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13 and Ready for Takeoff

Eighth-grade was legendary at my school. The whole grade level had the chance to go to Washington, D.C. for a week at the end of the year. I was 13 and ready for takeoff when I boarded a plane with my classmates and a few of my favorite teachers. That aircraft would take us 3,000 miles away and light-years from our point of origin. I knew this school field trip was special although it’s true purpose wasn’t apparent to me at the time. Yes, we’d be visiting our nation’s capital. Undoubtedly, a robust, hands-on history lesson would be learned. However, all we could see was our first taste of freedom. Jetting off on a fun-filled vacation with our friends and without our parents was thrilling to a wide-eyed, naive 13-year-old.

Overall, none of us (that I knew of) were necessarily looking to escape our parents. On the contrary, I genuinely enjoyed hanging out with my parents. I still do. Most of us were looking forward to that feeling. You know that I’m-a big-kid-now feeling that comes with knowing you’re trusted to make decisions on your own? It’s that beaming sense of pride felt when your 13-year-old-self believes others (especially your parents) view you as a responsible, sound-minded, capable, just-like-a-grown-up individual truly ready for takeoff. Yes, that’s the feeling.

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Getting Ready for Takeoff: Permission Granted

This feeling is particularly strong when you’re 13 and overconfident. It would be reasonably accurate to say I was more sure of myself back then than I am now, as an actual adult. My ability to venture out on this excursion, was, from my view, an affirmation of approval from my parents. In my mind, I rationalized that they were so benevolently confident in my maturity level and knew unquestionably that I was ready to handle responsibility; therefore, they let me go. Their perceptions had a significant effect on my self-confidence. Even though I have always been independent, I was still instinctively motivated by their approval. I worked harder when they seemed pleased or proud of me. When it looked as if they had been disappointed or let down by me, I worked harder. For them, it was a win-win, and, for me too, I guess.

Armed with a packing list and an agenda, we began to prepare for the journey. Details of our daily activities were spelled out. Times, destinations, and even information about transportation to and from each excursion completed the agenda. My parents probably poured over this schedule, examined each activity, and planned to clock my every move in my absence.

Ready for Takeoff: No phone. No apps. No Worries.

In a time when technology wasn’t as advanced, communication with my parents would be infrequent at best while I was gone. Flight Aware wasn’t an app; no one had even heard of an app. A safe landing would be confirmed only by calling the airline directly. No one had cell phones back then, especially kids. There was no such thing as Life360 or mSpy Child Tracker. Archaically, once I left, they’d have to sit tight and wait for me to call…from a landline. (I know, we were practically barbarians!). How could they even consider letting me go so far away under such conditions? It’s shocking. There are some helicopter parents out there who are having heart palpitations just reading about this. Ironically, they didn’t seem as worried as parents today who have access to so many more resources. Granted, times have changed.

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Ready for Takeoff: Preparation Was Key?

Preparation for this adventure, for me, was minimal. Sister Rita, our middle school history teacher, talked about the event, but I’m sure I paid little attention at the time. Even though I couldn’t wait to go, my enthusiasm was far too distracting for me to pay mind to her droning speeches about the things we’d see or endless lectures about proper behavior. All year long, I’d paid attention in class and felt pretty well-acquainted with the landmarks and museums we’d be visiting. Never had I been in trouble. I was fully aware of how to behave in public. Therefore, I was sure her warnings didn’t pertain to me, anyway. Ignorantly, I decided I knew everything I needed to know. I was ready for takeoff.

No. I Didn’t Need a Belt.

Other than adding a few items I (or my mom) deemed essential, we followed the packing list provided by the school. It’s strange how, when coming from a source so “official” like the school, you feel you need to execute directions with precision. We both knew I would never use certain things on the list, but we bought and packed them anyway; like a belt. I never wore a belt. Not one belt could be found in my closet because I didn’t even own one. I hadn’t packed any pants for which a belt was suited. But did I pack one? Yes. Why? Because it was on the list.

It never occurred to me to go “off-book” or rationally contemplate my own ideas. I had ideas. It was just that I was always taught not to think them. Back then, real explanations weren’t given to kids; everything was justified with, “Because I said so.” and that was enough. I realize now that this made me incredibly rigid for such a young kid, and for a long time, I stayed that way. Rules were always followed, and this trip would be no different. Age and experience have changed my viewpoint on this substantially. Subsequently, as a grown-up, I tend to hover in the hazy shades of grey when it comes to rules. I ask neither premission nor forgiveness.

Ready for Takeoff: An Emancipated Travelers Fond Farewell

For my fond farewell, I got “Have fun and be good!” called to me as my mom stood alongside other seemingly nonchalant parents while I boarded the bus to the airport with my classmates. Honestly, instead of thinking at all about why she didn’t look worried, I was moderately offended by “be good.” I was always good.

Aflutter with anticipation, we boarded the plane. Long before our packed bags sat expectantly by the front door or our tickets were issued; we had been ready for takeoff. An escape of this nature had been awarded to us just two years earlier. As sixth graders, we traveled in the same fashion to science camp. It seemed like a trivial, adolescent trip now. We had only ventured to California, although the duration and conditions were the same. One week. No parents. Best Friends and our first trial at mastering liberty had proven that we could survive. Believing ourselves experienced in emancipated travel, this new promise of independent adventure was free from any inkling of fear which might have crept in.

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Ready for Takeoff: My Most Memorable Trip?

I can’t recall the five or so hours spent on the flight. How we must have scrambled to retrieve 60ish student-bags from the crawling baggage claim carousel escapes me. In other words, many of the trips exact details are foggy, at best. My memories couldn’t be recorded on Instagram or Facebook as neither platform existed. Likewise, a travel journal wasn’t kept to document my adventure since I had never heard of such a thing. Looking back now, I wish I had written everything down.

We had disposable cameras. So, taking a picture was a crapshoot. You couldn’t know how the image turned out until after the film was dropped off and developed at the nearest photo center. Once processed, most of the pictures were too dark or blurry to even make out. As a result, very few scrapbook-worthy snapshots of this trip exist. I am forced to rely and my ever fading memory. I even had to reach out to friends when writing this to see if they could excavate some of the now ancient details.

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The Eagle Has Landed

We stayed in what I thought was the fanciest hotel ever. By day we saw every sight. We walked for miles, following our guides and sticking closely to the side of our designated partners. We marveled at the sheer size of things. President Lincoln’s Memorial was gigantic. The Washington Monument’s image was crystal clear in the waters of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

Since time was scarce, our itinerary included only four of the Smithsonian’s eleven museums on the National Mall. Trips to the National Zoo and the other museums weren’t even mentioned. In fact, I didn’t even know they existed at the time. How could there be more? There was already so much to see.

A day was spent at the American History Museum.  Another was dedicated to the Air and Space Museum. I had thought I’d never seen places so big. Except, I lived in Las Vegas and had been to most of the hotels. Isn’t it funny how our imaginations can minimize the familiar? Something new is always shinier. We don’t have “real” museums in Las Vegas, so this was my very first time seeing such a grand and pristine historical treasures. I knew we would never get to see everything, even though we spent three days touring these important relics.

We Continued to Fly

Time seemed to fly right on by. I giggled and chatted incessantly with my childhood friends (who, by the way, I had also gone with to the week-long Science Camp just two years earlier). Yes, we goofed around in the halls at night, trying to sneak into each other’s rooms, so we could stay up talking some more. Each time we were quickly caught and scolded by our chaperones. It was like watching the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery as they took turns monitoring the hall.

Mostly though, the week was spent soaking it all in, learning so much more than I ever dreamed possible. Life lessons, academic lessons, and lessons about myself were each imbedded in me that week, although I’m confident I didn’t know it at the time.

Is it crazy that most of my memories revolve around my feelings rather than the things we’d seen and learned? I don’t think so. The purpose of this trip wasn’t to evoke feelings, was it? People evolve in a plethora of ways through experiences. It’s those feelings provoked during educational experiences which determine the extent of achieved growth.

My first taste of freedom left me with a raging hunger for more. I wanted to learn more, see more, go farther. My need to explore and discover things on my own grew tenfold. I couldn’t wait to once again be jetting off on some new adventure. With gratitude, I look back at this experience. Because I know that this thirst for knowledge and burning flame of wanderlust ignited all those years ago shaped me into the life-long learner I am today.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

What was your most memorable field trip as a child?

If you could have gone anywhere with your class, where would it have been?

Teachers, have you ever accompanied your class on a trip like this? How did it go?

School field trips
8th grade school field trip
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Growing through experiential travel.

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