There’s a scene in the movie Almost Famous where a writer is staring out the window of a bus contemplating his last few weeks with a famous rock band. He didn’t belong when he got there and still doesn’t, but at least he understands more than he did. Underneath the attitudes, bad behavior, and copious amounts of foul language, there was another layer to these people. A layer of experiences that have shaped them into who they are.
I felt this, but instead of weeks it was days, and instead of a wild rock and roll band, it was a group of 13- and 14-year-olds. This comparison sounds dramatic I know, but hear me out. First, I think I should mention that the biggest thing my son has to worry about is the newest video game. He’s a smart kid with good friends and a family who loves him. He is well-behaved, for the most part, so I wasn’t prepared for what my future held chaperoning his 8th-grade field trip.
For reasons undisclosed to me, my group did not include my son and his angelic friends, but rather a dream team of mismatched personalities with authority issues. I’m not gonna lie, when I first got to the crowded cafeteria and saw my group, I marched over to the assistant principal insisting there was a mistake. These kids with their messy hair and defiant stares couldn’t be mine, and yet they were. I took a deep breath and acted much more confident in my ability to take care of them than I actually felt.
Seven was my magic number that week. Four boys and three girls. I counted to seven a thousand times the first day making sure all my ducklings were with me. I thought if I could just get all seven back in one piece, I could count myself successful. I found out with the first few F-bombs and a phrase I hadn’t heard since my college frat party days that success was going to mean more than just a safe return. These were definitely not the “yes ma’am, no sir” kids I was used to.
On the bus, off the bus, walking through museums and navigating food courts, I managed to keep my seven in tow. Despite the language they had now kept to a minimum, in front of me at least, and the PDA from a couple in my group (“Sweetheart, please get your hand off his butt”), I found myself drawn to them. As each took turns walking ahead with me, I understood a little more about where some of that original defiance and hardness came from.
I heard about mamas leaving and suddenly returning six years later. About hateful dads and amazing stepdads. I learned the need for boyfriends was nothing more than wanting undivided attention from someone. I saw ugly texts and Snapchats from people they’d never even met in person. I realized my son’s reality was not theirs. I looked into eyes that had learned to act indifferent but hadn’t wanted to.
I also saw a shift in these kids given a little time away from their daily struggles. Thinking I lost one, I went around the corner to find him taking a picture of a family for them. I heard giggles from girls who had shown up surly, determined not to have fun. I watched as one searched for his stepdad’s name on a keychain and had another ask if we could do the trip over, just our group this time. These weren’t bad kids.
On our way home, I looked out my own window thinking about the past few days. I turned around to see some asleep while others quietly played on their phones. The sweet faces tugged at my heart, and I realized how much I would miss the kids I had been so quick to dismiss. I thought about how lucky I was to not have been put into the group I was supposed to be in. But of course, God had known all along where I belonged that week.