forum02a TracyMcArdleBrady

I could have dropped acid. Instead I took a field trip.

by Tracy McArdle Brady

One of the joys of growing older is realizing how many tired clichés are true. Like, seeing the world through your children’s eyes keeps you young. I never really subscribed to this in their younger years, when staying awake and keeping them alive were the major challenges of each day.

Then they entered grade school, and their daily observations from the back seat (“I’m probably the fastest one in my class,” or “Do fairytales wear helmets?” and my favorite: “Mom, I don’t understand girls”) provided daily philosophical guidance.

But it wasn’t until I chaperoned my son’s field trip to Boston for their study of the Revolutionary War that I felt like I’d dropped acid. I experienced the familiar in a new, heightened way, and it was awesome. People use drugs to access an alternative reality. But you don’t need drugs for that if there are kids around.

The day began as most trips do, with a long bus ride I’d planned to use catching up on a This American Life podcast; instead, I found myself trying to prevent the class from eating their snacks and most of their lunches during the first ten minutes.

Oh the deafening roar of unbridled joy on a bus: a giant moving vehicle on the highway without seatbelts! And singing, for no apparent reason (the best reason of all). The last time I screamed and sang on a bus as an adult was a bridal shower where - never mind.

I work in downtown Boston, blocks from the Boston Massacre site, Old South Meeting House, Faneuil Hall and the Freedom Trail – attractions that draw thousands of tourists. Yet I’d never visited these places.

Leading my charges along the sidewalks of downtown, it was as if I hadn’t walked those steps every day. Faneuil Hall was for me simply an orgy of lunch options, but today history had a voice. I noticed what was around me. Mostly buoyant nine year olds, but also stories, architecture, and voices from the past. They were telling me, these nine year olds, what each stop meant in our nation’s history. I knew this area primarily by its bars and restaurants. And Discount Shoe Warehouse, of course.

We sat down for our brown bag lunch in the Boston Garden, where the kids chased the pigeons and talked to the homeless. I spend most lunch hours at the gym.

I was astounded to learn Paul Revere AND Sam Adams were in the Granary Burying Ground. “Oh my god, it’s Paul Revere!” I said. The kids looked at me pitifully. Duh, why do you think we’re here?

In the Old South Meeting House I stared at the architecture and devoured the guide’s stories – how the British kept their horses there as insult to the colonists. Like a tripping hippie studying her own hand in search of the divine, no detail escaped me. It was fascinating. Why had I never entered this building?

The kids knew the sights and stories as well as I didn’t. As we paused for the Boston Massacre site, I searched for the memorial. “Look down,” said my son. There it was. Where I’d stepped a million times, the spot I was standing on now.

Usually in life, you look ahead so you don’t trip. But sometimes you have to look down. So you can enjoy the trip. ∆