We began by meeting at school and getting our instructions. Then we drove to the local zoo. Since we are a small private preschool, we don't go together in a bus. The teacher drives a van, with any students whose parents couldn't come. The parents either drive themselves or carpool together. So there was a big caravan going down the highway. The entire time, Boo was obsessed with the fact that we were behind Little Britches. He wanted me to hurry up and pass him. He insisted it was a race. Finally, when he learned that still more cars were behind us, he became satisfied with being in fourth place because hey, at least we weren't last! We arrived at the zoo and were waiting in the parking lot for everyone else to arrive. The kids were playing and talking together. A couple other mothers were putting sunblock on their kids since it was a very hot and sunny day. I mentally kicked myself for not thinking of sunblock. One of the moms offered me the stick sunblock for his face. I thanked her and tried to apply it, but he recoiled and screamed at me. I tried to reason with him and show him that his friends were putting it on so they wouldn't get sunburned. He requested to get the spray sunblock like another boy did, and the other mom was kind enough to spray him down. I was shocked that he stood happily still while she sprayed his arms, legs, neck, ears, and then used her fingers to apply some to his face. I made a mental note to attempt to hire her for all future summer-time outings.
With that, we headed toward the zoo entrance. Boo and Little Britches were hand-in-hand of course. Our first stop was the "pavilion" where we attended an animal presentation. This consisted of a series of animals being shown while the zoo keeper talked briefly about them, then gave the kids a chance to touch them. Boo was engaged at first, but as the keeper droned on she quickly lost his attention. Instead of trying to keep him focused on what she was saying, I watched for any signs that he was ready to bolt and just made sure he wasn't disruptive. Because, let's face it, how important is it really that he knows what a woodchuck's favorite food is? Other than chanting a few times about how much wood a woodchuck can chuck, he stayed pretty well settled. He politely declined to touch most of the animals, and I let that one go too. Because it's more important that he have a happy and fun field trip than that I get a picture of him touching a Madagascar hissing cockroach.
When the animal show was over, it was time for the highlight of the entire trip. (At least for Boo) A ride on the zoo train! This is just a small local free zoo, so the train ride isn't elaborate. There are no animals to look at, just some animal statues. But it's an actual train, with a conductor, a whistle, and actual tracks. We even went through a tunnel! (kind of a glorified shed which holds all manor of parts, tools, and supplies. Boo was excited to point out the bottle of Gatorade he saw sitting on a shelf!) After the train ride, we headed in to the zoo. The first stop where the kids gathered was the pond. I gave Boo a quarter to buy fish/bird food from the machine. We got an adult size handful. He insisted on throwing it in one tiny piece at a time. He also insisted on standing precariously close to the edge of the pond and throwing the food will all the force he could muster. I just knew he was going to go in the water before the food was gone, but thankfully he didn't. However, it took him so ridiculously long to finish that every other member of the class had long since moved on. I reminded myself that it didn't matter if he took his joy in the same activities as his peers.
After Spiderman finished saving the world from evil villains, he moved on to the play area designed to look like a fossil dig site. While the other kids played in the sand pit, using shovels and brushes to unearth the buried "bones," Boo was climbing back and forth along the wall on the edge of the play area. Again, he was so precariously close to the edge that he made me nervous. But I had to laugh when he announced to a group of girls "I'm your friendly neighborhood Spiderman!" Then, after all his classmates had moved on to the next activity, Boo decided he wanted to get into the sand pit and "find" fossils. I felt bad that he always seemed to be three steps behind his peers at every turn. But he didn't seem to mind.
Spiderman hard at work protecting the playground from the Green Goblin
After a quick walk through the couple animal exhibits that were actually open (there's a lot of construction projects going on that have a part of the zoo closed off), it was time to make our way to the bathrooms for potty breaks and hand washing before lunch. At this point, Boo suddenly became obsessed with the fact that there was sand in his shoes, and between his toes. By the time I had coaxed him to the bathroom, all the other kids and parents had already finished. Boo chose a stall, and I entered it with him, holding my hands over his ears while he used the toilet. Then after he washed his hands, I lifted him up and helped him wash the sand from between his toes. Of course, we had to wash the shoes too, and get everything completely dry. By the time we left the bathroom, everyone else was already out of the zoo and halfway through eating their lunch in the park.
We arrived at the park and Boo took a seat next to Little Britches. While the other moms encouraged their kids to finish their ham and cheese sandwiches and fruit, I was content for Boo to eat his Ritz crackers and giant chocolate muffin. He guzzled his bottle of water then took off for the playground. I chatted with some other moms, then went to snap some more pictures. Soon it was time to leave the park and head for the next part of the day. Boo was very distraught. He wanted to play with the bigger kids from another school that had just arrived. In truth, the real problem was that he was hot and tired and hadn't eaten very well all day. Plus he was already overstimulated by all that we had done so far that day. It was a long walk back to the car and he wasn't interested in walking. So yes, this mama was seen carrying a four foot tall, fifty-two pound boy across the park. Yes, it killed my back. Yes, it was babying him. But hey, no one had to endure a full-on meltdown at the park because I knew better than to push him when he was in that state. I made it to the edge of the parking lot before I felt like I was going to fall over, so I told him that was as far as I could carry him, and I had him walk the rest of the way to the car. This took five times longer than it should because of his newest obsession. You know how they use tar to coat the cracks that appear in a parking lot? Boo must follow along these winding black lines to get across. Woe to the man or woman who tries to stop him!
By the time we got to the car, we were both hot, tired and sweaty. We were already almost the last ones to leave because he had taken so much time, but I knew that we wouldn't make it much longer if I didn't get him something to drink. So we stopped at a convenience store. We had to go a bit out of the route because there really wasn't anyplace that was on the way. So by the time we arrived at the next destination, the greenhouse, the rest of the group was already beginning the tour. They were still standing at the very first stop on the tour, but that didn't matter. Boo was so bothered by the fact that he "missed the beginning of the teaching" that he refused to move up front with the rest of the kids. If he couldn't see the entire tour start to finish, he didn't want to see any. Instead, he insisted on staying in the very back of the group with The Boo Whisperer. She was bringing up the rear because she was pushing her daughter in a stroller. Instead of pushing him and insisting he stay in front with the kids, or worrying about him "missing" something...I let it be. What difference did it make if he learned about vegetables, annuals, perennials, and cacti? I can teach him that at home in our garden. He was happy. And by the time the tour was over, and it was time to "plant" a geranium to take home, he was willing to participate because he hadn't been pressured to do something he was uncomfortable with.
After that, it was time for everyone to head home. So, that was our field trip. It didn't look like everyone else's. We tended to always be two or three steps behind the group. But it was close. We had a ton of fun. Boo was happy. And what else matters? I kind of felt like those old anti-drug campaign commercials. This is your field trip...this is your field trip on Autism. LOL. I was proud of boo for keeping his composure even during some difficult moments. I was proud of myself for not pushing him past his ability to cope, and for letting go of the mentality that says he needs to do what all the other kids do. It may not have looked like everyone else's field trip, but it was perfectly Boo. Fun, happy, beautiful, unique, and just a bit off-center.