Why do the words “chauffeur” and “chaperon” sound so romantic and lovely with their whooshy ‘sh’ sounds? In actuality they are a steaming pile of parental nightmare chit.
Chauffeuring is the underpaid, underappreciated job mothers of school age children perform the most. After-school ecology club, soccer, drama, whatever- the more kids you have, the more pick-ups and drop-offs you perform. I have 4 kids in 4 different schools, and every once in awhile (combo: band before school plus high schooler missing 7 am bus) I get the unique pleasure of driving the four of them, respectively, to high school, older elementary school, younger elementary school and preschool, and I find myself wondering if I have dropped them off at the correct buildings. (Oh well, they’ll just think my three year old is a short freshman… and my 15 year old will love naptime.)
I recently returned (kept alive by the promise of an iv drip of Jack and Diet Coke when I got home) from the 5th grade trip to Mount Vernon. I had always wanted to see the home of George Washington, and realized I had never chaperoned a trip for Molly (who’s going to Middle School in the fall and therefore entering the No-Mom Zone) so I agreed.
Good news arrived first in the form of comfortable coach buses, versus bouncy yellow cement-seated school buses. There would be a movie! This won’t be so bad, I thought. I quickly learn that if you have candy or gum in your purse, you can trade it with the natives, thus it equals power.
The teacher announces that the bathroom should only be used in a dire emergency. This announcement was quickly translated into ‘a diarrhea emergency’ by a bunch of snickering boys. The teacher then asked the chaperon closest to the bathroom to moderate this. I froze. I was only about three rows from the back. PleaseGodIswearIwillgobacktochurchifyoudon’tmakemethepottywardenpleasepleaseplease… I glanced back, and probably released an audible sigh of relief upon seeing the horrified mom across from the potty. (Sucker! I thought.)
Next, a mom casually tells me that she went on this trip last year, but the kids didn’t get to see the mansion house- you know, the one George Washington lived in. What? I said. How did you not get to see it? She explained you’re only there for like three hours and there are thousands of acres of buildings and gardens and stuff, and the line for the main house is several hours long.
OH, NO. Not me, no way. My new goal in life was to get my group of five girls into the Mt. Vernon mansion. If I had to beat up a costumed re-enactor, steal her costume and pretend to be Martha Washington’s seamstress and smuggle my girls in through the cellar, we were getting in. As soon as we are ‘let go’ with our tickets, we make a beeline for the mansion line. Everyone else heads into the ‘Welcome Video’ which is a 20-minute introductory time-killer. We grab the map and bolt for the line, which we wait in for about an hour. The girls (to whom whining comes as naturally as it does to a boiling tea kettle) are all: can we just like go see the other buildings we don’t wanna wait in line, wah. I inform them that seeing the bed George Washington died in, and the desk where he worked, and the view of the Potomac River from the columned back portico is LIKE the reason we’re here! I occupy them with choosing one other place on the plantation that they want to each see when we get out of the main house. We make it in, one of the only groups from our school to do so (high five marymac!) and still have time to see the Victorian boathouse and its neighboring nesting bald eagle (I think: he’s gotta be a paid bird actor), the slave cabin, round barn, actual tombs of George and Martha, kitchen, crops and other farm buildings. Success of historical proportions.
On the way home, the kids weren’t tired as I hoped, but were insanely loud. Plus the good news about the movie turned into bad news that there was only one (bad) movie, so now we were gonna watch it again. I watched as one mom took a nap (though heard the boys, including her own son, plotting about what they could put in her hair) and would have traded my kingdom for an ipod. I find myself wondering if chaperon powers include smacking other people’s children upside the head. We actually passed a rusty dump truck with a message painted on it: God Hears Your Prayers. No, he doesn’t, I think– I am surrounded by 50 screaming 5th graders!
But then I remember I wasted my God credit on the potty seat.
oooh, oooh, double post, PJ&C fans! and while i am interrupting myself, am asking favor: if you like pajamas&coffee, can you send the link to a friend?
I wrote the following piece two years ago when I chaperoned my oldest daughter’s middle school dance. Enjoy!
Chaperoning the Middle School Dance
My hell began with an innocent email from the Middle School Band Director. She needed parents to chaperon the dance. The request landed on vulnerable ears: me, a guilt-laden mother who had neither purchased requisite amount of band fundraiser chocolate nor properly altered daughter’s marching band uniform pants (how was I to know packing tape did not withstand rain puddles?…).
Before I knew it, I was reviewing the map of chaperon parent locations for The Dance. God apparently ignored my prayer to land a role doling out Sprite and Chex Mix in the cafeteria and horror or horrors: I would be In The Gym. With the DJ, the cavalry of short-stick drawing teachers, and 150 pimple-faced, hormone-revved 6th, 7th and 8th graders bouncing up and down to music of an unrecognizable genre.
I remember my own Junior High dances. Girls on one side of the gym, boys on the other, an invisible equator line down the middle. It was agonizing- waiting for a boy to ask you to dance, having to fear rejection asking one to dance with you. But those were more innocent times, days when turtlenecks existed and Air Supply cassettes played.
Now there are dress codes (no skirts short enough to see your belly button, no tank tops smaller than toothpicks) strict rules (no naked pyramids, no heavy artillery) and a principal armed with dog-catching equipment and a fire extinguisher.
The wide-eyed, quivering parents are instructed that tight circles around students, ‘girl on girl’ interaction and visible underwear are forbidden. These rules are repeated over the microphone for the benefit of the students, while I grapple with the concept of ‘girl on girl’ as it might apply to 11 year old children.
The parents are told to ‘break up’ any suspicious physical interaction, but most of us are hunched in shadowy corners trying to look invisible. I am busy trying to NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT with my 13-year old, who has painstakingly chosen my outfit, from the why-do-all-the-fashionable-tops-look-like-maternity-clothing to the my-feet-are-killing-me wedge shoes borrowed from her closet. I send text messages to no one on my phone in an effort not to look dorky.
The music is so loud it is vibrating my earrings; the only break from the noise comes in the silence-beeped censorship of bad words from the rap songs. I had enjoyed threatening my daughter by telling her I was going to ask her bald, bespectacled 60-something science teacher to dance… to a slow song. Such an action may have caused a judge to elicit a ruling of justifiable homicide for my offspring as my battered corpse rotted in a grave (where at least it would be quiet).
There wasn’t even a t-shirt… so I survived chaperoning the middle school dance and all I got to show for it was a lousy migraine.
I vowed the next year to spend $200 on band fundraiser chocolate. And hem the band uniform pants.