Never mind hauling them off to the Hague. Just send them on a fifth grade field trip that takes place an hour away from the school. And make them ride the school bus.
Three classes. Twenty-five kids each. Three kids to a seat, when they're mostly too big to fit three to a seat, so they squirm and elbow each other and spill into the aisles and drop their water bottles, which roll under the seats, and then they try to climb under the seats to get them. A daytime high of forty-one degrees Celsius with the humidex. A bus with a non-existent suspension so your forty-year-old tailbone meets the seat with punishing force over and over and over. Five girls shrieking Justin Bieber songs directly behind your head. And that one kid whose face is somehow just really annoying.
It was Hell, manifested on earth.
The field trip itself wasn't bad, although I invariably volunteer for field trips, hope desperately not to be picked, get picked and wonder why the hell I keep volunteering for field trips. Except I really know why. I'm a stay at home Mom. Before my kids were in school full days I had very little difficulty justifying my existence. My husband would come home saying he'd had a rough day at work and I would say "really? Did anyone pee on you? Did you have to stop anyone from eating cat food? Did anyone nearly fracture your orbital ridge with their head while trying to reach the cookies in your backpack? Did you, at any point, hold vomit in your bare hand? No? Then shut up and help me bleach this."
But I'm nearing the end of my second year of both kids being in school full days, and I still haven't gone back to work. I know - it sounds heavenly. I assumed I would be giddy with freedom. I assumed my house would be spotless and scrupulously organized by the end of the first month, I would be finished my first novel by the end of the sixth, and OBVIOUSLY I would be thirty pounds lighter, because, like my mother said "you can go to the gym five times a week!"
From where I'm sitting at the kitchen table right now, I could reach out and lay hands on six novels, three textbooks, a kit for making twinkle tiaras, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Cheese Touch Game, a sock puppet wearing sunglasses, and a box of ant bait. That should give you a clue about the state of my house. The state of my ass? Let's not discuss it.
It's not that I haven't done anything. It's just that those six hours a day aren't as expansive as they seem once you're actually living them. Even though they seem like special, magical hours, it turns out they get eaten up and chipped away by stupid annoying crap just like every other kind of hour. I help out in the school library, I help out in the classroom, I take some courses, I go to for walks, I go to the gym. Sometimes I sit in my chair and read a book. Occasionally my friend Pam and I explore a new area of town or wander into a restaurant that serves us cupcakes instead of carrot sticks and asks us IF THAT's OKAY - those are good days. But I haven't started a business or trained for a marathon or even learned to play a Chopin waltz perfectly. I often feel like I haven't quite done enough with those hours, which then makes me wonder if I'm making the most of being a stay at home mom.
The days I go on field trips? I don't feel like that.
Helping in the classroom is a pretty cushy gig. You help dye some Ukrainian easter eggs, you help make stone soup, you read a book out loud, maybe you help someone build a pulley or make a bug out of playdough. You squeeze your butt into a chair that's too small and you get to be a fly on the wall watching what your kid does every day, which is kind of a kick. But field trips? Like I said, they make you ride the school bus - they mutter some crap about supervisional ratios, but really I think the teachers just want to share the misery. Because the school bus? The school bus would be too loud if that many kids all just talked. But they don't all just talk. THEY ALL YELL. Then you find yourself responsible for a group of kids which without fail contains some boys who will tear off ahead so you lose them and some girls who will dawdle behind so you lose them and frankly, I don't need the pressure - most of the kids who aren't mine at some point become so annoying that I flirt with the notion of losing them on purpose, but I'm always dimly aware that their parents probably find them somewhat less annoying and would probably not be overly impressed if I lost them. The last time my husband saw me checking the 'yes' box beside the 'will you be able to help'? question, with my usual grumbling, he said "you know, just because you're at home doesn't mean you have to volunteer for EVERY field trip". I looked at him blankly and said, 'um, actually I'm pretty sure it means exactly that.' Having to be behind a desk or on a factory floor or manning a customer service counter is a pretty solid excuse for not going on a field trip. Having a vague plan to put away the Christmas decorations that have been sitting on the stairs for five months? Not so much.
Anyway. Today we went to the Mill of Kintail Conservation Area. It's not only beautiful, it was much cooler there than back in the city, with the breeze off the river and the shade from all the trees. My son Angus actually thought the R Tait Mackenzie Museum was really cool. There was a scavenger hunt with half of my group of six took VERY SERIOUSLY ("okay, let's all split up and look for different things! I'm looking for the anchor! I promise I'll find the anchor! Jared, you look for the tree with the cross on it! Angus, what are YOU looking for?!") and the other half was eminently willing to throw over in favour of going to look at the headless crow in the woods. There was a hike in the woods with frequent stops for conversation about animal habitats and frequent opportunities for me to get in trouble (Employee: "Okay, what's the first rule of hiking?" Me: "No talking about hiking! No, wait, that's fight club..."). There were two girls who walked around holding hands and stroking each other's hair, which struck an exact balance between cute and creepy, until I realized they were part of the Bieber-song-shrieking group, whereupon I filed them firmly under creepy.
The bus ride back? Well, it was full of seventy-five sweaty ten-year-olds covered in bug spray, so it smelled even worse. But Angus suddenly decided that the loud silliness at the back of the bus in which he had enthusiastically participated on the way there was now 'annoying', so he decided to sit near the front and said I could sit with him, and slept on my shoulder for a bit, so that was kind of nice. When we got home he said "thanks for coming. It was nice that you suffered with me." He's eleven. I take my bonding experiences where I can get them.