Having a child comprises so many "firsts." The first word, the first step, the first tooth. The first day of kindergarten. The first time they go away to camp. These milestones, major and minor, are always exciting and sometimes bittersweet. Each one is a reminder that your baby is growing up.
"Lasts" are a different sort of milestone. They come and go without much fanfare, and then — poof! — a particular ritual is over. One day, you suddenly realize that you haven't read Goodnight Moon for months. Or, that your daughter hasn't held your hand at a crosswalk in years. You wish with all your heart that you could have that last time back so you might stop and savor it.
Well, this week marked the end of another era, but at least I'm aware of it. Chances are, I will never chaperone a school field trip again. In just a few days, my daughter will graduate from middle school. As far as I know, they don't take the high school students apple-picking.
That was my first official field trip, apple-picking. Along with about ten other moms, I chaperoned the Sundance Preschool trip to a local orchard and cider mill. The kids picked apples and watched as they (the apples, not the kids) were pressed into cider. Of course, despite the fact that I had scheduled a personal day, there was an emergency at my office. So, I sat in the back of the school bus on my cell phone (yelling into it in an attempt to be heard over the incredible din of two dozen four-year-olds) for the entire trip back from the orchard.
A couple of years later, I volunteered to chaperone a trip to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. My daughter's class had just finished a unit on Native Americans, so we spent the day looking at artifacts and dioramas. With an hour of free time after lunch, we were able to visit "the stuffed animals," Harvard's somewhat musty old collection of taxidermy. The kids had a blast and my daughter was genuinely happy to have me there with her. In fact, soon after the elementary school field trip, we scheduled a family field trip so that she and I could share everything with her dad.
Once she reached lower middle school, the field trips became a little more ambitious. At the end of fourth grade, the entire class, along with teachers and many parents, climbed Mount Wachusett. My job as a chaperone was to watch out for any kids who seemed to be sunburned, dehydrated or both. Naturally, our hike fell on the single sunniest, hottest day of the year. Although she walked ahead of me with a group of girlfriends, my daughter didn't seem to mind my being there.
Not this time! This time, she very definitely minded. I signed up as a volunteer for the eighth grade's historic walking tour weeks ago, as did my husband. When my daughter found out, she was mortified.
"Pleeeeeeeeeeease don't!" she begged us.
It was too late. I know the women who plan the event each year and it really does require 34 parent volunteers, as well as a host of local educator historians. If my husband and I pulled out at the last minute, it would be difficult to replace us. And, in truth, we were both looking forward to it. I tried to console her with an assurance that we weren't going to be walking with her group. Sadly, this was not much consolation.
"Everyone knows who you are," she muttered.
The day was gorgeous, bright with just enough of a sea breeze to keep us cool on our long walk. We made about a dozen stops throughout our antique town, learning about its pre-revolutionary origins; its roles in the War of Independence, War of 1812 and Civil War; its fishing industry; architecture; and local government.
Throughout all of this, there was the added allure of a Hollywood feature being filmed. I felt a little sorry for the retired selectman who tried to teach us about the Old Town House just as Adam Sandler walked by. There are also a couple of teen heartthrobs working on the movie: Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games) and Taylor Lautner (Twilight). So, even though two of the boys in my group fell asleep (yes, really) during a local lobsterman's presentation, the girls were all on high-alert as we walked around the movie set.
Early afternoon, all of the walking groups ended up at the town's colonial fort for lunch. Crew members from the U.S.S. Constitution made an interesting presentation, followed by two members of the local "living history" militia who demonstrated how to load a musket. We all had lunch and the kids were invited to tour the fort. They were dismissed from there, but my husband and I ducked out. We were fairly certain that there was just no way our daughter would agree to walk home with us. No way, no how.
They say that youth is wasted on the young. So, apparently, are historic walking tours. Despite what my husband and I both thought was a wonderful, interesting, enriching day, my daughter's attitude remained the same as it was before we started.
"Y'know," I assured her that morning, "I'll try not to embarrass you."
She shrugged her shoulders in defeat. "You already are."