Around the halfway point of the school year, we take a walking field trip to the fire station. All of kindergarten takes the walk together. It’s a good fifteen to twenty minute walk, complete with police officers blocking traffic at the busier intersections. We walk two-by-two in a long line, teachers spread out intermediately for crowd control. On this particular trip, it was one of my student’s birthday. Let’s call him Eddie. Eddie’s a bright student, and is being raised by his great-grandmother. He’s a good kid, but loves to show off and perform. And sometimes he can be a stinker. For his birthday, he brought in cupcakes. I put them in the fridge for later on in the day. This part of the story comes up later.
To start the day, another of my students, let’s call him Teddy, shows up wearing sunglasses and a huge skull and crossbones belt-buckle. Teddy’s a bit like Eddie, but a little rougher around the edges. He also has an extremely sweet heart, but hangs out with kids twice his age, and it shows. I take the belt-buckle, but let him keep the sunglasses. However, as we walk, they keep falling off his face, so I take them and put them in my pocket. At some point during the trip, they fall out of my pocket and I lose them.
We’ve just gotten past the school, not five minutes into our journey, when we pass three men sitting on their porch. They are across the road, having nothing to do with us. But apparently, one of them is Lulu’s father, because she runs out of my line towards the street yelling, “Daddy! Daddy!” I immediately move to intercept, only to hear another of my students, hereby known as ‘Stranger Danger’, screaming out at the top of her lungs, "STRANGER DANGER! DON'T TALK TO STRANGERS! STRANGERS BAD!" I stop the runner, calm the sentinel, and continue back to steering my herd of kindergarteners.
Eventually, with much shepherding of students, we make it to the fire station. We split into our classes, and each class goes to a different station (a different section of the fire station). Mine do well for the first station – they’re allowed to play with the water hose. They take turns shooting the hose with a firefighter’s help. The students are clapping and yelling out appreciations for each other, and I get some great photos. Then the fire station gets three calls, two of which can be covered by another station, but they have to leave for the last one. Which has never happened in all the years we’ve been coming to them. So we gather the students together and sit them down, while putting on an act of how awesome this is and aren’t they lucky to see them rushing off to do their job (inwardly, we’re all panicking about we’re going to do with ninety kindergarteners and no show). Much to our relief (and the people who made the call), it’s a false alarm and they come back after only five to ten minutes.
By this point, my students have used up all of their attention span. And I mean all of it. When the fire fighters get back, they ask the classes if they’re having fun. Eddie, the one whose birthday it is, yells out “No!” And thus makes it into a quickly set up “time-out” chair. Yes, on his birthday. And I wasn’t at all surprised. But it was in the middle of the station so he could still see and hear everything that was going on.
One of the guys takes my class into a large closet filled with their equipment and uniforms. It has things they've never seen before, especially up close. It has things I’VE never seen before, including night-vision goggles. While he's trying to talk to them, a bird flies past the open closet door. My class - "A BIRD!!! THERE'S A BIRD!!! LOOK!!! A BIRD!!!" The firefighter’s passing around night vision goggles and my entire class is captivated by a bird that just flew by the door.
Then they go see the fire truck. Same thing. He's opening up compartments, explaining things they've never seen before, and being extremely animated and dramatic. He’s doing a great job. Here's my class: "What's this?? Must touch... Wow – Cool! What is it?" Me - "...IT'S A FLAG POLE!!! WE HAVE ONE AT SCHOOL, PEOPLE!!! PLEASE LOOK AT THE COOL, SHINY, RED, FIRE TRUCK!!!!"
He even tries to play a joke on them: "I've saved the best for last. In this compartment, we keep... SPIDERS!!!" (As he flings open the door). From my class: dead silence. Blank stares. Crickets. I scream, just to help. All that happens is that my Haitian-Creole student starts laughing at me: "Haha, Mr.Gardner say 'Ahhhh!'"
“Yeah! That’s right! I thought there were spiders! Anyone else think there were spiders? Or that he was being funny? Or, well, have any idea of what’s going on around them?”
The last stop is where the fire-fighters eat, exercise, and sleep. At which point it's pretty much over. They're whining that they’re hungry/thirsty/tired/he pushed me/can't see/have to pee. I do let Lulu use the restroom, only she can't figure out how to close the door because of the stopper. I close it for her. Two minutes later I hear knocking. She couldn't figure out how to get out of the bathroom. I repeat: Lulu couldn't figure out how to get out of an unlocked bathroom. I was tempted to send two more to time out for being whiny or pushing in order to see, but I was terrified of leaving the poor guy alone with my class. At one point, we're in his office, and my class has made a standing circle to hear him speak. A circle containing two of my students, who are rapidly pin-balling back and forth in the small space. I reach out a hand to stop them. I think they were just uncertain of where to join the circle. We’ll go with that answer.
So, eventually, we make it through, have snack, and start walking back to school. This time the fire truck is blocking traffic for us. At the crosswalk, we pass a mother with a stroller and two small children waving at us. That poor mother had no idea what she was in for. Sure enough, Stranger Danger yells out at the top of her voice, "THAT'S BAD!!! DON'T TALK TO STRANGERS!!! STRANGER DANGER!!!" I quickly try to hurry her along across 301. She starts taking ginormous steps (For her. She’s pretty tiny), and cries out, “I can’t! I’m going as fast as I can!” She then informs me that she can't walk any faster because her feet are "beeping." Beeping. I have no idea what to do with this information. Eventually it’s discovered that she meant "tingling", but I was quite baffled for a while.
That’s the first installment of the story. You would think that would have been my entire day. It wasn’t. Pause for intermission, pee breaks, or coca-cola runs, and then continue to see how “poop and cupcakes” become involved.