Field Trippin’ — Part I [Stay at Home Nerd]
*names, dates, and locations have been changed to protect the guilty
The field trip starts at 9:15 Monday morning. That’s 45 minutes later than I usually drop off my son, which means I have 45 minutes to fill. The hard thing to do is a high yield activity (Doctor’s words) like going to the park, reading, or playing with blocks, trains, trucks, etc. The easy thing to do is to put on Thomas and Friends and relax on the couch until it’s time to go.
I chose the easy thing to do, lost track of time, and the next thing I know it’s nine a.m. and I still need to shower and pack lunches. I quickly do both, which leaves me with wet hair and lunches that consist of plain turkey and cheese sandwiches, crackers, and a small bowl of blueberries. The lunches are supposed to be in paper bags and we’re not supposed to bring any Tupperware. I lock the door and carry my son to the car because we are running late.
Still carrying my son I hurry into the school as parents, teachers, and kids head out. Several parents volunteered to drive one or more kids to Descanso Gardens. I am one of those parents and I have no idea who my assigned kid is. Turns out his name is Oliver (wink*). He’s taller than my son, but slimmer and not white. I don’t know why that pops in my head considering that most of the kids in my son’s preschool aren’t white, but it does and I wonder what challenges our cultural differences will present. Probably none since I assume all I have to do is drive him there.
The scene is controlled chaos. It appears that everyone is moving in random directions, but I sense that many, if not all, of these adults have done this before. I try not to look like I have no idea what I’m doing here. After being assigned Oliver, I’m given directions to the park and his rather large car seat that includes immovable arm rests. I don’t know what grade you start calling teachers by their last names but for now, all teachers are Miss Becky, or Miss Lisa, or the like. Miss Lisa tells Oliver to hold my hand and then disappears. We are the last one’s to leave the school.
The real problem is that I’m holding my son in my left arm with a heavy car seat in my left hand. I extend my right hand to Oliver and say, “let’s go.” He’s not so sure. In fact, he cries “daddy” and looks around for a familiar face. He repeats his plaintive plea for daddy several more times until tears and snot meet under his nose forming a green mini-moustache that makes me think he got bad milk. I don’t have a tissue and this is what it’s like to have two kids. I start to panic.
Thankfully I dressed my son in both a long sleeve shirt and a t-shirt and while it might’ve been low sixties when he got dressed at seven in the morning it’s hurdling 80 now. I set my son and the car seat down. My left arm is numb. I remove his long sleeve tee and use it as the world’s biggest handkerchief. I don’t know if this is a bonding moment, but Oliver is no longer calling for his daddy. We still have a hundred feet to go to get to the car and I’m truly scared that one of these kids is going to run into traffic. A decision has to be made. I can’t hold both their hands and carry the car seat. Just then Miss Lisa comes bounding up the sidewalk to rescue us. I smile in what I hope is a “funny how bad dads are at these kinds of things” way, but I must’ve given her my “Ground Control to Major Tom everything is under control smile,” which is normally reserved for dealing with Bank Tellers, because she just jogs on by.
Resigned to my fate I take the car seat in my left hand and my son’s hand in my right. I try to get Oliver to hold my son’s hand and by extension my hand, but don’t get anywhere. He’s standing next to a fence and doesn’t appear to want to move. He asks for Miss Lisa. There’s my opening!! I tell him we’re going to see her, which is true. We will see her if we ever make it to the Gardens, although I’m seriously beginning to doubt we’ll ever get that far.
He starts shuffling up the hill toward where Miss Lisa was running. I’m now fairly certain that she’s not coming back and beginning to assume that she did the smart thing. Get out while you can. It takes some time to cover the distance to the car and there are a couple of moments where I’m sure I appear more Border Collie than human using certain moves to keep everyone moving in the same direction and reserving other moves for preventing anyone from going into the street. I just hope none of this is caught on tape. When we get to the car I put the car seat down and quickly get the kids into the car and lock it so they don’t accidentally fall out. I have insurance, but I have no idea if it covers negligence. Now all I have to do is install the car seat and fasten them both in.
Car seats are fucking impossible to install especially even if you have the directions, which I don’t. I’ve installed exactly two car seats in my life and am just now realizing what I’m up against. This kid Oliver’s car seat looks like it came off a space ship and houses a parachute. I don’t even know if it’s supposed to be rear facing or forward facing. I’m nearly out in traffic trying to install Oliver’s seat and cars are whizzing by. I ask Oliver how much he weighs and how tall he is. Answers to either of those questions might provide me with clear directions on how to install the car seat. Nothing. I weigh the pros and cons of installing it forward or rear facing and decide that rear facing is the safest as long as he fits in the car seat. I won’t know if he fits until he gets in so if I’m wrong I’ll have to redo it. Fuck.
I have to thread a shoulder belt through a narrow gap in the back of the seat and then grab the end of the buckle from the other side and click it into place. The problem is that every time I manage to thread the belt through the hole I lose all the slack and can’t stretch the belt the extra inches I need to fasten it. If I can’t fasten this belt, I can’t go anywhere. I end up biting onto the seat belt in an attempt to hold the slack as I try to pull the buckle through. My son stares at me and puts his shirt between his teeth. This gesture signals to me his unyielding support and faith in his father or his mocking indifference at the man who stayed home with him for two years. The trick works, though and I fasten the belt in place. I’d high five a donut right now, but neither kid cares about my victory. Without fireworks I buckle them in and head for the Gardens.
It’s a good thing we have directions. It’s a bad thing that the directions aren’t accurate. It wasn’t until I parked, got the kids out, and walked to the entrance that I realized there weren’t any children or parents or teachers from our preschool there. Maybe they’re already inside. They weren’t. The guy at the visitor’s desk points tells me about the sign for I missed for School Programs Parking and says it’s quickest to get back in my car and drive over there. I fight the urge to tell him that a special parking area was not mentioned in the directions.
But, I don’t mind. It’s been that kind of day. Late as we are we’ve missed any and all discussion of what the day entails. I’m looking forward to dropping off Oliver with his group and walking along with my son and his group as they explore the park. I assume there will be other parents in each group and maybe I’ll even be able to make a friend.
I hear someone say, “Make sure you have a map” and suddenly it’s a free for all as kids, parents, and teachers pour into the park. It turns out that all drivers are responsible for their little tribe of kids. I ask Miss Lisa for a map and leave the lunches in the car. She hands me a map and tells me to meet back here at noon to eat. That’s it. She’s off and it’s just me, my son, Oliver, and a whole lot of Gardens.
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featured image credit: circulating