Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Class Trip

My nine-year-old daughter stands very solemnly outside her elementary school, next to a jumble of backpacks and duffel bags that sit on the curb waiting to be stowed under the big white tour bus. Her school trip will take her to a farm over 200 miles away, where she will camp outside for three nights and work on the farm for four days. This is the furthest she has traveled without her family and the longest she's been away from us. I never traveled so far or so long until I was eighteen and had graduated from high school.

My daughter is stoically hiding her fear, but I know from the stiffness of her body and the way she is not smiling, that she is nervous. She says goodbye, very formally, and I kiss her on the forehead. I tell her not to move; I need to run back to the car and get something. I rush back to pull a plastic bag out of the trunk. In case she feels sick. I've given her Dramamine already. And Sea Bands. And told her teacher and all the chaperones that she gets car sick, but the drive will be at least four hours. What if she gets sick?

My car isn't parked far away, but by the time I get back, the pile of luggage is gone and everyone is ready to board the bus. I stuff the plastic bag into the front pocket of her backpack and watch her step quickly onto the bus. She doesn't look back. "That's a good sign," says a dad standing next to me. I smile and agree, but really, I'm not so sure.

I can't see her face through the tinted windows, just the faint outline of her curls. I join some of the other parents popping onto the bus for last goodbyes. Standing on my tiptoes on the steps of the bus, I can just see her, still looking serious. She gives me a small wave and I snap a blurry picture.

One of the chaperones digs through a backpack searching for a box of plastic bags to have ready at hand for the kids prone to motion sickness, all of whom are seated near my daughter at the front of the bus. Of course other people would have thought to take care of this. I wish I hadn't run off for the plastic bag. I wish I'd stuck a note into her bag to say I love her. I hope she won't need the note, and that the love will shine out through the sheer care we took in packing her bags together.

I don't like traveling myself. I'm scared of airplanes and not crazy about highways. I get nervous about food. I get anxious about getting lost. I worry about getting sick or hurt. Over the years, I've come to see how much this dislike of traveling is rooted in a lack of trust. To feel comfortable traveling, I have to trust the pilot to fly the plane safely and the mechanics to keep it in order. I have to trust my fellow passengers and other drivers on the road. I have to trust someone else's directions. I have to trust the cooks who prepare my food. I have to trust that if I am sick or hurt, someone will get me to a doctor and that new doctor will care for me just as well as my own. Each trip I take becomes a conscious exercise in trust.

Now my daughter is traveling. And I have to trust her teacher and the parent chaperones on the trip. I thought I did, but that little plastic bag reminds me otherwise. I'm completely relinquishing her to their care now, and have to trust them for everything: trust them to hand her a plastic bag if she gets sick;  trust them to make sure she drinks enough water, washes her hands, eats her food; trust them watch over her at night and to keep her safe and well during the day. And I have to trust her classmates to be kind and work together, to watch out for each other, to let an adult know if there's a problem. But more than that, she has to trust them too. And I can see from the stiffness in her body, from her small solemn face, that she doesn't quite know that everything is going to be ok with them, far from home, without Mama and Daddy.

I know she's going to learn so much on this trip. She's going to milk a cow, shear a sheep, plow a field, muck out stalls, chop wood, sleep outside in an orchard and use a peat toilet. All things I've never done. She's going to eat food from the farm and see the ways in which life there is interconnected: how the plants feed the animals and the animals fertilize the plants, how everyone on the farm works together to feed and care for each other.

And hopefully, she's going to learn even more -- something I relearn each time I take a deep breath and leave on some new adventure myself or turn her over to one: that we can't get through this life alone, that we all depend on each other and that most people can be trusted to help us. It can seem like a such scary world, fraught with danger from everything from other people, to natural disaster, to sheer bad circumstance. And it can seem that only what's familiar is safe and can protect us. So much so that it can be easy to forget how much we depend on others within the safe confines of home.

So, I hope she'll see that even far from home, even without Mama and Daddy, she is surrounded by people who will help her if she needs it: a bus driver who gets her safely there and back; a parent who makes sure she has Dramamine, a plastic bag and a seat at the front of the bus; a farm cook who makes healthy meals; a chaperone who sees she's snuggled safe in her sleeping bag at night; a classmate who helps her with the chores; a teacher who makes sure everyone is there and working safely. And I hope it will all make the world a little less scary. For both of us.