Gabe Moreno writes about his day confronting life-altering questions like: “Do polar bears poop?” while chaperoning the “trouble graders” on an elementary school field trip to the Hogle Zoo.
I’m a strong believer in volunteer work, mind you, although taking a gang of elementary kids to the Hogle Zoo was quite the adventure. It was a breezy and murky Friday evening on March 28, heading up the elementary school; it felt like a lengthy lone anxious drive. Walking through the desolated silenced halls instantly gave me nostalgia, as I reminisced how easy life was back then, drinking milk out of those funny cartons and having nap time.
I met with the after school program coordinator Long Nguyen of the University of Utah, who had organized the entire field trip, he had this frantic look on his face as he was checking his phone, and out of nowhere turned to me and said, “You’ll be watching over the trouble graders”. I assumed the old number system wasn’t good enough for this elementary so they used a “behavior-based” grading system? Rather elaborate. Anyways I wasn’t worried at all since I’m usually the cool uncle kids get to hang out with.
I heard a loud bell and soon after, I could hear a flock of children getting closer to the gym where we were. I eventually got to meet the kids I would be watching over, one of them in particular reminded me of myself; he was quiet, shy and seemed out of the loop, “You look like a nice person” he said as he held his Pokémon backpack closely to his side. I jokingly said I was a new student and wanted to make new friends, my new friend Oscar thought I was hilarious.
The other kids would come up to me and yell “stranger danger!” then run away before even giving me a chance to give an explanation. The rest of the “trouble graders” were around nine and ten years old, they weren’t as bad I thought they would be, although before getting in the school bus they gave me some trouble. I needed them to get in a straight line for head count, and at first they looked at me like some kind of over grown kid who had no position to give orders, then I recurred to the countdown method, “Five… Four…. Three…. Two…” BAM! Straight line of kids. It never ceased to work.
Riding once again in a big yellow school bus gave me the chills; the bitter and hectic rides I did not miss one bit, not to mention how uncomfortable the seats were. The kids went in the bus one by one, and then as I stepped in, I greeted the bus driver; your cliché polite old man with glowing white hair and starless sun glasses “Howdy partner!” He said with a big smile on his face. I had to hunker down because my head touched the roof of the bus.
The long bus ride to the zoo was rough; going sixty-five miles per hour with most of the windows down on a cloudy Utah day was wild to say the least. There was a moment I looked around and every kid I saw was on their phone, I wanted to tell them when I was their age, I didn’t have a phone. Hell, when I was their age, we had the more primitive version of a virtual pet; we called them “tamagotchis”.
After finally having arrived to the zoo, the children were anxious to get out of the bus, and I couldn’t really blame them. The zoo employees greeted us with ear to ear smiles as we stepped off the bus. Each one of the volunteers went their own separate ways with their five kids; I took my group first to the gorilla exhibition, their eyes lit up as they pushed their tiny faces onto the thick glass quietly observing the primates, I eventually had to drag them out to the next exhibition because they were blocking the view for the new comers. Next stop were the polar bears and they were fairly anxious.
“Do polar bears poop?” Christina asked timidly, I calmly told her everyone does, then I recommended the book “Everyone poops by Taro Gomi”, she laughed hysterically. As we wandered around, I could see other fellow zoo visitors looking at me confused, probably wondering why I was walking around with five kids, I found it rather amusing.
Oscar came up to me and told me he wanted to see the giraffes, so we were giraffe bound. As we were walking, the kids started enlightening me with random facts about giraffes, “Hey! Did you know that giraffes have blue tongues?” I acted amazed at all the facts they threw at me “No way you didn’t know that!” said Oscar with a dazed look on his face.
It was time for us to go, and the kids seemed tired and moody by the end of the day; their sleepy eyes did not lie one bit. One last head count before heading back to school, the “trouble graders” told me how they had a great time with me, and I myself had a blast. That day I realized someday I would be a cool dad.