I thought my husband was joking around when last year he asked me if I would be okay with our son going on an overnight school trip the following year. In order for this field trip to be scheduled, the school needed a minimum number of students to participate. My son was about to turn 5 years old! Growing up in Florida, I never had overnight field trips. Even in high school, if our cross country meet was far away, we had a long bus ride home in the middle of the night. Drive through dinner at Wendy’s and sometimes falling asleep on the bus, we’d end up back at home before the sun rose.
When I realized my husband was completely cool about it, I don’t think my heart has ever raced so hard. Images of a bus crash, separated from his class during a hike, and being injured without me around came running through my mind. And like most parents, worries about young kids in a hotel with potentially not enough chaperones quickly replaced those earlier fears. What if the kids sneak out, or what if someone sneaks in? There goes my heart again…
Apparently, these field trips at a young age are completely normal here in France – and not just for one night, but even for a full week. My husband warned me about this back when I was pregnant with my first. And I was relieved she made it through maternelle (preK and kindergarten) without one such trip. My son is in the grande section (kindergarten) and his school decided to start these trips back up this year.
Our nounou (nanny) even talked about the advantages of such trips, such as a great way for kids to become independent and grow up. I guess I don’t see the need for kids of this age to aspire to such a level of independence. My son is independent and fearless, or as much as a kid his age should be.
After much hesitation, I finally agreed to it. The school had just enough kids to be able to schedule this trip in for the beginning of the following year. Which is this year. Actually, it’s today.
His class has been training for this trip for weeks. Each week, parents volunteered to hike with the kids up the hill. They walked 30 minutes each way, so it was an hour hike every week. My husband volunteered once, and I volunteered a different week. The kids were so well behaved and sweet, it calmed my fears quite a bit. I had so much fun on this hike and I will definitely volunteer again for any similar outings. Also, each week the kids learned about things they would see at the farm they will be staying at and did activities in relation to the trip.
At the start of this school year, some parents backed out. The school held a mandatory parent meeting so that parents could come and discuss their concerns. I was relieved that I wasn’t the only parent nervous about this outing. At the end of the meeting, they asked parents to fill out a form if they agree to their child participating. The school had the necessary number of signatures, and the teachers and principal actually cried in relief. I couldn’t imagine telling the kids at this point it would be cancelled. My son has been counting down the days since school started.
I was calmed by the info provided at this meeting. However, last week my fears kicked in again. So we asked my son’s teacher for a meeting. The principal of the school joined us and showed me pictures of the hotel and how the rooms were situated. I got to see how it was impossible for anyone to get on the floors with the kids (small hotel in the countryside). The kids would sleep 3 to a room with the doors open, a room with chaperones on each end of the hallway with one in the middle, duplicated on two floors. One floor for boys and one for girls. No other guests are on these floors, and only the chaperones would have the keys.
This made me feel much better. If my son walks out of his room, there is no way for him to get outside, and he’s not far from a chaperone. The only thing that I’m nervous about is several of the chaperones are new to this school – they’ve been previously employed at other schools, but only started working at this school this year. This is typical when you live in a small village, so no concerns about the school. I would have preferred it if the teachers all knew each other better, but it’s not enough for me to pull my son out last minute.
My son chose which of his friends he would share a room with and is extremely excited about this trip. He’s not scared of being away from us, or worried about anything. He’s been asking to pack his suitcase for the past month! We got him a kid-sized luggage over the weekend and a pair of green binoculars to take with him on his hikes (teacher requested students to have a pair, but not required).
The bus arrived outside the mayor’s office promptly. I was surprised at the size of the bus because kids here usually have a much smaller bus for field trips. It took about 30 minutes for them to let the kids up on the bus. I was hoping it would be quick, like ripping off a band-aid. The long wait outside the bus was killing me! My boy would play with is friends, rush to me for a quick hug or kiss, and then return to his friends.
I told another mom that it was ice cream and wine for me tonight. She broke out laughing, as if it was on her mind too. That was the first time I noticed she was stressed as well. I should have planned a mom’s wine night for tonight!
After the kids were inside the bus, parents walked around each side of the bus to catch a last glimpse of their little adventurer. We found our boy and kept waiving and blowing kisses. The bus started and everyone waived until it turned a corner and was no longer visible. At this moment, I realized there were two distinct groups of parents – the ones secretly aching inside, and those who were ready to party. One group of parents cried out “Yeah!!!!” and were laughing as soon as the bus disappeared. All of us in the second group watched them and walked solemnly to our cars or walked home.
One girl in CM1 (2nd grade) cried on the way to their car, as her little sister was on that bus and she was already missing her. My daughter, all she could think about was the birthday invitation in her hand. One of her friends saw us in the parking lot and gave her an invitation for her birthday party SLEEPOVER.
Today’s going to be a long day.
All in all, I’m so proud of my son for not being scared or worried. I was able to hold inside my fears, so that it wouldn’t dampen his enthusiasm. He knows I’ll be missing him like crazy, but that I’m happy for him and I can’t wait to hear all about his trip. And I am very happy for him. This will be an amazing experience for him that he’ll always remember. My husband still remembers his trip when he was the same age.
Tomorrow night when we pick him up, we’ll laugh about all this worrying for nothing.