I knew I was in trouble as I stepped off the school bus. The kids were already excited that it was the last day of school. Now that we had arrived at the local amusement park, they were totally wired.
I had two thoughts running through my mind: First, how the hell did I let myself get talked into being a parent-volunteer on this school trip? And second, I cursed that other mother who took it upon herself to bring and distribute chocolate on the school bus.
Didn’t she think they were hyper enough already?
Looking over the heads of the fifty-odd ten and eleven-year-old kids milling about the amusement park gates, I felt like I was looking down on a beehive. They were in constant motion and the noise was a deafening drone. Just the bus ride here had already given me a headache.
The kids had been allowed to make their own groups and one teacher or parent had been assigned to watch each group. My group consisted of my son, Jonathan and seven other boys.
The other parents and teachers were all assembling their groups and I heard them calling out names. I took my list of names out of my pocket and breathed in deeply as I went to take charge of my group.
“Hello boys, I’m Shelly Gunther, Jonathan’s mum.” I raised my voice authoritatively. “Let’s do a roll call…Hello? Boys?”
I wondered if they had heard me at all. Two were completely turned around looking in the opposite direction and a few were throwing a tennis ball back and forth. I cringed as I realized the latter boys were throwing the ball hard enough to see if they could elicit cries of pain from each other.
“Everyone’s here, Mum,” Jonathan said from beside me.
“Well, I don’t know everyone, why don’t you introduce me?”
Jonathan turned, pointed and spoke very quickly. “That’s Doug, Greg, Tyler, Ted, Tyler, Rob and Cameron. Now let’s go, Mum! The other groups are already leaving.”
I scanned the group, trying to put the names to the faces. Did he say Tyler twice? How the hell was I ever going to keep track of these kids? I figured I’d just have to count them.
A teacher’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “Everyone remember to meet back at the bus here at three pm sharp!” She was walking away with her own little group. Her kids were walking quietly two by two, a perfect image of well-behaved children.
I looked back at my group. Now, a few of them were competing to see who could make the loudest fart noise.
I glanced at my watch and swallowed hard. 9:03am. I’ve got to entertain these kids for six hours? My God.
We were off. I managed to distribute the admission tickets and get the boys through the gates and into the amusement park without a problem. I counted the boys from one to eight. So far, so good.
“Where to first, boys?” I asked as I looked at the amusement park map.
“The water park!”
“Let’s play the games. I wanna win something!”
“Hold on, hold on,” I said trying to diffuse the situation. “The teacher did say that most of the roller coasters are out. You’re not quite old enough or tall enough yet.”
The other boys’ faces lit up as I listened to a chorus of “Yeahs” and “Awesomes.”
My face fell. The Go-Karts sounded more dangerous to me than the roller coasters. At least they wouldn’t be driving the roller coaster.
“How about mini-golf?” I ventured.
The kid with the tennis ball spoke up again. “That’s lame! Let’s do the Go-Karts.”
I thought for a moment. “Well, that’s on the opposite side of the park, why don’t we start with something close by and work our way around? That way we won’t miss anything.” I was happy to see that some of the boys were nodding and seeing the logic in this plan. Of course, my hope was that time would run out before we got to the Go-Karts.
Everyone seemed happy except that kid with the tennis ball. It was my son who spoke to him.
“Don’t worry, Cameron. We’ll do the Go-Karts later, right, Mum?”
“Sure,” I muttered.
And so, we started our day at the amusement park. After every activity, I would count the boys from one to eight and then look at my watch. First we did the swing ride. …6-7-8, 10:06am. Then the kiddy sized roller coaster, …6-7-8, 10:58am. Then carnival games, …6-7-8, 12:20pm. By the time we sat down for lunch, I realized that I was really starting to relax. I was getting to know the boys a little better and I even knew which Tyler was which. I found myself smiling as I realized that the kids were having a good time and so was I.
Then, I heard Cameron say something that made me nearly choke on my hot dog.
“When we get to the Go-Karts, I’m going to kick all of your asses!” he snickered. “Anyone gets in my way, I’ll knock you off the track!”
I felt I had to speak up.
“Now, Cameron, I don’t want to hear talk like that, okay? We’re supposed to be having fun here.”
Cameron looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and went back to eating his hot dog.
After lunch we hit the water park and then the mini-golf course….6,7,8…
“Go-Karts!” one of the boys shouted.
Uh-oh. There has to be something else. I looked at the amusement park map.
“How about the…gift-shop?” I tried feebly. We really had seen everything else that was age appropriate.
“No! Go-Karts, Go-Karts!” the boys chanted.
I looked at my watch. 2:13pm. Damn-it, forty-seven more minutes to kill.
“You promised, Mum.” Jonathan tugged at my sleeve.
“Ok,” I relented.
We approached the Go-Karts and a roar that sounded like a thousand lawn mowers. The boys were jumping up and down with excitement as they ran ahead of me and into the queue. I was left gulping with anxiety at the gates.
Then a small miracle happened.
“Hey kids!” It was one of the teenage amusement park employees. He was pointing at a sign in front of the line up. It read, “You must be this tall to ride.”
One by one the kids stood in front of the sign. All but two were too short to ride the Go-Karts. Six grumbling kids, including Jonathan, returned to my side.
“Maybe next year.” I said trying to hide my grin. But it wasn’t over yet. There were still two kids to worry about as they took their turn in the crazy little karts.
Cameron and Doug were putting on helmets and hopping into a Go-Kart.
I heard Cameron laughing, “Hey, Doug, I’m going to beat your sorry ass.”
Before I could react, Cameron was roaring out onto the Go-kart track with Doug following closely in his wake.
We watched as the two boys tore around the Go-Kart track. After a few minutes, I began to relax a little. They seemed to be handling the contraptions okay and Cameron was miles ahead of Doug, far enough apart that I wasn’t worried about the two of them colliding….Or was I? Cameron was going so fast that he had rounded the track and was approaching Doug from behind. My eyes widened as Cameron got closer and closer.
“Careful!” I cried out.
It was too late. Cameron had cut Doug off and taken the lead. Doug’s Go-Kart weaved and then after tense moment thankfully became stable again. The moment I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply, grateful that Doug was okay, I heard an ear-splitting SMASH.
I opened my eyes and whipped my head over to see Cameron’s Go-Kart careening through the rubber tires lining the track. I heard Cameron yell out as the kart turned sharply and then flipped on its side before finally coming to a stop.
Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!
Instantly, I sprang to action. I pushed my way through the line-up, and into the Go-Kart track. “Cameron?” I cried as I ran towards the over turned kart. “Are you okay?” I reached the kart panting, my face white with fear.
Cameron looked up at me with wide eyes. “That…was…awesome.” He started to grin.
I looked at him dumbfounded. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
One of the amusement park workers had come up behind me and I jumped as he walked past me to Cameron’s overturned kart.
“Happens a couple times a week, Ma’am,” the worker said as he deftly turned Cameron’s kart back to the upright position and pushed him back onto the Go-Kart track.
Before I could say anything else, Cameron revved his engine and was off once more to finish his laps around the track. Mercifully, the rest of the ride was uneventful.
On the bus ride home, the kids were all talking about Cameron’s death-defying Go-Kart adventure. Cameron himself had embellished the story a fair bit. I hadn’t exactly counted but I was pretty sure the kart hadn’t flipped over five times.
But however it happened, I felt pretty sheepish as the parent-volunteer responsible for Cameron. I slumped down in my seat and quietly vowed not to volunteer again.
It was Jonathan. He was sitting on the bus seat next to me.
“Yes, Honey?” I said.
“I just wanted to tell you that you were pretty great today. I’m glad I got to spend the day with you.”
I gave my son’s hand a squeeze. Suddenly, I remembered why I had volunteered in the first place.
Sharon Walker-Zeman is an optometrist and a mother of eight-month-old twin boys. She was able to take Brian Henry’s "Welcome to Creative Writing" class while on maternity leave and re-awaken her love of creative writing. She hopes to take further courses in the future and continue writing for many years to come.
Note: If you want to re-awaken your own creatvity, sign up for Brian's "Exploring Creative Writing," Tuesday afternoons in Burlington, starting Jan 25, 2011 (details here). If you already have some writing that you want to work on, sign up for "Extreme Creative Writing," Wednesday afternoons in Oakville (details here) or Wednesday evenings in Mississauga (details here). But register soon - these classes are popular and will fill up.
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