My group consisted of four cute little first graders: two boys and two girls, counting my daughter.
I volunteered all year, so I knew the kids; they were a really smart set. I was lucky. Or so I thought.
All goes well for the five minutes we took at the school for potty breaks. Then we head out to the buses. They aren't all there yet, so we have to wait.
Boy 1 proceeds to run around the grass, this way and that, joining other groups and coming back only when I herd him back to our little group so he won't board the wrong bus.
In spite of my efforts, he gets away for probably the 9th time and head-butted Girl 1.
G1 bursts into tears. B1 apologizes profusely, and I can tell he means it; he was messing around and didn't realize that the things he sees on TV can oh, HURT. I comfort G1.
But she's crying so hard that within seconds, every mother in a 30-foot radius freaks out and wants to know what's wrong. This sends G1 sobbing and wailing. (She's getting all kinds of awesome attention. Can't let that go to waste!) I assure them she's fine. Then I assure her that she's fine.
Five minutes and enough melodrama to fill an episode of Day of Our Lives later, her sobs are sniffles.
After eight more cycles of, "B1, Stay. With. The. Group!" we board the bus and sit on three close benches. So far Boy 2 has been quiet. He has strayed a couple of times, although not nearly as Houdini-like as B1. Overall, he's well-behaved, and my daughter just holds my hand and grins because her mommy is there.
Surprisingly, no members of my group misbehave on the bus ride. Head-butt notwithstanding, I have hopes for the excursion.
After arrival, as we leave the bus, both B1 and B2 announce in no uncertain terms that they really, really have to go potty. (Forget that we took a potty break not 45 minutes ago.)
We wait in line to get into the zoo.
"I gotta go!" B1 says. "Like, REALLY BAD."
"Me, too!" B2 insists.
They both start the try-not-to-pee dance and hold the front of their pants as I calmly explain that we'll get to a restroom just as soon as we get inside.
Thanks to my visit here last summer, I remember some bathrooms inside the nearby giraffe house. I pat myself on the back. This will be a piece of cake.
We enter the park with renewed choruses of, "I gotta goooooooo! Nooooooow!" from both B1 and B2. G1 admits that she kinda needs to go too.
No sooner have we gotten past the entrance, however, than B1 races to a chain link fence. "There's a wolf in there! Check it out!"
B2 goes over and clings to the fence. "Where? I don't see it."
"The sign says a wolf is in here." Then, to me, rather annoyed, "Where is it?"
I smile. "It's probably hiding somewhere. We can come back to look at it. Let's get you guys to the bathroom."
B2: "How far away is it?"
"It's really close," I assure them.
We head down the paved hill toward the giraffe house. The boys stop to watch tigers pacing, a bird, and other animals. I wonder what happened to their bladders. The moment the giraffes are visible (they're outside rather than inside their house), the boys squeal.
B1: "Giraffes! Cool!"
All four kids race to the giraffes. They discuss the spots and heights, analyze what a blue hanging thing must be, and more. Again, I feel pleased. These are smart kids. Then . . .
B2: "I GOTTA PEE!"
B1: "If I don't go NOW, I'm gonna pee my pants! You said we were going to the bathroom!"
"I was taking you to the bathroom, but you kept stopping to look at the animals."
My logic is not accepted, and I get some rolling of the eyes. I round them up and lead them toward the giraffe house. We reach the doors, and as they go in, I count: B1, B2, daughter . . . where's G1? I look around, panicked. I can't see her tow-head anywhere. "You three stay right here," I order. "Don't move."
As I race off to find G1, I hope they understand that "don't move" doesn't mean they can't do their anti-pee dance.
G1 is found gazing longingly at the giraffes. I about fall over with relief, hold out my hand, and she reluctantly leaves the fence.
We use the facilities. The boys are too old to come into the women's side, and I can't go into the men's, so I hope for the best. Everyone emerges unscathed with pants dry. Crisis averted.
But with the wolves, tigers, giraffes, and bladder emergency, we've just wasted 20 minutes. We're required to be at the elephant show with the rest of the school in less than 10 minutes. I inform the group that we'll check out all the cool exhibits AFTER the elephant show.
But B1 isn't happy about that, because to get to the show, we're passing a bunch of cool stuff and we aren't stopping. Every time we pass an animal (or anything of interest), he races for it.
"Water! Look, I'm throwing stuff into it! You could drown down there."
Each time I chase the kid down and hope the other three don't get lost meanwhile. "PLEASE can we just look at the rhinos?" B1 begs.
"Yes, but after the elephant show," I tell him.
We're already 5 minutes late. I guide him with my hand firmly on his shoulder, something he hates). But it's that or find a collar and a leash. The audience seating is packed. I almost cry when I realize the kids might not have seats. This would mean chasing them during the show.
Fortunately, first graders have small rear ends, and others were able to squeeze together. For about 20 minutes, all was well. We saw an elephant do tricks, including paint a picture. By this point, my blood pressure had returned to normal.
All is well. No one is lost. They are contained and happy.
The moment the show is over, B1 insists that NOW we must see the rhinos. They're close by, so I agree. As the kids cram into the rhino exhibit, I hear someone calling me through the crowd. Another mother is trying to tell me where the milk for the lunches is.
If she hadn't found me, we wouldn't have known, and that would have been ugly.
When the four were happy to be done staring at rhinos, we got our lunch milk. This is the first time I've had to gather my group without herding them. Probably because it involves food.
B1 was dying to see the snakes, the King Cobra in particular, because that is the animal he did his report on. But B2 and G1 agreed that they wanted to eat first. We find a table with an umbrella top and had lunch.
This was the best part of the day. The kids were polite as they ate. They cracked jokes, made insightful conversation, and were a pure delight. These kids really were SMART.
But no sooner had the trash hit the bins than the chaos returned.
"PENGUINS!!!!" And whoosh. B1 races off. It has begun again. We follow.
"Let's go see the snakes!"
Okay, so the snake house is apparently my Achilles' Heel. It has several interconnecting rooms with doors and an open aviary in the middle.
Our trip into the snake house looked like this:
B1: "I think I remember where the King Cobra is!" RUNS through a door.
Me, trying to keep the other three from falling behind. "B1, come back. Wait for us!"
We get inside. B1 sees just about every kind of snake (including the poisonous one he told me about over lunch), but no King Cobra. He seems horribly offended.
He races around a corner. B2 is quietly and attentively admiring a huge snake in a corner. I think he was even reading the signs. (Like I said, smart kids.) But when the girls were with me in the center and B1 is racing off to Kansas alone, I couldn't leave B2 to read and learn. Hating that I had to rush him (but terrified what would happen to B1 if I didn't), I urged him to follow and stay with the group.
The rest of the snake house was a blur of going into and out of all the same rooms multiple times (B1 refused to accept that they didn't HAVE a King Cobra) and my adrenaline levels spiking as I inevitably lost sight of every kid regularly (except my own, because she was still so thrilled I was there. I couldn't have peeled her off my side if I'd wanted to).
After the snakes came the gorilla exhibit, which was closed. Then the camels. And then B1 seeing a peacock that had escaped its pen. He decided that walking right up to it and petting it was a great idea. As I was frantically calling him back (envisioning him getting e. coli or some other infection and his mother blaming me for his untimely demise), another mother was saying, "Way to go! Good job!"
Be proud of me; I didn't slap her.
Next I tried to get them all set up for a cute picture by the giant elephant statue, but they're crawling under legs and whatnot, so I end up with one that shows just one child clearly: mine.
But this is also when G1 announces that she has to pee. BAD. I know she went at our last potty break and at the school and determine she must have a bladder the size of a pea. We hunt down a different bathroom for her, and while we wait, the other three fight each other as they climb a rhino statue. (But hey--they're all together, even if they are fighting.)
It starts raining. I almost curse the universe, but then learn that it is a blessing: to my relief, they asked to return to the bus a little early because the rain was making me cold.
"But I'm not cold," B2 pronounces. "My body must be stronger than everyone else's."
Moments later, he asks for his jacket back from B1 and bundles up. Yep. Strong dude.
We return to the bus. I sit on a bench and breathe while the other four make the interior a playground by running down the aisle, climbing benches, and playing horsey on a spot that jutted out in the back.
I decide that I didn't care. They're contained and not bleeding, right?
I'd spent hours preventing B1 from taking off like Magellan. I felt bad that I couldn't let B2 soak in everything he wanted to (like in the primate house, which was packed with people and strollers: he wanted to stand at a window and watch the sleeping orangutan, but B1 was already flying out the doors).
I do love those kids. They're all so curious and eager to learn.
One mom handling them all, though . . . oh, heavens. This is the kind of exploration each one would have thrived on had they been there with ONE other adult. Instead, pandemonium reigned.
I'm betting that in 30 years, those kids will have made their mark, and when they do, I'll point to the TV and a few gray hairs and say, "See him? I took that kid on his zoo field trip, and this is the gray hair he gave me."
In spite of the challenges these kids brought me, I will say that riding a bus with noisy first graders knocks the socks off of riding the bus with 5th graders, who sing rousing renditions of "Boom Chicka-Boom" and "We Are the Champions."
One of the 5th graders in the back seriously knew all the verses and sang them at the top of his voice: "You got mud on your face. Big disgrace. Kickin' your can all over the place . . . "
School is out, so no more field trips for several months, at least.