My crappy week actually promised one bright day. I consciously set aside my mental keening about our finances, and various other challenges, to go on a field trip with Murphy and a busload of first graders to The Science Center. I had been looking forward to this one. I am less enthusiastic about Spencer’s fifth grade field trip to see Debbie Allen do a dance thing later this month. I love science. It’s so dependable. Debbie Allen…less so.
Other than the fact that I have birthed two babies, I am not a good candidate for a field trip chaperone. I’m not warm with other people’s children. God forgive me but, on the whole, other people’s kids repulse me slightly with their runny noses, chapped lips, and wiggly teeth. I suspect I’m not alone in this and that Murphy’s double row of lower teeth, like a crocodile’s, flips a lot of his friends’ moms out. Other people’s children scare me. They say things like, “Make me” when they know I can’t because they understand that the Basic American Mommy Code contains a ‘don’t threaten other people’s children’ clause. And, finally, when I’m around other children I feel like I’m faking it – slapping a smile on my face and chirping in a voice that makes me sound simple.
No matter. Murphy doesn’t notice my discomfort and, for some inexplicable reason, he likes me to go with him on these fieldtripy things, even though he barely acknowledges me. For my part, I like to see him (and his brother) playing with kids happily. It mitigates my recent feelings of failure over pretty much everything else.
We were going to an ecosystems exhibit. Apparently, there were nine rooms, each tricked out like a specific ecosystem. Murphy’s teacher gave me two other children to monitor, besides Murphy – his friend, Jake, and a squirrely kid named, Abdul. The Science Center was jam-packed with other schools. Just getting through the turnstiles without losing anyone was a minor triumph.
As I gathered my trio outside the river zone, I told them, “Stick together. You can’t leave one ecosystem until we’re all ready to move onto the next one.” Which was, it occurred to me, both poetically and scientifically apt. The multi-layered sentiment, however, was obviously over their heads. The three of them were peeking around my legs at a water table heaped with mud that could be shaped into dams.
“Dudes,” I said, “seriously, we’re not going anywhere until you agree to sticking together.” I’ve taken to using the term ‘dudes’ because I think it makes me seem cool to the silly band set.
“Right, right,” they mumbled and raced off to the fake river on the water table. Jake and Murphy rolled up their sleeves and started sloshing in the mud. Abdul ran across the room and started flicking some silver spheres that represented the flow of a river.
“Abdul,” I said, walking over to him, “I don’t think you’re supposed to touch that.” He shrugged and raced off to some rocks. I turned back to the water table. The sleeve of Jake’s shirt was soaking wet.
“Jake, where’s Murphy?”
“I don’t know.”
“I told you to stick together.”
“He just left.”
“Dude. How does that seem like ‘sticking together?” I said. “OK. You keep playing with the mud and DON’T move. I’ll find Murphy.” I spun around and quickly spied him peering into an exhibition case.
“Murphy, you’ve got to stick with Jake and Abdul.” I looked over at the rocks. “Where’s Abdul?” Murphy flipped out his hands, indicating a total lack of information, care, or sense of responsibility. I quickly scanned the River zone. Abdul was nowhere to be seen.
“OK, grab Jake,” I ordered. “We’re going to the desert.”
I dragged the two boys by their wet hands out of the river zone and across the hall. As we entered the bright, arid desert, chirping with a locust soundtrack, I spotted Abdul by the tumbleweed.
“Abdul,” I yelled, louder than I realized. The entire room of desert goers swung their heads in my direction. Abdul cheerfully raised his hand and I tugged the other two boys toward him. As we approached, the lights flickered and thunder struck. “It’s a flash flood!” screamed all the children in the room, racing toward a rocky wall. Murphy and Jake pulled me forward. I eyeballed Abdul as a torrent of water gushed out of the wall into a rocky trough and the fake sky darkened.
The two hours that followed were some of the tensest I’ve known. I’d find one child, only to lose the other two. I kept envisioning Abdul carried away by a flood, Jake shivering alone in the arctic, or Murphy wondering why I had abandoned him in the kelp forest.
If I can’t keep three children together in a contained space that was actually created FOR children, how am I going to navigate my sons through Varanasi in India? Whenever I mention Varanasi to people who have been there, they exhale and say that it’s ‘intense’. When I press them to say whether it’s ‘good’ intense or intense like the Annual Filene’s Basement wedding dress sale, they simply reiterate that it’s ‘intense’. It is the most holy city to Hindus, who go there to bathe in the Ganges and to die or cremate their dead. Apparently, it’s extremely crowded and confusing. Granted, my two sons are liable to stay close, but I clearly don’t shine in the midst of chaos.
When I was on the bus with the first graders, Murphy’s teacher asked me to press upon the children that ecosystems are communities that are interdependent. Some organisms protect others, some devour – but they are all linked to each other and to their physical environment. I was too concerned with keeping track of my six-year-old charges to remember to point out this important fact. Indeed – it was THE most important piece of information I should have relayed that day.
I don’t know what the most important thing about Varanasi will be and maybe it’s simply enough to watch families say goodbye to their loved ones through columns of smoke. If there is a central truth, however, I hope for the clarity to recognize it and to be able to convey it to my sons.
|Pilgrims in Varanasi|