by Amanda Parry
My daughter’s special needs preschool class just had its second and final field trip of the year. Like a big fat sucker, I offered to chaperone.
It’s not easy taking special needs kids out in a group, probably because each of them has (Duh!) special needs. Loud noises, strong smells, even a change in routine can unhinge some of these kids, so I always get the feeling that the teachers shut their eyes and hope for the best.
Last fall, we went to a farm to pick pumpkins and learn about livestock, which didn’t go so well. On our hayride, the noise of the tractor made most of the kids cry and the hay itself caused the ones with sensory aversions to become hysterical.
During the lecture on dairy production, the kids were lined up facing the rear end of a Jersey cow, which made the parents nervous. The guide dragged on interminably, and the children became so bored that a few began self-soothing by banging their heads against the wall. I wanted to join them but was too busy watching Flossie’s rectum for signs she was about to blow.
We had a great time feeding the goats, but then the pigs gave an enthusiastic demonstration of the circle of life — so to speak — and the kids became frantic, thinking they were witnessing some sort of assault. (They kind of were.)
Even more disturbing than the performance was the dad who filmed it on his phone. For what, I can’t imagine. His private collection? A few chuckles on his social media outlets? Whom is he friends with that would find such a clip noteworthy or amusing? Mrs. Russo’s all-boy sixth grade class?
This was followed by a lecture, “From Farm to Table,” in which a guide explained how the food we buy comes from the farm. To demonstrate, she held up a carton of eggs, a quart of milk and — I kid you not — a bag of Doritos, which presumably comes from some sort of processed food s**ting species of chicken. Or something. (FYI, I do know that Doritos come from corn. I was merely suggesting there might have been a better example.)
By the time we had all recovered from the trauma of our first field trip (roughly six months), it was time for another one. This time, there were only two parent chaperones, as all the smart moms and dads found excuses to be elsewhere.
The kids enjoyed picking strawberries, although we all could have done with a shorter speech from our guide, who took his work seriously and thought 4-year-olds would be interested in the varieties of strawberry grown in North Carolina.
“There’s the Chandler and the Camarosa. We don’t do the Fern or the Ogallala in this region, but we do grow the Sweet Charlie and the Camino Real and the Seascape,” he drawled. (It was like listening to Bubba Blue in “Forrest Gump”: “Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. They’s shrimp-kabobs, shrimp Creole, shrimp gumbo.”)
If possible, the children became even less interested when he waxed lyrical about how healthy strawberries were, and he didn’t win any fans among the moms and teachers when he grinned and said:
“Ladies, I bet you didn’t know that one cup of strawberries has only 55 calories! So you can eat a delicious snack without feeling guilty!” It took all my restraint not to reply, “You know what else has only has 55 calories? My foot up your — never mind.”
After picking strawberries — Chandlers, in case you were wondering — the kids were treated to a hay-less wagon ride. The owners of this farm had really upped the agri-tourism ante. Instead of the typical ambling drive around the grounds to gaze at housing developments on the farm’s perimeter, this ride included a guessing game.
The tractor driver played music and told the kids to look for clues as to which movie each song was from. She started with the theme from “Indiana Jones,” and sure enough, as we pulled out of the farmyard, there was a fedora hanging from a fence post.
Twenty-five minutes of music and bumping along in a wagon proved too much for many of the children. By the time we chugged up to our strategic spot next to the farm store, which sold strawberry bread, strawberry muffins and strawberry jam, some of them were starting to lose it.
While the kids were eating their picnic lunch, a woman from another school group approached and asked me in hushed tones, “Is this an EC class?” (“EC” is short for “Exceptional Children,” the term favored by our school district.)
I misheard her, though, and thought she’d asked if they were easy.
“Not really,” I answered. “They all have special needs.”
Once we had cleared up the confusion, she said, “My sister has an exceptional child. I don’t know how you do it.”
Her kindness was appreciated but a bit misplaced. All day I had only been dealing with one kid, and apart from a minor tussle when I wouldn’t let her wash her hands in the Porta John urinal, she had been easy to manage.
The teachers, on the other hand, had been handling two dozen children, all with their own issues and needs. That they make the effort to give these children “normal” school experiences, even knowing how difficult it will be, is very touching.
I’m just hoping next time we can go somewhere a little less sensory stirring. Like a closet.
Amanda Parry, 38, grew up in Chestnut Hill and attended Germantown Friends School from kindergarten through 12th grade. She started the blog UnexceptionalParenting.com to let off steam and draw some attention to autism and pediatric cancer charities. She lives in North Carolina. Her parents, George, a former federal prosecutor, and Natalie, still live in Chestnut Hill.