not bringing a full change of clothes and/or a poncho for myself, since the next thing that happened was a girl grabbed one of the hoses attached to the wall and aimed it FULL BLAST at the bench I was sitting on with another dad.
I swung my fancy camera (which had been in my lap) out of the water, jumped up and shouted “NO NO NO AHHHHHHH NO!” I looked like an idiot. I stared at this girl – who was probably 9 or 10, we’re not talking preschooler – and then stared at the dad who had gotten soaked even worse than I had. “Is she yours?” I asked. He shook his head. “Do you belong to someone????” I asked the girl, trying to keep my voice below all-caps. She just stared at me, still holding the hose.
FINALLY a woman appeared and said “Emily!” (or whatever, I don’t remember) “Nuh-huh! We do not spray people! You’re in a time out!” The girl wandered (WANDERED) over to sit on a bench as I made fishy-faces of shock and tried to wring the water out of my skirt. Then I called my kids and told them we were done at the zoo for the day. When they whined, I used my loud voice to say “Sorry guys, there are too many naughty kids here who don’t have grown ups watching them. We’ll come back on a day without so many horrible field trips.”
I really did say that. I’m not proud. I will admit using my angry voice to shun people without actually addressing them directly is childish. I will also admit I’ve never been a school field trip chaperon, and watching 10 kids at the zoo sounds like the fifth circle of Hell. But COME ON. I shouldn’t have to get all “Kids these days, get off my lawn!” about 4th or 5th graders who don’t have enough manners to apologize for knocking a baby over or who don’t know intentionally spraying two unknown grown ups with a water hose is a poor choice.
While I was gathering the stroller, I heard one of the chaperons tell Emily “That lady was really mad. You need to apologize.” They sulked over and Emily said “I’m sorry I sprayed you.” I said “Thank you for apologizing.” I refrained from saying any other words out loud, but I let myself think some very unkind things. It’s hard not to when you’re wearing wet underpants that are someone else’s fault.
I’m not going to make any sweeping judgments about these kids or these chaperons or parenting skills or how when you agree to be responsible for a gaggle of children in public you need to spend more time supervising and less time being a Chatty Cathy with all the other mom friends on the trip. But I will say we won’t be going back to the zoo until after school gets out for the year.