It’s been over two weeks since my last post. This marks the longest time between posts I’ve ever had since the beginning of my blog. I had a very good reason for this and it wasn’t that I was sick or on vacation or pregnant or moving. Those events are nothing compared to what I had to do.
I was on a school field trip.
And it wasn’t a two-week school field trip either. It was for only one night, yet it seemed like so much longer. In fact, sometimes I wake up at night fearing that I’m still on that field trip, that my name is Olga and there is a child hovering inches over my face saying she thinks might be sick.
Let me back up. Far back. To when I was a child.
I don’t recall any time my mother ever volunteered at my school. It’s not that she was a negligent mother or anything. It just simply wasn’t done. I know she knew the location of my school because it was a block away from our house, but beyond that, school was school and home was home – two very separate universes. I remember vividly my mom sipping her coffee and waving good-bye to my brother and me as we left to walk to school by ourselves. Then as soon as we were out of sight my mother had a good eight hours to herself to do whatever she wanted – which usually involved having lunch with her friends, shopping for tube tops and flirting with the dry cleaner.
But it’s very different for parents now. I virtually have no free time and the time that I do have is devoted to volunteering at school. Although our government has plenty of money (don’t let them fool you on this one), public schools get virtually none of it and therefore parents who want their children to get a good education devote themselves to things like running reading groups, working in the school garden and chaperoning field trips.
So when an overnight field trip to an old Russian fort called “Fort Ross” popped up, I dutifully signed up. The job seemed simple enough – For a day and a night, we had to stay at the fort and pretend like we lived there in the 1800s, complete with Russian names and costumes.
I signed up as a cook named Olga and this is where my trouble really began. Another woman had already signed up as head cook and she was very confident in her role, having served groups of 70 people on retreats many times. I took on the role of cook’s helper – after all, I certainly know how to chop. I’ll give myself that much credit as a chef.
But then, much to my horror, the woman was moved to a different group, which meant that I was suddenly thrust into the position of head cook. Me, cooker of nightly nuggets…. boiler of canned soup… lover of take out food.
There was no getting out of it at this point, so I decided to make the best of it. I love a challenge and learning new things and as I mistakenly told myself, How hard can this really be?
But as the field trip day approached, panic started to overwhelm me. Each day preparing for this trip took me far away from my comfort zone and I realized that I had none of the skills required to prepare and cook meals for a large group of people. Skills like figuring out how many beets to buy to make a borscht soup I’ve never made to feed 44 people I don’t know that well… Or how to modify hundred year old Russian recipes into something gluten free for allergic children… and of course, how to store six heads of cabbage, twenty onions, fifty hard boiled eggs, sixty sausages, two jars of pickles, three pounds of cheese, four gallons of milk and two pounds of sour cream into my already over-stuffed refrigerator at home.
I actually filled a Costco grocery car to the point I was having trouble pushing it. I was so tired by the end of the shop that when a huge carton of raspberries slid off my cart and went squishing everywhere all over the floor – I didn’t even try to pick them up. Yes, I became one of those people. I just pretended nothing happened and continued muttering things like, Did I get enough potatoes for everyone?
When the day finally came to go on the field trip, I was joined by two other parents and eight kids to help cook these meals in the fort’s “kitchen” – which consisted of a large open fire pit and several cast iron Harry Potter-like cauldrons. Did I mention that I was dressed in an old Russian outfit I found at Goodwill the day before? I just love to cook over an open flame with a billowing rayon skirt – it just keeps me on my toes.
I had slept very little for at least a week prior to the trip, spending my evenings pre-chopping things and cooking all the meals I had to make to familiarize myself with the food – and I have to admit, I was kind of bitter. I thought back on my mom’s existence and longed for the good old days when school was school and home was home.
But being there at the fort, I felt nothing but gratitude. Of course it’s not okay that schools don’t get the money they need, but that’s the reality. By holding onto a “I shouldn’t have to be doing all this” attitude, I wasn’t be able to see the wonderful experience I was actually having. Sure, my mom had a ton of free time, but look what I got to do – I had an amazing experience with my son, I got to know his wonderful classmates and the other awesome parents there and I can now cook Russian food over a fire for a large group of people. I will remember this trip forever, but will my mother remember all the free time she had? Does she still have all the tube tops she bought or even a cursory Facebook relationship with the dry cleaner? Let's hope not.
So I was glad to be Olga. I was glad to be on the field trip and happy that school life and home life are no longer two separate universes. And I was glad that a child felt comfortable enough with me to wake me up in the middle of the night to help her.
And I was really glad she didn’t throw up on me.