My daughter’s special needs preschool class just had its second and final field trip of the year. Like a big fat sucker, I offered to chaperone.
It’s not easy taking special needs kids out in a group, probably because each of them has — special needs. Loud noises, strong smells, even a change in routine can unhinge some of these kids, so I always get the feeling that the teachers shut their eyes and hope for the best.
In the fall, we went to a farm to pick pumpkins and learn about livestock, which didn’t go so well. On our hayride, the noise of the tractor made most of the kids cry and the hay itself caused the ones with sensory aversions to become hysterical.
During the lecture on dairy production, the kids were lined up facing the rear end of a Jersey cow, which made the parents nervous. The guide dragged on interminably and the children became so bored a few began self-soothing by banging their heads against the wall. I wanted to join them but was too busy watching Flossie’s rectum for signs she was about to blow.
We had a great time feeding the goats but then the pigs gave an enthusiastic demonstration of the circle of life — so to speak — and the kids became frantic, thinking they were witnessing some sort of assault. (They kind of were.)
Even more disturbing than the performance was the dad who filmed it on his phone. For what, I can’t imagine. His private collection? A few chuckles on his social media outlets? With whom is he friends that would find such a clip noteworthy or amusing? Mrs. Russo’s all-boy, sixth grade class?
This was followed by a lecture, “From Farm to Table,” in which a guide explained how the food we buy comes from the farm. To demonstrate, she held up a carton of eggs, a quart of milk and — I kid you not — a bag of Doritos, which presumably came from some sort of processed food s**ting species of chicken. Or something.*
By the time we had all recovered from the trauma of our first field trip (roughly six months), it was time for another one.
This time, there were only two parent chaperones, as all the smart moms and dads found excuses to be elsewhere.
The kids enjoyed picking strawberries, although we all could have done with a shorter speech from our guide, who took his work seriously and thought 4-year-olds would be interested in the varieties of strawberry grown in North Carolina.
“There’s the Chandler and the Camarosa. We don’t do the Fern or the Ogallala in this region but we do grow the Sweet Charlie and the Camino Real and the Seascape,” he drawled.
(It was like listening to Bubba Blue in Forrest Gump: “Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. They’s shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo.”)
If possible, the children became even less interested when he waxed lyrical about how healthy strawberries were, and he didn’t win any fans among the moms and teachers when he grinned and said:
“Ladies, I bet you didn’t know that one cup of strawberries has only 55 calories! So you can eat a delicious snack without feeling guilty!”
It took all my restraint not to reply, “You know what else has only has 55 calories? My foot up your — never mind.”
After picking strawberries — Chandlers, in case you were wondering — the kids were treated to a hay-less wagon ride.
The owners of this farm had really upped the agritourism ante. Instead of the typical ambling drive around the grounds to gaze at housing developments on the farm’s perimeter, this ride included a guessing game.
The tractor driver played music and told the kids to look for clues as to which movie each song was from. She started with the theme from Indiana Jones, and sure enough, as we pulled out of the farmyard there was a fedora hanging from a fence post.
The kids got into the spirit of it immediately, especially one boy with autism who sat completely still and guessed the name of each movie within nanoseconds of the song playing. It was uncanny.
At first it was fun scanning the landscape for clues. As we passed a crate with MADAGASCAR stamped on it, the song “I Like to Move It, Move it” played. When “A Spoonful of Sugar” came on, we spied a lone black umbrella hanging from a tree.
Then it just got wrong.
“I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan blared and we passed a Captain Li Shang doll impaled on a stick. When “Touch the Sky” from Brave played we spied a stuffed Merida stapled to a tree trunk.
When I saw a desperate-looking Elsa twirling from a branch while Idina Menzel screeched in my ears, the lovely jaunt around the farm no longer felt so lovely. The dolls seemed like an eerie warning to turn back, and the whole experience called to mind what DisneyWorld would look like if it had been built by an emotionally disturbed 5-year-old.
Twenty-five minutes of music and bumping along in a wagon proved too much for many of the children. By the time we chugged up to our strategic spot next to the farm store — which sold strawberry bread, strawberry muffins and strawberry jam (“…pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp…”) — some of them were starting to lose it.
While the kids were eating their picnic lunch, a woman from another school group approached and asked me in hushed tones, “Is this an EC class?” (“EC” is short for “Exceptional Children,” the term favored by our school district.)
I misheard her, though, and thought she’d asked if they were easy.
“Not really,” I answered. “They all have special needs.”
Once we had cleared up the confusion, she said:
“My sister has an exceptional child. I don’t know how you do it.”
Her kindness was appreciated but a bit misplaced. All day I had only been dealing with one kid and apart from a minor tussle when I wouldn’t let her wash her hands in the Porta John urinal, she had been easy to manage.
The teachers, on the other hand, had been handling two dozen children, all with their own issues and needs. That they make the effort to give these children “normal” school experiences, even knowing how difficult it will be, is very touching.
I’m just hoping next time we can go somewhere a little less sensory stirring. Like a closet.
*FYI, I know that Doritos come from corn. I was merely suggesting there might have been a better example.