The school nurse looked like an oasis in the midst of parents and grandparents clustered thickly around her like so many grains of sand. They appeared to be all talking at once as they held out an arm, thrusting clear, plastic zip-type bags at the short, roundish woman. Her bright cotton tee-shirt was the color of a green M and M candy.
With clipboard in hand and the cheerful, no-nonsense command authority ubiquitous to public school coaches — and nurses, too, apparently – she efficiently calmed the gaggle and quickly processed the handover of meds from childrens' caretakers to her travel bag. I gave her our grandson, Alex's, allergy medication and she seamlessly put a ballpoint pen in my hand, saying "sign here" and "here."
The occasion? A two-day middle school band field trip to nearby Panama City Beach.
Outside, two gleaming charter buses looked like giant metallic insects with their insides turned out, as kids and their various travel flotsam and jetsam were loaded into the bellies of the beasts.
I saw Alex greet his best friend in that way of maturing boys, with an understated upward chin bob and an elbow bump. "Hey, man."
Alex gave me a look that seemed to say, "Thanks for the ride. Love you. Don't hug me, that would be very uncool. Bye." And he was gone.
I parted the sea of chattering parents and kids and made my way back to the parking lot.
Looking at the whole scene, diesel fumes from the buses tickling my nose, I suddenly had the taste of banana sandwich in my mouth. Memories of field trips past came flooding back. I was a skinny kid with a pony tail, badly cut bangs and a mouth full of teeth that looked to me big as a horse's.
We were sent off with small brown bags containing a banana or peanut butter sandwich, and an oatmeal cookie. No cell phone. No Ipod. No nurse to dispense meds. No meds. My good friend, Steve H., had a seizure disorder, and had to stay home.
Maintenance meds for ADHD did not exist. We made it through childhood with monkey bars, slides, swings, sandlot baseball, tree climbing, catching lightning bugs in a jar, endless bike riding and weekly trips to the public library for armchair explorations of worlds within worlds. We washed and dried the dishes after supper, completed our homework, made sure our clothes were ready for the next morning's school day, and went to bed early.
Reading the previous paragraph tells me I have become my own grandparents. All that's missing is a description of how I trudged through 3 feet of snow (in central Florida) to go to school every day. Nonetheless, I can't help but feel I had a childhood more free, and one that prepared me more adequately for life as an adult, than many kids experience today.
A few days ago, I read a headline that stated the treatment du jour for ADHD is "green therapy." It's pretty radical — propounds the notion that kids diagnosed with ADHD "do better" when they spend time in nature and engaging in vigorous physical activity outdoors, and when they're not "over-scheduled." Might even be able to lay off the illness-labelling, growth stunting pills. Huh. What a concept.
Meanwhile, parents struggle. Meds? Which meds? No meds? In a shifting landscape, how does one make decisions that are best for the child? How can one know except retrospectively, if at all?
I have never been a parent of young children, but have great respect for those who are or have been. One of my favorite blogs is written by Elizabeth Aquino. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children. Elizabeth is also an advocate for her severely disabled teenaged daughter, Sophie, and other disabled children. She writes about Sophie and the life of the whole family with love, and searing honesty. Her blog, A moon, worn as if it had been a shell, is the fine work of a remarkable writer, poet, wife, and mother. Go there. Read.