One early morning in mid-June about five years ago, my sixth grade class was going on our end-of-the-year field trip, an all day excursion that included a dolphin-watching cruise and a picnic at the beach. The students had already boarded the charter bus and were busy stowing their bags and towels, happily chattering and settling in for the three hour trip. They were excited—some of them had never even seen the ocean before. I stood on the bottom step of the bus, scanning the parking lot for late arrivals before doing the final head count. The sun was just rising above the school—it was going to be a hot day. Turning to climb on board, I felt a hand on my elbow. One of the mothers was standing on the sidewalk, looking up at me. I stepped down, and she took my hand, clasping it in both of her own. “Today, my son is your son,” she said. “Please take good care of him.”
“I will,” I’d assured her with my teacher’s confidence, but my step faltered as I climbed onto the bus, and the day seemed a little less promising than it had earlier. What if something goes wrong and a student is injured? How would I feel, then? Life is perilous and uncertain, so we can’t indulge our fears, but where is the line between prudent risk-taking and recklessness? All of these thoughts were clouds in the clear June sky, threatening to rain on our field trip.
Of course nothing happened, and all the students made it back safely, but thinking back on it later, I wondered if that was really the first time I had ever felt the full weight of responsibility for another person’s child, and if field trips would ever be the same for me again.