The sight of the yellow school bus disappointed me. I had hoped for that nice luxury coach bus that took us to the Gold Rush field trip in Sacramento a couple of years ago. However, the 6th graders greeted their bare-bones school bus with uncontained excitement. We were going to the much anticipated 6th grade field trip to Alcatraz, the island prison museum that once caged notorious convicts, and the subject of many books and Hollywood films. I was one of the five parent volunteers on this field trip.
Alcatraz Island
We had a big bus all to just our class. The kids along with their furious energy all filed into the back of the bus. The five parents and Mr. C wisely sat in the very front of the bus, away from the children and all their ruckus.

Within 10 minutes of the bus ride, we were met with boy drama so severe, that it temporarily halted the children’s merrymaking in the back.

We were cruising on the highway, when we heard several voices calling from back of the bus.

“Mr. C! Mr. C!! Jay is crying! Jay is crying!” several children reported from the back.

“Why is he crying?” Mr. C turned and asked mildly. So mild that his question was drowned out by more excited children reporting the incident.

“WHY is Jay crying?!” several of us parent volunteers had to help out Mr. C by shouting his questions to the back of the bus.

“Gus punched him in the face!” the kids shouted back at us.

Mr. C’s face grew dark. He raised from his front row seat, and walked wobbly down the isle.

In most schools, the likely outcome of being punched in the face would probably initiate a fight between two 11 year olds. But for kids from a California distinguished school, being punched in the face had the frightened young victim retreated under the chair to take cover.

Mr. C managed to walk all to the way to the very back of the bus to tell Jay that it was safe to come out from hiding. After he checked that the boy was okay, he turned his attention to Gus.

Young Gus was already crying, allowing his tears to flow quite freely, in anticipation of the horror of Mr. C’s wrath.

My mind: Hello 2nd grade….

The main course of Gus’ punishment was to sit in the front of the bus, with the grownups. He was assigned an entire row to himself right across from me.

As the rest of the children resumed in conducting themselves like howler monkeys in the back. Gus curled himself into the fetal position laying on his seat, with dried tear marks still on his face, motionless and sad as can be. He was such a pitiful sight, that my maternal instinct kicked in with misplaced empathy for this young aggressor.

I patted his head from across the isle…but felt glad that he wasn’t assigned to my group.

I like volunteering at our school, but I tend to stay clear of field trips. I find the guardianship of other people’s children, outside the comforting boundaries of the classrooms, stressful.

I did eagerly sign myself up to chaperon this field trip, however. Even though I have lived in close proximity to Alcatraz for a long, long time, I have never visited it before. It should be fun learning about the history behind this famous prison with my 11 year old. So, I thought…

I was assigned to lead six children. Three girls, and three boys. I immediately recognized two of the boys’ names, as they were associated with less-than-stellar reputation.

As we hiked our way to the top, where the main prison cell with the audio tours are located, my apprehension about them faded.

The boys asked me if they could stop at the museum gift shop, I said sure. The kids cheered. Then the three boys talked about the gift shop as if IT should be the highlight of the trip. The girls rolled their eyes, as the boys chatted away about shopping. I chuckled.

As we came to a bend on the walking path, I noticed a large number of visitors hoovering around a very small housing structure just off the path. I ordered the troops to stop, and wondered out loud what that was. One of my girls walked over to investigate, and reported back quickly that it was the Alcatraz morgue.

“Ewww…dead people!” one of the boys shuddered. Then immediately quickened his steps up the hill, leading the other two boys to quickly follow. More eyes rolling and chuckling, then we all continued up.

When we reached the top of the hill, I felt at ease herding this group of harmless lambs.

We entered the main prison cell, and walked in line to pick up headsets for the audio tour. Then it all went down hill from there.

Alcatraz Cell House Audio Tour

The children weren’t to blame, the audio tour was!!

The audio tour was the highlight of Alcatraz. The historical background of this famed prison was narrated with captivating theatrical sound effects, featuring the roars of the chaotic prison riots, a chorus of metal drinking cups beating on the prison bars in protest, gun shots, and even grenades exploding. And it told you where to turn and stop for the next destination of the prison tour.

The problem with the tour? Unlike many audio tours, where you may have to press a number to start a section of the tour or be told to stop and when to re-start again, the Alcatraz audio tour was one continuous hour-long tour, with no built-in stops. And it certainly did not instruct the visitors to not lose sight of their chaperone, and to stay close with their group.

So, I spent the entire tour constantly counting and recounting my kids, and sweating!

Our ferry alone had unloaded about 300 to 400 visitors, with most of us participating in this cell tour, it was crowded. The kids all seemed to have started the audio tour a few minutes apart, which meant, a few kids were still sitting in the library, listening to how the prisoners checked out books. While another child was instructed to pass through the “Cut-off”, with another child stopped at cell #115, to hear about the notorious convict it once held.

Alcatraz Cell

This was further complicated by the fact that one of the kid’s recorders stopped working so I gave her mine, which meant that I was “leading” the group without the benefit of the audio tour telling me where to go next!

I dreaded appearing before Mr. C to tell him that I lost one of the kids.

I constantly counted my six kids visually, and every five minutes or so, I finger counted them again! Since the kids were all on headsets, they couldn’t hear me calling after them. In order to catch the leaders of my pack, I had to take my eyes off the rest, run to my fast-moving kids, forcibly pull on their jacket sleeves to manually stop them to wait for the others, and grab their audio guides to press the stop button to pause the recording. Then I would turn my attention to locate the others and conduct another count.

It was the longest hour I can remember in recent memory…

Like most museums, the tour ended in the gift shop. I was thrilled to see the gift shop. And the gift shop was much bigger than expected. I walked across to the other end of the shop, and was excited to see just one exit.

I told the children cheerfully that they were free to browse the shop and to take as much time as they needed. Then I walked over to guard the door, ready to catch my kids as they made their way to the exit.

The Alcatraz gift shop had great souvenirs. But the kids awarded their top pick to the Alcatraz Chocolates. In 20 minutes time, I noted that over half of the kids from our classroom left the gift shop with a tin box of the Alcatraz Chocolates. Including a few of my kids waiting with me by the door, already eating their chocolates.

“Can I borrow $3 dollars?” one of the boys in my group popped in front of us wanting money.

“What do you want to buy?” me.

“The chocolate.” pointing to the Alcatraz chocolates.

Alcatraz Chocolate from the gift shop

“It is $6.50. I only have 3 dollars and 2 quarters.” the boy.

Eying the long line formed by the cashiers, I addressed my group of kids, “everyone already has these chocolates…. kids, share some of yours with him.”

Two children helpfully offered their opened boxes of chocolates to him.

He looked at them, then looked up at me and said, “NO! I want to buy a box to bring home to my mom and sisters!”

My mind: How SWEET… (ignoring that he left out his sorry dad).

I lamented often how I missed the cuteness of my children’s baby and toddler years, but I realized then that childish cuteness can still surface in 11 year olds too. I only hope that in a few more years, I can still report to you on the cuteness of teenagers.

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Category: Kids, Parents
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