Among one’s many obligations as parent to a school-aged child is that most universal of school experiences, chaperoning a school field trip. My number got called this week, when my second grader’s class went to the zoo. She of course volunteered me, assuming- correctly- that this was the sort of thing I was up for (as opposed to the kindergarten trip to Sea World), and for the most part I was happy to do it.
Until I heard it was going to be raining.
Now, laugh all you want, but we San Diegans are not used to anything that isn’t sunny and 70 degrees. We have thin blood and a certain fear of atmospheric precipitation that borders on Wicked-Witch level paranoia. As soon as we heard it was going to be raining, the e-mails started to fly:
“Are they cancelling the trip?”
“No! And I can’t imagine why! This will be disastrous!”
It was with this sort of apprehension that I arrived, with an umbrella and a cup of liquid courage in the form of a Gingerbread latte, to commence duties as kid-wrangler.
There they stood, running in circles like puppies at doggie day care, yelping, whining, waving umbrellas at each others’ faces like pointy ended spherical light sabers. And I was supposed to keep them from getting hurt, lost, or injured. All off-leash.
The troubles began quickly. “I’m cold,” said a small girl in shorts. She had taken off her jacket and tied it around her hips, sarong-style, to protect her legs from the biting 60 degree winds, leaving her torso exposed to the elements. In addition to forgetting to check the weather report in advance of this blizzard, she had also neglected to bring an umbrella.
“I’m sorry,” I said, and I was, because it was kind of cold. But commiseration was all I had to offer.
I had grand ideas of sharing with them the wonders we were seeing, the Maasai giraffes and the incredibly endangered black rhinos I spent hours searching for on the other side of the world, served up to them within mere feet of their little hands. “Aren’t they beautiful?” I asked the boy next to me, who stopped picking his nose long enough to stare at me blankly. “When’s lunch?” he asked.
“I’m cold,” said the cold girl again.
And so it continued, the herd shuffling and shivering through the zoo like a bunch of Chinese Cresteds without our requisite cold weather gear, soggy, crabby, and hungry. Somewhere along the way Cold Girl had buddied up with a kid who had an umbrella large enough to share, so she at least got to stay somewhat dry. I stayed towards the back, herding the errant outliers back to the main herd so they wouldn’t be picked off by predatory tour buses.
At lunchtime, we found a relatively dry spot and plunked down to eat. Cold Girl tugged on my sleeve.
“I don’t have a lunch,” she informed me. “And I’m starving.”
I looked through my bag, pulling out an old packet of cheese crackers and a granola bar, the only food I had to offer. She took them morosely.
I wandered off to find the teacher, hoping they might have sent along an extra lunch or two for such emergencies, but of course the school had not. I came back to my table, planning on making an unapproved run to the concession stand to buy her something- which was sure to cause much angst amongst the rest of the kids- only to find her happily chowing down on a huge pile of food.
With no prompting, the rest of her class had taken it upon themselves to divvy up their own lunches to provide for their friend. Sure, the selection was heavy on the fruit and light on the chips, but those soggy little primates had decided to embrace the concept of community and take care of one of their own. I’ve seen wild chimps take in orphans but also abandon the weak and sickly, so I really had no predictions as to which direction this would go.
Hence the title of the post.