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We just returned from the seventh grade class trip, and although I would love nothing more than to chillax (chill-relax as the kids call it) on the couch, many of you are expecting this blog about our adventures.
Seventh grade. Think twenty-five twelve and thirteen-year-olds, a basket of hormones, and a selection of take-your-pick awkward teenage moments all neatly attached to an iPhone. There we were, dragging through the USAir terminal at 4:00 am, kids and eight chaperones, waiting for our 6:00 am flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Philadelphia. The flight was uneventful other than its ungodly departure time. The kids were not nearly as tired as the 125 other passengers, and we landed in the city of brotherly love with just two boys with gum in their hair.
Most parents balk when they learn that my husband and I will be chaperoning our sons’ class trips. Either we are “overbearing” and unable to “cut the cord” or just plain “crazy.” The days are militant, beginning at 7:00 am, and the schedules are rigorous, jam-packed with on-the-bus off-the-bus educational musings mixed with counting heads, lunch on the run, and countless bathroom breaks. By the time my head hit the pillow that first night—after all five girls in my room showered and dried really long hair and ate an inordinate amount of sugary snacks—instead of counting sheep I began to count children.
And so it went on days two and three: full days replete with the history and culture in the meeting place of our country’s Founding Fathers. More than a few times I wished in earnest that I had paid attention in middle school American History when the kids raised their hands to answer most every one of the guide’s questions correctly. A chaperone beams with pride for her temporary children. But the children aren’t perfect, and we don’t expect them to be. The gum fiasco culminated in a thirty-minute hair-removal exercise with a comb and a tub of ice. I promised the boys we wouldn’t have to cut, and I made good on that promise. The key here: you treat these kids as though they are your own.
So you ask why we do this. When an unnamed child lost her cell phone in the second largest mall in America, and tears sprouted from her eyes, I understood that to her it was the equivalent of losing one of these kids in the second largest city on the east coast. This wasn’t the time to preach about being responsible. We had to find that phone. And when we did, she smiled and hugged me, and for the rest of the trip she made sure that phone was where it belonged. And when we ventured forth into the Eastern State Penitentiary where the only bathroom was an outhouse, I went first, assuring the young ladies that it was hygienic and utterly cool to stand while using the toilet. And after an exhausting day which concluded in standstill traffic and a dead cell phone battery (the ultimate disconnect), I closed my eyes and considered: where else do I need to be other than right here?
Chaperoning your child’s class is hard work, but most things worthwhile are. If you understand the fine balance between holding a hand and chaining a soul, you can attend these excursions and witness from a safe distance. Translation: giving them enough rope not to hang themselves. From this vantage point, you will find your child in their comfortable place amongst a fresh, new backdrop; you will witness the friendships they’ve grown and nurtured through the years; you will see how they assert themselves in your absence, though find you when they must; you will observe their interactions with strangers and authority; you will get to know the individuals who spend almost as much time with them as you do; you will watch them in wonder as they experience a new city and culture.
We understand that not every school allows parents to chaperone. We count ourselves lucky. We learn just as much as the kids.