A Father, A Teenager, and a Trip to the Zoo
(Guest post by Travis)
I recently had one of those parent moments that mean more than anything money could ever buy.
About a week before my thirteen year old son’s end of the school year field trip to the Minnesota Zoo, I got an email from the school stating they did not have enough parent volunteers. If they didn’t get more, they would have to cancel the zoo trip. Tristan had originally been against me being a chaperone, but with the threat of the field trip being cancelled, he accepted me going with.
I found it amusing that when I boarded my bus, and scanned for a place to sit, every pair of eyes that met mine screamed, â€œOh no, please don’t sit with me!â€ I decided to spare all the students, including my son, from having to sit with a chaperone and took an empty seat.
During the 90 minute ride to the zoo, a teacher explained the rules for the trip. Students had to complete a worksheet answering questions which would require them to visit various exhibits throughout the zoo. They did not have to stay with an adult, but they did have to find one twice throughout the day and have them sign and timestamp the worksheet.
As we entered the zoo, groups of kids took off every which way, worksheets and pencils in hand. I took a map from one of the employees at the gate and headed towards the monkey exhibit close by. Suddenly, Tristan and three friends walked up beside me. He saw me looking at my map and said, â€œWe’re going to follow you because we don’t have a map.â€
It struck me as an odd statement, given that there are maps of the zoo on signposts all over the place. I wondered if he really wanted my map, or if he just simply wanted me to direct him and his friends to where they needed to go to find the answers on their worksheets.
â€œYou can have this one,â€ I replied, folding it neatly and handing it to him.
He took the map, and off he went with his friends. After observing the monkeys for a few minutes, I turned and headed towards the grizzly bear exhibit. Walking down a concrete ramp, Tristan and his friends ran past me, then stopped to discuss where they were going to go next.
As I approached them, Tristan looked at me and said, â€œAre you going to follow us?â€
â€œI don’t have to. Just make sure you check in with an adult twice,â€ I answered, trying not to be overprotective.
â€œYou can if you want to,â€ he stated squinting up at me, â€œ I mean, I don’t care or anything,â€
I couldn’t help but wonder if he really didn’t care if I hung around him and his friends, or if maybe he just didn’t want to have to go looking for an adult to sign his worksheet.
I followed Tristan and his friends from exhibit to exhibit, always staying 20 to 30 feet behind them giving them some space. Every now and then he’d turn around and steal a glance, making sure I was still there. Whenever they were heading somewhere new, he’d walk back to me and tell me where they were going next.
When they decided to eat lunch, I followed them to the predesignated eating area. I sat down at an empty table on the opposite side of the room from them and started to unpack my brown bag lunch. After a few minutes, I saw Tristan looking around. When his eyes found me, he put his hand up in the air and waved me over. I walked over to him and said, â€œI know where you are, I can see you.â€
â€œYou can sit by us if you want,â€ he said.
I sat down at the table next to them and quietly ate my lunch. I listened to the conversation between the middle school boys wondering if he really wanted me there, or if he just felt bad that I had been sitting by myself.
When we got home, I made a point to tell him that it made me feel good to have him ask me to hang out with him at the zoo, when he could have just disappeared with his friends for the day. He tilted his head down and looked off to the side, his mouth contorting in a way that it does when he’s trying not to smile, but just can’t help it. Then he opened his arms, put his head on my chest and hugged me.
I stopped wondering.
Father’s Day wasn’t for another 10 days, but at that moment my son gave me the best Father’s Day gift he possibly could, and it didn’t cost him a cent. Tristan is at an age when friends and their opinions are all important, â€œI Love Youâ€ is replaced with a nod of the head, and eye rolls outnumber hugs.
My son is a teenager, but he doesn’t hate me. Yet.
Travis is a contributing writer for the My Journey Out of Debt blog in the CareOne Community, as well as a member of TeamEOD. He shares his family’s experiences, struggles and successes as they fight their way out of debt. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family.