Last Wednesday I had the pleasure (and I do mean pleasure) of getting to chaperone Lucas' 8th grade field trip to Washington, D.C. Stan went with Zach and had planned to go with Lucas as well but that darn work thing of his got in the way of the fun of being a chaperone this time. So, the honor of accompanying two to three hundred 8th graders, by default, came to me.
I was assigned to look after 4 boys. No big deal. I got this. I do three kids all the time...what's one more? My four boys were a true delight and I enjoyed every aspect of my day with them. They were polite, well mannered, at ease around adults and charming ~ all four of them.
Lucas and his three friends in our group decided they wanted to partner up with another group of boys to make it more fun. Boys from the other group decided they wanted to partner with even more boys from yet another group so when all was said and done my little group of four morphed into a giant group of 19. In hindsight it may have been a mistake for us but I think it the day was set in stone before I could say "yes" or "no" to partnering with other chaperones.
Our field trip started early, with school arrival time of 6:15. The kids were quiet and well behaved (actually, I think they were still in sleep mode) on the trip from Richmond to Washington, D.C. The bus trip mirrored a routine commute in our nation's capital, complete with traffic congestion and minor bus repairs en route but we ultimately arrived safely.
The buses deposited us in front of the U.S. Capital building for our tour. Our three groups connected and off we went for an in depth look at the inner working of the Capital. Our tour guide was good as she led us from room to room, giving not only history lessons but also tidbits of present day D.C. We said goodbye to our guide, grabbed some lunch and headed to Gallery for the House of Representatives.
Did you know the staff taking you to the Gallery expects the kids to be quiet and respectful? They also expect the kids to walk in a single file line through the halls of the capital. None of which is easy for the average 8th grade boy on a field trip. But the staff did explain to the boys that there are people who are actually trying to get work done within the walls of the Capital, necessitating the need for respect and quiet voices. I was hoping the words of the staffer sunk in to the boys' heads. Evidently, I was wrong.
The other two chaperones and I were at the front of our single file line. Don't ask me why or how it happened like that, I'm not sure. Maybe we got caught up chatting with each other. Maybe we thought the boys could handle themselves for a little bit being toward the back, unsupervised. Whatever it was that we thought, we thought wrong. As we approached the gallery I heard a commotion at the back of the line so I stepped out and circled back to see what the heck was going on. What I saw at the back of the line made my heart hurt and my stomach clench.
One of the boys was bent over, not able to catch his breath with tears on his cheeks. One of the other boys in the line pointed to another and said "Bobby did it (not his real name). Bobby kicked him in the crotch." I kept the boy who had just been hit back and tried my best to console him. In between his tears I asked him his name and he told me it was Neil (not his real name). I kept Neil near me as we approached the House of Representatives Gallery. I kept a close eye on him as he chose a seat near Bobby.
I don't think I've ever been more angry at a child who was not my own but I kept it hidden from the boy who was the victim and I kept it hidden from the boy who struck the blow. I knew this would not go undocumented and I knew what I had to do. I kept a very close eye on Neil, the boy who was victimized at the hands of big, bully named Bobby.
I saw a strange and awful dance that day of a kid who just wanted a friend and a kid who didn't give a shit about anyone but himself. I watched as Neil tried hard to be a friend. And I watched as Bobby became an even bigger bully. At one point during the day a bird crapped on Bobby's shirt sleeve so he reached over and wiped his shirt off on Neil's shirt. Neil leaned back over and wiped it back off on Bobby. Bobby's head whipped around so fast I thought he was a character in the movie "The Exorcist" and as his head spun he spewed out "What the HELL do you think you're doing?" Neil cowed back a little but his voice was strong as he said "You wiped it on me first." I was proud of him for finding his voice but I was there as back up if he needed me. I kept close to Neil that day, hopefully without him even realizing it.
When we got back to the buses I found the administrator and one of the teachers and told them the awful story. (It was kind of ironic, me telling the administrator about misbehavior of a student since Lucas seemed to find himself in trouble quite a bit last year. But he never got in trouble for being cruel to another kid, just stupid, goofy, immature behavior.) I was glad to get that off of my chest and pass it along to someone who could take the information and do something with it, besides make sure nothing escalated or got physical again. Neither the teacher or the administrator seemed shocked by my story of Bobby.
As Lucas and I were driving home I asked him about Neil and he said he had never seen him before today which, to me, was odd because Lucas knows everyone. He has never met a stranger so I thought it was strange that Lucas wouldn't have ever seen this kid before. And then Lucas explained...Neil is new to school. What a way to welcome the new kid ~ let's kick him in the nuts and make him cry. That part made the incident seem even worse. Neil really did need a friend.
Lucas told me the next day that he was called down the administrator's office as a witness this time. He told me that Bobby got out of school suspension for three days and in school suspension for two. I guess Lucas' school is taking this incident seriously. And for that I'm glad. School should be a safe environment for all kids and field trips should be full of fantastic memories made better in the company of friends.
Oh, for the love of all of our children....