We were packed into those faded green seats like sardines. I was wedged between my daughter and one of her friends, arms pressed tightly up against my sides, my boobs all squished together in a wildly uncomfortable way. The hot and sticky breath of so many human beings in such a tight close space already fogging up all the windows. With my butt already bouncing and jostling around in the lumpy, worn seat I closed my eyes and willed myself to remain calm as the smells and sounds of a yellow school bus full of over-excited third graders embarking on a field trip overwhelmed my senses.
This class trip to Washington's Crossing, the State House and the Old Barracks Living History Museum was one I had successfully avoided in the past, with my two older daughters. Since I am prone to motion sickness and not capable of an extensive amount of walking, The Husband has always been the one "elected" to chaperon this trip. But this year, when my little Francesca literally begged me on her hands and knees to accompany her, I folded under the pressure. We weren't even out of the parking lot when I realized what a grievous error in judgment I had made. How was I going to survive the bus ride and this long grueling trip?
Just when I thought, this can't get any worse it started pouring. Not a sweet little sprinkle either but huge, teaming buckets of rain. The rain was falling in all directions, a deluge with tremendous force, the remnants of a tropical storm. The weather presented an enormous complication. This trek was sure to become a muddy disaster. And the one and only thing keeping me sane up until this point was the fresh air blowing in from the open windows. The windows that now had to remain firmly in the closed position or else risk soaking the people seated behind us. When those windows clicked tightly shut, closing off my only source of sanity and clean, fresh oxygen, I felt as if all the air in my lungs was suddenly pinched off as well. It took major will on my part to not immediately jump up and start beating on the windows, screaming, "Let me out! " The only thing that held me back was that I knew how badly it would damage my daughter's third grade street cred; rumors about how jacked up her mother is, could follow her for life. Or at least until high school. With my will to not freak out steeled, we rolled on.
Many places in New Jersey, contrary to what most people believe, are absolutely beautiful. Washington's Crossing is one of those places. After touring the museum and watching a video called "Ten Days" it would have been absolutely gorgeous to picnic in Washington Crossing Park, as planned, had the sun been shining. Instead, we marched our cold, wet and miserable selves, (a bit like Washington's troops) right back to the bus to eat our lunch.
Eating on the bus was a crowded and unpleasant affair, yet somehow that did not prevent my daughter and I from housing two turkey wraps, apple slices and peanut butter, a bag of chips and
Before I could fully digest my food, we were off again. Our destination: The State House. I was surprised that security allowed our wet, pitiful group entry, no questions asked. The sound of wet sneakers squeaking across the marble floor was painfully loud and I cringed as the sound bounced back at us and all the way up to the gilded ceilings. I tried to ignore the looks of sympathy and pity thrown our way from everyone we encountered on our tour. Not that I blamed them when I looked back and saw the slimy wet trail we left in our wakes, like a bunch of snails. After a much needed bathroom break, I was pleased to see how interested my daughter was in learning more about our government and how it works. Unfortunately, she was in the minority. Most of the other kids had hit their "pay attention" limit and were becoming something very dangerous: bored. A group of 40 bored third graders is not exactly something you want lingering around the governor's office, and I was happy when we were promptly ushered to the door, in order that "other classes" could take our place. The children eagerly stepped out into the pouring rain, ready to stomp through puddles and more than ready to push on to our final destination. The Old Barracks Museum.
We were met with the same pitying glances and stares at the Old Barracks, but here we were received like old friends and brought in out of the rain quickly. Living history is a wonderful way to get kids interested in the past, if you ask me. I could see the kids perk up and their little bodies snap to attention when they were "enlisted" in the Army. They listened intently and were absorbing many historical facts, without realizing that's what they were actually doing. The actors expertly played their roles and found great ways to include the children. The only time I couldn't contain myself, (or my laughter) was when the nurses of the famous Dr. Otto, Washington's favored physician, began to share how soldiers were inoculated for small pox. After educating the kids on the four different types of pox, with stunning replicas passed around for all to see, the nurses told the kids that it was required that the soldiers be purged before receiving their immunizations. How does a soldier purge? Why, they had their choice of either throwing up everything in their stomachs or having smoke blown up their ass by a very torturous looking instrument (also shown around as an added visual aid bonus). This had me cracking up, shaking my head in utter disbelief. Why the heck would they choose to share that little tidbit of American history with the kids was just beyond me- but the majority of the children in my daughter's class thought that was "wicked cool".
As a parent, every once in a while a point in time may come, when you are able to catch a glimpse of your child through the eyes of someone else. This happened while our time at the living history was in it's final throes and questions were being thrown at the kids. Right away, I saw my daughter's hand shoot up. For a brief moment, my breath caught and I was nervous as I waited to hear how the heck she was going to give an answer to an extremely hard question. Francesca opened her mouth and surprised the hell out of me by giving such an eloquent, well-thought out, intelligent answer. Tears formed in my eyes and a ginormous, proud momma smile spread across my face I just couldn't contain it. I felt a warm hand lay gently against my arm. I looked over and saw the hand belonged to Francesca's teacher. Her eyes filled with unshed tears, she was wearing the exact same goofy smile as I was! Witnessing Frankie's teacher, look at my daughter with such pride and joy, made the whole wet muddy mess of a day worth it. I treasured that look in my heart and clung to it like a life vest in the middle of the ocean, as we bounced and bumped our way home. :)