Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Field Trip

My 4 year old son, Max attends a private school in Atenas and at the end of the school year they organize a field trip. The event is a day of fun to celebrate the end of the school year and the student gets to bring one parent along, so here is how it went. We all meet at the park to catch the bus that would take us to Escazu for a movie and an afternoon of fun at Smiles & Games. The moment we arrived I knew the day was going to be out of sync for me because my son was the only one not dressed in his school uniform. All of the written commination from the school to the parents is in Spanish so some of the instruction for this field trip did not translate. I thought I had even called the school to clarify some of the instructions and they said he could wear whatever he wanted, but these are the same people that said he could wear regular clothes for school pictures. So, being good parents, we packed his back pack with some nice clothes for the pictures. When we got the pictures, guess what he was wearing, the school uniform. 
Anyway, back to the trip. No one cared that my son was not dressed properly especially my son, just me feeling stupid. We left Atenas at 9:30 am. The bus ride was quiet with all the sons and daughters engaged with their parents, happy that they were able to make the trip. There was only one disturbance on the way when we got stuck behind a truck carrying bags of manure. The stench filled the bus and with limited opportunity to pass him, we had to endure this for far too long. My son told me he loved me several times as he looked out the window at the mountains, wondering what the day would bring. We arrive in Escazu and everyone exited the bus orderly staying close to their parents holding hands, except my son.  He zig-zagged his way to the front of the line, pressed his face against the glass door to the movie theater, until he quickly realized they weren’t open, and then returned to my side to see if I had the authority to open the doors. The doors finally opened, we got our complementary drink and popcorn and found a good seat. One of my son’s school mates sat next to us and they shot each other with the guns they fashioned from their fingers until the movie started. The only unfortunate thing about this is my son’s school mates shooting sound sprayed spit and bits of popcorn every time he shot his finger gun. My son was even a little disgusted with the consequences of play fighting with this boy. The movie started and it was Monsters University in Spanish of course. We had already seen this movie and though I complain about struggling with Spanish, my Spanish is good enough to follow a movie and the kids loved it. The only time my son quietly sits still is to watch a movie, his buddy from school sitting next to us, not so much. This boy had obviously seen the movie before as well, because his cheers of excitement were perfectly syncopated to every single point in the movie. He had a ball. After the movie, we walked across the street to a playground to play. This play ground was great. It had every fort, swing, slide, rock wall you could want, but that was not good enough. I would lose sight of my son every few minutes because he was behind one of the apparatuses and then he would come back into sight giving me the parental internal dialog of “oh, good there he is”. After several minutes with no “oh good, there he is” I started to walk around to gain sight again when I noticed his blonde head bouncing into sight every second over a fence. He had found the Holy Grail -TRAMPOLINES. This wasn’t one trampoline but 5 surrounding a huge mast with ropes hanging to the middle of each tramp so you could jump and swing from tramp to tramp. As I got closer, I noticed he was trespassing because he had to jump a fence to get there, but it was too late. He had broken the seal and ten other kids were all jumping the fence to join in bouncing themselves to near death. None of the other parents stopped their children so I didn’t either-or none of the parents wanted to jump the fence. One of the other fathers standing next to me asked, as we watched our children cheat death, “So is this the Fun & Games place” I said “I don’t know”. In fact none of the parents knew, but the thought of the next 4 hours at this play ground did not sound too healthy. 30 minutes passed and we were asked to get back on the bus to our next destination Smile & Games. We arrived at Smile & Games just a few minutes away and the parents were asked to step aside as they lined the kids up to enter the door. All the kids were counted and identified as they entered the door, and after the last child entered the building, they closed the door, leaving us parents standing in the parking lot. The head teacher in charge made a brief announcement that we needed to be back here at 4:30 and walked inside. We all looked at each other like, what the hell just happened? I thought we were spending the day with our kids. So there we were, with three hours to kill, and the father I had befriended at the playground was as hungry as I was, so we decide to go get something to eat. We both new that only a 2 minute cab ride away was a great place to eat and we almost said it simultaneously “you want to go to Hooters?”.
As my mom used to say “Sometimes God pays back right away”, and in this case she was right again. It was lunch time at Hooters and the place was empty, only 2 girls were working the entire establishment and they were not the top of the class. The food was fabulous, by the way, just like back in Texas. If you want to go to Hooters for the burgers and wings go, if you want to go for the girls and excitement don’t bother. So without the normal distractions we started to talk about what had just happened to us back at the Smile & Games. Why weren’t we allowed in? What is going on inside this place? Why weren’t we told we would not be spending all day with our kids? Why did we come at all? So we decided after lunch we would go back, walk in the door, whether they liked it or not, and see what was the big secret. We walked in the door, unabated, and the kids were bouncing of the walls with excitement and fun. Our kids were fine and they had not been sold into slavery. Smile & Games has arcade games and padded jungle gyms. There was only a small seating area upstairs that couldn’t accommodate all of the parents, but a simple explanation could have alleviated some undo anguish. As I was watching my son play, one of his class mates was going after him constantly kicking him. My son had enough and grabbed the boy, he was obviously stronger because the boy couldn’t get away, and as he balled and pulled back his fist he saw me watching and halted the assault. He ran to me crying not understanding why I wouldn’t allow him to defend himself. See when my son started at this new school he was confused with the language which resulted in him lashing out. So much so, they sent us notes home from school and even requested a meeting with his teacher to discuss his fighting. The thing that bothered me is if I wasn’t standing there it would have went down and my son would have been in trouble for defending himself. The teachers didn’t seem like they were paying enough attention to defuse any conflict that is assure to arise when boys play. My son quickly went back to playing as boys do and soon after, they gathered the children in a circle for a snack and a sing along. This was the cue for my new friend and me, because we had seen enough, to wait out the last hour at the coffee shop in the parking lot.

I told him about the incident I had just witnessed and he confessed to me that he had received the same notes from school as we did. We went on to discuss how we are struggling with teaching our sons how to stand up for themselves without being a bully. The conclusion is still using strong assertive language rather than your fist, but it sure is difficult as a man when your son is being challenged physically not to tell him to knock the crap out of the boy.  The hour went by quickly with the insightful discussions about being a better parent and the questions we had about the faculty and school we had chosen for our kids. We loaded back on the bus at 4:30 and in 5 minutes my son was asleep. Everyone on the bus was astonished that mister excitement had fallen asleep so quickly. I held my son with one arm as he sat next to me slightly slumped over and thought about what I had learned that day. I learned that I will be having a meeting with school before enrolling him in the next school year. I learned, or reinforced, that I wasn’t the only struggling parent out there. I learned not to sit next to a kid with a loaded finger gun. I learned that with all my frustrations with that day, my son had a blast. But most of all, I learned that I didn’t practice what I preach. I constantly preach personal responsibility and how not to blame anyone but  yourself when things don’t go as planned, because in looking back, there is always something you could have done to change the outcome. I failed on this field trip. My son wasn’t in his uniform, I didn’t know the details of the event and though the school should have provided this information, when they didn’t I should have done a better job of seeking it out. I carried my son off the bus and my wife and daughter were there to pick us up. I open the door to the truck, plopped my son in his seat, my wife and daughter were so excited to see us, and had missed us terribly. My wife said my daughter had been on the front door stoop for 2 hours calling our names, I guess it was a hell of a field trip for her too. 

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