On Thursday I was a chaperon for T2’s field trip to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s plantation home. If you have never been there I highly recommend it. It is fantastic, one of my top ten greater DC spots, maybe top five. Five or six busloads of his classmates, every four or five with an adult chaperon, drove the hour or so (in traffic) to the house of our first president and spent the day learning about the past, exploring the grounds and being amazed by a bull defecating.
It was educational.
T2 was extremely excited. He had been for a month, since the trip was announced and I made the cut as a chaperon. Just about every day for the week leading up to it included some sort of countdown.
“Five days!” he’d say, shoveling Cheerios into his mouth in the morning.
“Three days until the field trip,” he would announce before going to bed.
I drove him to school the morning of the big day since we both had to be there a little earlier than normal. He bounced all the way to the car.
I met the other parents, most of whom I knew outright or recognized from other school events. I was assigned my group, T2 and three other kids, all boys, all his friends. They knew I had the agenda for the day and made it very clear as to what their number one priority was.
“When are we going to the gift shop?” T2 immediately asked.
“I have ten dollars,” said another group member.
“We have to have plenty of time,” said a third. “I have fifteen dollars. Deciding what to get is pretty much the most important decision we will ever make. We can’t rush it.”
The gift shop was the last thing on our agenda. I told them this. The information didn’t stop them, after every event or item checked off on our agenda, from asking if the gift shop was next.
The first thing we were supposed to do was go down to the lower part of the property, the farm area, and learn about some of the everyday activities that a resident (or, you know, slave) of Mount Vernon would have had to have tackled.
On the way there we passed a variety of animals. Sheep. Goats. Bull. We stopped to look at the bull. We walked up to the split rail fence. The boys marveled at how big it was. How close it was. They could almost reach out and touch it. It took, as one boy called it, “a gigantic dump.”
They were awestruck. Horrified. Amazed.
This made them realize that the entire field the bull lived in was full of bull shit.
“It’s everywhere,” said T2, in awe. “Just everywhere.”
“You know they used it for fertilizer,” said N, the most scholarly of the four. “I guess they would gather it up and spread it on the crops, cause of the nitrogen, I think.”
He paused, reflecting.
“I would not want that job.”
Down at the farm area we learned how they threshed the wheat to get grain. We learned how they ground the grain to make flour. We learned about sheering sheep, watched them dye the wool, turn the wool into yarn and convert the yarn to cloth.
“This is just like Minecraft. Mount Vernon is like a Minecraft mod. Or maybe Minecraft is a Mount Vernon mod. I’m not sure,” T2 observed, referring to the super popular video game that every single kid I know plays. In Minecraft you harvest raw materials and then turn those materials into a variety of items. You can build whatever you can think of, it is basically video game Legos. T2 was right.
“It is like Minecraft,” another boy agreed. “You get the stuff and use the stuff to make other stuff.”
“Except here,” said the fourth, “it takes, like, forever.”
“Real life is slow,” said S, the philosopher. “Baking a loaf of bread seems like it would take days. Going to the grocery store is way easier. I mean, I understand they didn’t have that option. Thank god we do.”
“Imagine if you needed a new pair of underwear,” said T2, always concerned about underwear.
“Imagine if you wanted to pair of colored underwear!” said A, the second goofiest of the four. “You’d have to dye it. It would take a week.”
“I’ve never wanted underwear that bad,” said N.
I explained it wasn’t time to go to the gift shop. We visited Washington’s tomb. The boys were appropriately respectful.
“Dude,” said S, as we walked off. “I mean I know it says rest in peace. But everybody walks up and stares at him. That doesn’t seem peaceful.”
Cass had, cleverly, supplied me with a gigantic bag of gummi bears. I was carrying around a backpack so the snacks were with us at all times. The boys were extremely excited about this. They seemed to think there was something illicit about getting to eat candy. I encouraged this attitude.
Whenever we would stop for a candy break all four would huddle around me in “the circle of trust.”
“Keep it down,” I would say. Eight hands would start pawing and I would push them away and demand order. “Don’t draw attention to us. Be cool. Be cool.”
By the end of the day, any snack break would be accompanied by one or two nine year olds saying “be cool, be cool, be cool.”
Since, I explained, it wasn’t time to go to the gift shop, we went on our tour of the mansion itself, which is very interesting. The boys asked good questions and made excellent observations. Their school is fantastic, they learn an amazing amount, and they had a very good understanding of both Washington and the time when he lived.
The back of the mansion is one long porch. You stand on the porch and look out onto a long stretch of hill that rolls down to the Potomac River. It is beautiful.
“Hmm,” said A, looking out on the river. “I could live like this.”
We walked back to the bus to have lunch. It was a long walk down a side street. Lots of other people were doing the same thing. Buses lined the avenue.
“This reminds me of India,” said A. The other two of my charges, the ones I don’t live with, agreed. All three were Indian and all, they explained, go there every couple of years to visit family.
“Why?” I asked. “Why is this like India?”
“The main mode of transportation in India,” explained N, “is walking down the middle of the street.”
“The other is buses,” added S.
Our area is pretty diverse. I like that T2 has friends from other cultures. At one point I pulled a bag of beef jerky out of my backpacked. T2 loves jerky.
“Can you guys eat beef?” I asked.
“Nope,” said A. “None of us.”
“It’s our religion,” explained N.
“Cows are like our gods, sort of, basically,” said S.
This did not deter T2, who munched away while the other boys ate more gummi bears.
“What does it taste like?” asked A. “Is it good?”
“Oh yeah,” said T2. “It’s good.”
“Gods taste delicious,” said someone, and all four laughed.
We went to the museum, watched a pretty cool movie and then, finally, at last, I-didn’t-think-this-moment-would ever-come went to the gift shop.
Twenty minutes later all four boys had something, three of them actually purchasing items that were relevant in some way to Mount Vernon and George Washington.
We were the first ones back to the bus, but it filled up quickly. The trip back to school took less time than the trip there, it just didn’t seem like it. The boys all thanked me and wandered off to find their parents.
T2 and I walked back to the car.
“Good field trip?” I asked.
“Best field trip,” he said. “Any beef jerky left?”
“Yeah,” I said, rummaging through the backpack. “Let me find it.”
“Be cool,” he said, and laughed. “Be cool.”