A Field Trip to Remember

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, June 24, 2007

"This field trip is a mess," says the mom with high heels. We're at the zoo. The second-grade class is all sweat and glee: girls holding hands as they skip, boys tackling each other, while a snow leopard looks on lazily.

"You can't even see the animals," the high-heel mom says. "And it's so hot. And who knew there would be so much walking!"

Everyone, I think, knew. Everyone knows that when you go to the zoo, there will be a lot of walking. High heels? I don't know how to put it tactfully, so I don't put it at all. I move along. I do a head count of the five girls in my charge: Zoe, Jenny, Victoria, Morgan . . . Charlene? She's a straggler. Charlene? "Charlene!" Oh, there she is. Whew. There is nothing easy about a field trip. And, yes, it's hot out today. And even though I wore my Nikes, my legs are already tired. And, it's true -- most of the animals are either hidden or asleep in that creepy way that makes you wonder if they're dead.

This field trip might, I think, be a mess.

"Oh, my gosh, isn't this wonderful!" says the mom with the white visor. "Isn't this a perfect day?" She goes on to tell me about her trips to the zoo as a kid, how wonderful they were and how much more wonderful zoos are now. All the landscaping. All the towering shade trees. Wonderful! "If I lived closer, I would come here in the morning and just walk these trails," she says. "Can't you just imagine that? Get a season pass and have this be your walking place?"

Actually, I can. What a terrific way to start the day -- scouting for wildlife as you get your aerobic exercise in.

"You have got to be kidding me," says the high-heel mom. "There are bird droppings here."

All day long, I bounce between these two women, both on the same field trip and yet each experiencing it so differently. The high-heel mom complains about the pizza; the signage; the walruses, which are too fat to entertain; the smell of the monkey house; the price of the gift shop sunglasses that she had to buy because no one had warned her about the glare.

The visor mom is brimming with joy. She does not complain about the pizza because she thought to pack her own lunch: fresh strawberries and cantaloupe cubes and a ham sandwich. She thinks the monkeys are hilarious and treats her group of five boys to some Dippin' Dots -- because it's hot out, and hot, in her book, equals: ice cream!

I am trying to figure out where I stand on this continuum.

The educational program in the learning center is not as exciting as promised. The kids see an owl, touch a seal skin, pet a chinchilla. "Big whoop," the high-heel mom says. "We could have skipped this."

"Uh-huh," I say. Frankly, I'm getting a little miffed that her bad time is rubbing off on me.

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