Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Best Part

My class poses for a shot at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

One of the best things about being a mom and a teacher to my daughter at the same time is that I get to go on every field trip with her for two years. And my favorite field trip of the two year cycle is our overnight Winter Survival program at the Dunes Learning Center (DLC) within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.  We visited in February, and the staff at DLC didn't disappoint.

Afterward as the bus rambled south, I listened to the conversations of 9-and-10-year-olds who were trying desperately not to fall asleep.  The two days with 45 kids had left me exhausted, too.  Kinley sat next to me on the seat reading quietly, and I was trying to conquer the mountain of grading I'd hauled with me.
Kinley reads her book on the return bus trip.

In our family we have a tradition.  After each family trip or special day, we debrief with some reflective conversation.  It usually starts with Josh asking, "So what was your favorite part of the trip?"  Whether we've just returned from spying leopards and elephants on safari in Sri Lanka or from a morning at the circus, we always take the time to share what we loved about the experience.  And this day was no different.  Only this time, it was Kinley who started the conversation.

"Mommy, what was your favorite part of the field trip?"  I looked up from the paper I was grading.  I really wasn't ready for this conversation; I was in the middle of grading writing, and I needed to focus.  Lafayette was drawing ever closer, and my three-hour block of time for grading was slipping away. But I capped my blue marker and put the papers on the seat beside me, choosing to give Kinley my attention.

"Well," I answered, buying myself some time to switch gears, "let me think."  There were so many wonderful things to choose from - singing campfire songs and making s'mores, watching the intense conversation as the kids were trying to make sparks with a flint and steel, flapping my arms with my class as we imitated the mating ritual of the sandhill crane during the Migration Game.  Finally, I replied, "I really enjoyed the three-hour hike in the snow.  I always learn something on those from the staff, and this year we got to learn more about the historic homesteads located inside of the park.  I was also really proud of our class for earning a gold in the food waste challenge."
Making sparks with a flint and steel is hard!

Kinley serves up pasta for lunch.

Kinley and her friends tried to be less wasteful at meals.  For some, that meant barely eating anything.

The food waste challenge really is one of my favorite parts of camp.  Students are served meals family-style at camp, so they have more control over their portion sizes than they do at school.  I make a big deal about taking only what you'll actually consume - a concept that most kids don't have to adhere to at home or at school.  Don't like to drink the milk out of your cereal bowl?  Then eat it dry because milk left in the bowl is food waste.  Not sure if you'll like black bean soup?  Then take only a spoonful at first to try it and get more if you like it.  Never tried sweet potato fries?  Take one and split it with a friend to sample it.  For four meals, we try to focus on not wasting food.  You'd be shocked at what a new and challenging concept this is for kids.  So our gold medal for zero food waste is truly a treasure to me.

Kinley listened intently as I gave my answer and looked at me expectantly as I finished.  But my ungraded papers sitting on the seat beside me looked at me expectantly, too.  I knew that Proper Boyd Procedure (and common courtesy) meant that it was now my turn to ask her what her favorite part had been, but Lafayette loomed ever nearer while my time to grade grew ever shorter.

So I sighed and reluctantly asked, "What was your favorite part, honey?" 

I expected her to say that she loved playing in the deep, wet snow with her friends, making snow balls as big as boulders. 

I expected her to say that her favorite part was hanging out in the cabin, laughing with her friends. 

I expected her to say that getting chosen to play Demeter in the mythology play was the highlight of the trip.

I did NOT expect her to say this.  "My favorite part was being with you, Mommy."

Wow.  My eyes filled with tears as I reached over the stack of now-forgotten papers on the seat and wrapped my arms around her.  My little girl.  My student.

And I realized that, of course, she was my favorite part of the trip, too.  It wasn't the hiking or the campfire or the food waste challenge that mattered.  It was this extraordinary gift that I've been given - to see my daughter learn, grow, and change at school for two solid years.  To be an active, daily part of that.  To BE with her.  That's the best part.  No contest.