The moms weren’t fooling anyone. As the bus carrying their children drove away, some of them let out a cheer. Three child-free days! Yeah, right. The moms were fighting back tears, some of them unsuccessfully. Dads, of course, don’t cry; they just have panic attacks.
The Grade 6 class was on their way to Quebec City and Tadoussac, which is far enough away that in some parts of the world it would be another country.
“Mom! I’m homesick. I want to come home!”
“I’ll come get you.”
Nuh-uh. Not this time. Our children were gone, in the care of their teachers who with this single trip proved their dedication to their profession and their unmitigated masochism.
Putting our children in the hands of others for short periods is a rite of passage, especially when they’re this age, on the verge of adolescence and high school. They’re growing up. Yet, there is no getting over the fact that they are still quite the dummies. And I say that with great warmth in my heart.
“I’m a tween,” announced Abby who turned 12 the day she left for her class trip. If ever there was an age that needed a nonsensical made-up word, this is it. Abby announced it proudly. Really, though, it’s nothing to be proud of. There’s nothing pretty about tweenhood.
Exhibit A: This past weekend, Abby hosted her birthday party, and by “hosted” I mean “basked in the glow of attention, cards and sugar.” My wife and I reached the consensus that this would be the last of the by-invitation birthday parties in our house. Once you hit 13, you become too cool and/or self-conscious and/or angsty for parties. Somehow the girls at Abby’s party seemed to sense this. They partied like it was their last.
In other words, they screamed.
They screamed like it was their vocation.
Little girls giggle and squeal. Tweens shriek. They shriek like they’re being paid.
“ABBBBBYYYYYYYYYYY!!!” For no reason at all.
About an hour into the party, I watched our neighbours get in their car and drive away, destination: didn’t matter. I was a little jealous.
One minute the girls were running around pretending to be princesses and goddesses of varying aptitudes and domains, the next they were chasing some boys who just happened to walk by the house. (Coincidence? I think not.) They had fresh polish on their nails and cake frosting in their hair. Did I mention the screaming?
It’s a confusing time – I mean for the parents.
Now that she’s 12, Abby has permission to shave her legs. Sunday morning, our eldest daughter taught her how to manage it. (A touching moment, and hopefully one that involved learning the words to “Nobody Knows the Stubble I’ve Seen…”) Leg-shaving, I gather is a big deal, a big responsibility, and (as I’m sure she’ll soon find out) a big pain in the butt.
I mention this only to contrast with the phone call I got on the first night of her trip, which went something like this:
“Dad? Ummm, Fanny was on the bus and, well, she dropped her camera? And then it got kicked, yeah, umm, it got kicked around a bit? On the bus? And the pictures she took today disappeared, and then there were pictures that she didn’t take that showed up? And it’s her mom’s camera and she’s worried? And… [muffle, muffle, muffle] Oh wait, never mind, her pictures showed up again. I should go because this isn’t my phone. So, bye! Love you!”
As I write this, those children are probably on a rickety whale-watching boat with low gunwales, moderately supervised by exhausted teachers. Now do you understand why the moms at the bus might be anxious?
Sometimes I think we expect too much of our kids. Abby alone, with her severe dietary restrictions, has to keep track of all her food and medication for three days. She can barely keep track of her shoes. How on earth can we send them off to high school? How on earth are they going to manage? More to the point, how are we?
I would not want to be a tween again. I’m not sure if tweens existed in the seventies, but regardless, it sounds horrible. Then again, if you’re going to make mistakes, what better time to do it, when you can still crawl on mom’s lap and buy into the assurance that everything will be okay. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always screaming.