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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Burnt Island: best field trip ever

At the parent curriculum night at the beginning of fifth grade, the teacher told us that the kids have the opportunity to go on an overnight field trip at the end of the year to Burnt Island.  I was sold immediately and started collecting possibilities of how much fun that would be. 

Fast forward through Ella's fifth grade school year: countless friendship dramas, gaining confidence that showed out in the world, a blur of gymnastics practices and meets, becoming a bold and skilled skier, becoming a bold and skilled preteen, getting a hand-me-down iPhone (wi-fi connected only) and losing it around every corner by perfecting the use of sarcasm and a well-placed eye roll and suddenly it was time to board the ferry to Burnt Island. 

Ella and I would be tenting so I hauled all of our backpacking and camping gear out and got to work. Sandi said, "Have you ever put the tent up by yourself?" When we camp Sandi does the gear and I do the food and clothes and supplies. So the night before the trip, while Sandi was at work, the girls and I put the tent up in the living room. 

It is actually really challenging to put a tent up in a small living room. 

Maya said, "Are you sure I should be helping you? Because you know I am not going to be there when you actually have to do it?" Like we were going to be on Survivor or something. 

Ella filled the backpack with only half her stuff in it and said, "It doesn't all fit, Mom." I  took it all out and said, "Watch and learn, El." I rolled and smooshed into ever corner of the backpack. When it came time to shove her pillow and stuffed animal in there (both of which were contraband and we were told if you bring them, don't show them) I said, "You might want to look away. This won't be pretty for poor Daisy..."

Ella's young and energetic teacher (who ironically went on this very trip as a fifth grader himself) was a total rockstar making sure these kids had a safe framework that allowed them freedom to learn and explore. There were 27 students, 15 parent chaperones and 2 teachers. Talk about a robust adult to student ratio! As soon as the kids got off the bus he had them move around and then randomly get in a line and sound off, beginning with the number 1 and going up to 27. Periodically, as we would transition between activities, he would have them sound off to make sure everyone was accounted for.

I love stealing ideas from teachers. This summer I will be on the beach and say, "Sound off!" Maya will say, "One!" and Ella will roll her eyes at me.

Most of you who know me know that sometimes I struggle with having my primary identity being that of "Mom" and all the pedestrian parts of shuffling and shlepping and laundry and groceries and cleaning that go with it. I work hard to nourish my brain cells and feed myself outside of my mom role so I can be a successful and (mostly) present mom to our girls.

And then there are trips like this where I spend nearly every second in wonder and appreciation that I get to be mostly a mom, a mom who can spend 2 whole days and an overnight with my daughter on an amazing trip. It is way better than any paycheck I could receive. I am acutely aware of it when I have a dear friend and a wife who would ache to go on this trip but have to work.

So I just kept repeating the mantra: "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." In between texts to the various parents who I kept sending photos to of their kids having the time of their lives.

I was the parent rep for both Bella and Skyler:

Burnt Island is a 5 acre island off the coast of Boothbay. It has a small ferry to it and can be easily accessed by kayak. 

The island is beautiful and enchanting and so alive with history. The keeper of the island, Elaine Jones, is one of the most dynamic women I have ever met. She knows every last wrinkle there is to be known about the history of the light, the ocean and creatures, the maritime history of the region and the long line of lighthouse keepers and their families. She is an excellent storyteller and I could sit and listen to her for hours. 

When Sandi and I had kids we mostly gave up backpacking. I think we have been once in the past 12 years. I love this picture because Ella is wearing my backpack that she hauled around herself! Feels like coming full circle.

 Tent status: we were able to put the tent up. Even without Maya. However, the fly was touching the tent which it shouldn't and can lead to a wet interior if it rains. I tried (for about 2 minutes) to problem solve that but was unsuccessful.

Not surprisingly, when I selected by tenting spot by its proximity to the bathroom, I failed to realize that I had set up it adjacent to the only grave on the island. For real.

We put the tent up and 5 seconds later Ella said, "I think I want to sleep in the bunk house with my friends."

And just like that I was camping alone on Burnt Island. In a tent that was improperly set up for the rain we, of course, had. No big deal. Everything was damp but no rain fell inside. I was quite pleased to wake up in the morning and find that my almost 40 year old body could still sleep on the ground in the damp and move just fine.

It is hard to describe how much fun this trip was. It was so well planned and executed that it was incredibly education while also being a total blast. The only complaint? It went by way too fast.

 Elaine Jones is responsible for acquiring enough funding to build the Burnt Island Educational Center, complete with a dining room, kitchen and flush toilets as well as a bunk house upstairs.

Soon it was to the beach to dig up sand worms for fishing. The green crabs were just a bonus. 

Turns out Bella was a little more freaked out by the sea life than Ella or Skyler. 

Who doesn't love a tidal pool and all the creatures therein?

We did a GPS hike (like geocaching but rather than exchanging trinkets the kids traced symbols to prove they had been at the locations they were supposed to be at) that concluded with solving a bit of Burnt Island trivia to get the location of their final treasure (a bag of Skittles).

The kids learned a bit about lobstering and painted their own buoys.

The last day we did a very cool Amazing-race inspired hunt all over the island using compass navigation skills and decoding. They were split into teams of 4 and made their own flags representing each team member by their coded name. 

While the kids were learning compass skills to use in the race I decided it would be a good time to hike back to the bathroom. As I was making my way back to the group, a cluster of parents were walking along with Elaine. I thought I would make myself useful and join these parents that were clearly on a mission. Turns out they were going to be in charge of the stations the kids would be visiting. Sounds good. Then Elaine says, "Is there anyone who wants to volunteer to float in the ocean in a survival suit so the kids can try to rescue you? You would be in the ocean for about an hour." 

Come again? 

Now I can be overly ambitious from time to time. But there are some things I just know I cannot do. Floating in the water, in the ocean, for an hour is definitely one of those. Swimming in a lake is sometimes one of those. I have an unexplainable, deep seated fear of my legs dangling in the water where fish and turtles and monsters could bite off my toes. I make myself do it but it isn't without some light hyperventilation, a lot of self-talk and a some true grit that I swim in a body of water with creatures in it.

 Thankfully a very hearty dad was excited for the post and I was positioned on land (and near the coffee and the bathroom as luck would have it!). The kids had to decipher a "man overboard" code and find the right location to try to save the dad! It was the coolest. 

Later, when this activity was all done I heard the teacher say a thank you to the parents who had volunteered for the "adventurous" posts. I realized that, while I would have totally volunteered for it anyway, I had found myself in the adventurous group quite by accident when I emerged from the bathroom. Turns out having a small bladder could get you into trouble if you aren't careful.

Hands down my favorite activity of all was going up into the lighthouse at night. As Ella's teacher said: most people never get to go up in a working lighthouse and if they do it almost would never be at night. It was the coolest experience to think about these lighthouse keepers, back before GPS and satellite and charts, climbing these narrow spiral stairs and keeping the light aglow for all the mariners of yesterday. The stories Elaine told us about the elements the keepers would have to brave during storms to keep ice off the glass so it could be seen by the sea gave me goose bumps. They would have to go out onto the tiny deck with its flimsy railing during hurricanes to maintain that light. 

The light, a one inch bulb, looks enormous as it refracts through the glass. The windows of the lighthouse are red so when the light flashes every 6 seconds, it flashes red to the sea which indicates a specific message to the mariners (I think to take the island on the port side to slide safely into the harbor but don't quote me on that). 

I practically had to be dragged from the island I loved it there so much.

Back on the mainland, we got to visit the Maine State Aquarium for a bit before boarding the bus. We saw both baby lobsters (c' cute are they?) as well as a 17 pound lobster they estimate to be 30-40 years old.

The girls were really wowed by the touch tanks and specifically the shark tank. Okay, I was really wowed too. 

It has been a bumpy year, no doubt about it. But I look at this growing girl with such love and appreciation that I get to be her mother on this journey. Even if she would rather sleep with her friends in the bunkhouse than in a tent with her super fun mom. 

It's all good. 

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