This past week was a sort of milestone for my family: my youngest child got her driver’s license. This means I can finally retire from driver education. I have now bequeathed two licensed motor vehicle operators to our nation’s highways, may God have mercy on my soul. You can say my work is done as you keep a sharp eye out while on the road.
Sure, I can choose to spend many sleepless nights fretting over sharply increased insurance premiums...um, what I mean to say is, her safety while driving. Instead, I prefer to revel in the fact that my little girl has taken yet another step towards independence. And that I no longer have to endure mindless teenage blather as I ferry my daughter and her friends to the mall and back.
This most dramatically hit home a few days after she was officially sanctioned by the state. Frantically barging into our bedroom (good thing it wasn’t our month for “maritals”) at 10:00 pm, she informed my wife and I that she needed something from the store for school. Her anxiety was real and I couldn’t help but feel her pain.
So, it was with much sincerity and barely concealed joy that I said, “Yeah, good luck with that. Keys are downstairs. Me and your mom are going to bed.”
As happy as I am, though, a part of me misses my little girl. Like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof (did anyone see that? Anyone? Anyone?) I find myself wondering where the time went (and what the hell that idiot is doing on the roof. He wants he should be breaking his neck?).
Why, it only seems like yesterday that I was a chaperone for her elementary school’s Outdoor Learning Experience. This annual event was touted as an invaluable chance to get up close and personal with the glories of nature and wonders of outdoor plumbing. Bussing 90 or so 6th graders and masochistic parent volunteers to an off-season summer camp, it offered such diverse topics as Pond Study, Animal Tracks Study, Poison Plants Study, What-First-Aid-To-Use-After-Rolling-In-Poison-Plants Study, and so on.
It also involved a little unit called: Tree Study or what I like to call, Naptime.
Don’t get me wrong. The study of trees and their benefits can be quite stimulating, in a “Spend-An-Evening-With-An-Insurance-Salesman” kind of way. Little did I know there was so much to learn, from branch patterns to which is the best kind of tree to make slingshots out of.
NOTE: For the “Grammar Police”: Yes, I know that I should never end a sentence with a preposition. For those folks, I provide the following modification: “...to which is the best kind of tree to make slingshots out of, you smug, pretentious jackholes.”
We now return you to our story...
For instance, did you know that trees which drop their leaves are called deciduous, those with pine cones are called coniferous, and those with yard sale signs are called telephone poles?
When we arrived at Camp Swampy, I was immediately lumped with two other parents who were also too slow to score something cool like Boating Safety, Shooting At Things, or Pizza Delivery. To our horror, we quickly learned our combined knowledge of all things “tree” consisted of: they give us paper, shade, and baseball bats.
Expressing our misgivings to the “Camp Nature Director and Wendy’s Drive Thru Associate”, Dr. Jones (that was her name-I am NOT making that up), we were assured we were more than capable of guiding children along the road of arboreal excellence. Besides, if all else fails, she said, just wing it.
With those words of wisdom, she squared away her fedora, stuck a six-gun in her belt, and used her bullwhip to swing off to the archaeology pit (OK, she didn’t wear a fedora).
Watching the first group of shiny-faced cherubs approaching our station, we steeled ourselves for the first of ten forty-minute sessions. Luckily, Dr. Jones already labeled our trees (Tulip, Ash, Hemlock, Dogwood, Cedar, Hickory, and Stump) and the teacher in charge supplied us with ample answer keys and field guides (which we stuck in our back pockets and forgot about until laundry day).
Even though we were a little nervous, the three of us were as ready as we were going to get.
Surprisingly, the first session went pretty well. Dividing the students into three groups of three, we proceeded to go over characteristics of trees, their uses, and how to measure their growth.
I learned that, when pressed, the students always said, “Trees lose their leaves, they can be used for firewood, and we use lasers to measure them (I guess that, since lasers sounded cool, they figured it was the right answer).
The students also always said, “Oak” or “Maple” when asked the name of a particular tree. Unless it was an evergreen. In that case, they said, “Christmas Tree.”
Subsequent lessons went just as well. Luckily, the instructor guides were pretty basic (“Trees are made of ‘wood’”) and we were able to easily impart what we hoped was expert-sounding instruction throughout the course of the day.
In fact, we were so successful that, when asked what their favorite topic of the camp was, the students invariably answered, Obstacle Course.
Followed by Boating Safety, Archeology, Orienteering, Animal Tracks, Stream Study, Poison Plants Study, Going To the Bathroom, Lunch, Throwing Rocks, Wiping With Leaves, Garbage Can Hunt, Picking Up Sticks, Throwing Dead Things At Girls, Lighting Farts, Tree Study, and Pond Study.
We took great pride in knowing we weren’t as sucky as Pond Study.
In other words, Pond Study blows.
Think I’ll go hug a tree.