A Week of Mountain School. And The Plan.

Let me tell you a little bit about our recent trip to the Outdoor Lab school where my firstborn will tramp around in the woods with her fellow sixth graders for a week this December.

Somewhat tangentially, have I mentioned, ever, how we just wrapped up the SUMMER THAT WOULD NEVER END? Because waking up early on a Saturday morning to drive into the cooler, breezier mountains for the Open House: totally worth it.


The last leg of our drive involved bumping slowly up and down one of those unpaved, winding mountain roads ridged for icy conditions.

- I stared out the window of our 4-wheel drive vehicle and said, “How in hell will they get a bus up here in the snow?”

- Mr. Asthma Mom laughed at my ferocious, anxious gnawing on a fingernail or two. (I never bite my nails.)

- Our firstborn, AG, said “How are they going to get a BUS up here?”

- And the Sidekick hummed in one continuous monotone so she could hear her voice waver up and down with each tiny bump on the road and laughed hysterically the whole time. (Because she is eight.)


Up til that point, I’d made my peace with this little December adventure, mostly through avoidance, and that strategy worked right up until we reached this several-mile stretch of road. Then Open House started to seem like a really bad idea, just for the anxiety of that drive alone.


The day started looking up.

Outdoor Lab takes place on a school campus set in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, not just a couple of cabins on a hillside like I’d been picturing, and as such it employs a principal and various permanent staff who all live up there. Which: if people live at the school, then clearly it must be prepared and well-stocked for both emergencies and hordes of 11 and 12 year-old children. Tweens. Whatever they are.

Gorgeous mountain peaks, open fields, hiking trails, and forest surround the whole campus, and some of the classrooms are actually original 19th-century cabins.

Plus, just look at some of the class choices: archery, wildlife, art, the solar system and all sorts of other options including a required Living History unit on the first day. The kids will also take one big hike to a nearby summit and back, even in the snow and cold (Hello, handwarmers).

How much fun does this sound? And just where is the Outdoor Lab for grownups? Is what I want to know.

Finally, the part of the tour that will successfully prevent me from experiencing panic attacks now and until I get AG back again safely after her week away:

The Clinic

I met the nurses and the respiratory therapist (!), introduced AG, and learned that,

1. When the buses arrive on Monday, all the asthma kids meet with the RT together.

2. They’ll also visit the clinic every morning to report how they’re feeling/breathing and how many times they used their inhalers the day before.

3. AG will carry her own quick-relief inhaler, but she’ll visit the clinic every morning and evening for her Flovent, along with any other kids who need daily meds.

4. Besides the permanent staff and the sixth grade teachers from AG’s school, high school and college counselors volunteer at Outdoor Lab, with the ratio working out to one adult/counselor for every five kids.

5. Every counselor and staff member carries a walkie talkie for emergencies.

6. I can call the clinic and check on AG anytime at all during the week she’s gone, even in the middle of the night. While I can’t talk to my kid herself – none of the parents can, and I’m fine with that policy – I can find out if she’s been flaring or needed her inhaler while hiking or even pass along a message to her through one of the clinic staff.

I’d heard about the incredible facilities and staff and knew that students come away from Outdoor Lab with lifetime memories, but there’s something to be said for seeing, in person, the place your child will eat, sleep, and learn for a week without you and to shake the hands of the people who will safeguard her health.

Mr. Asthma Mom and another sixth grade dad, while talking about the possibility of our daughters getting snowed in for a couple of extra days, even hatched a tentative rescue plan involving our jeep, a truck nicknamed The Beast, and some tow rope. It also involves my consuming several adult beverages at home while baking Christmas cookies with the Sidekick and trying very, very hard not to think about their drive back down the icy mountain roads.

It’s good to have a plan and I feel oddly reassured with this one, despite the boys’ obvious glee in half-hoping they’ll have to attempt it.