Recently, I took a month off from work, packed my VW Tiguan and made the almost 1900-mile road trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans to spend some “daddy/daughter” time with my 6 and 3/4-year-old daughter (those with 6 years olds will understand the fractions).
The plan was to drive the carpool in the morning, relax and write during the day, and take care of homework/dinner/bedtime on the nights I would care for my girl. Weeks before my arrival, I found out my daughter’s first grade class would take two field trips during my first week in NOLA: one to stroll the sculpture gardens of NOMOA, the other to hike the swamp paths of the John Lafitte National Reserve. I signed up to chaperone both field trips, knowing that this would be an amazing opportunity to see my daughter in action amongst her peers. What I didn’t sign up for was being personally responsible for five very different, very demanding, very energetic girls.
So here is what I learned from my first experience as a parental chaperone. And while my situation may not be the norm, these are tips for any parent in any situation:
1. Forget Names: Learning new names at the age of 48 is paramount to passing the bar. I was responsible for five girls, one being my daughter. That meant four new names to learn in a matter of minutes. It wasn’t going to happen. So instead, I named our group. If one of my charges wandered off, I simply assembled the group by shouting our group name. And to be sure the girls were invested in their new moniker, I had each girl come up with one part of the name. Thus was born THE LADYBUG FAIRY TWINKLE COOL ADVENTURE GROUP. The girls relished the fact that they were the only group in their class with a special name. As for me, I kept control of the girls…and I got a “great job, dad” from the teacher.
2. Know the Kids: I knew I had to identify each kid’s personality and plan accordingly. And I quickly learned that “Bossy” should never be left alone with “Napoleon.” “Bossy” got her way because she was tall, fast, and frankly, really cool. “Napoleon” got her way by constantly yelling “EVERYONE LISTEN!” She was the shortest member of the entire 1st grade and she would not take any of “Bossy’s” shit. But “Bossy” loved doling it out anyway. The “Pleaser” got along very well with “On My Best Behavior” (my kid), so I could count on them to never stray and back me up in times of need. As for “Silent, but Possibly Deadly”, she was the tough one. She could easily join forces with “Bossy” and “Napoleon”, tipping the scales against my favor. She was the one to watch. But I knew them…and the devils you know are far better than the ones you don’t.
3. Know the Rules: Upon entering the sculpture garden at the museum, my girls took off running across the lawn from statue to statue. I had told them no climbing on the artwork (this only made sense). However, within minutes, the Docent approached me and curtly asked me to get control of the kids. “There is no running or raised voices in the gardens. And the grass is off limits!” Apparently, my daughter’s teacher had read the rules to the children on the bus ride over. However, there wasn’t room on the bus for most of the parents, so none of us knew the rules. Needless to say, I advise you to ask before you leap.
4. Be Creative: Taking running and yelling away from a group of 1st-graders is like eating the only cookie in front of them—it’s sad! So I had to improvise. I created a game that I thought would interest all five personalities in the group. “Name That Statue”. At each sculpture, we would stand, admire, walk around the piece and then reassemble in front. Then, each girl got to name the statue without looking at the actual name placard. As we stood in front of a tall bronze male nude, their personalities came to life once again. “I call this one ‘Put some clothes on, man'”, said “Napoleon”. “Chilly” said “The Pleaser”. From behind the statue came “Mr. Butt Man”. It was “Bossy”, of course. The exercise was truly revealing to me, fun for the girls and…time flew by.
5. No Special Treatment: This was a hard one. I found myself looking out for my child when it came to the group, wanting her to have an equal say in all that we did. However, protecting her was hampering her ability to just be herself. If I wanted to see her in her element, I had to step back, turn off the helicopter and let my kid be herself. And it was pretty revealing. At lunch on the Museums front lawn, I looked on as about 50 first-graders raced around, playing tag…red light-green light…you name it. And amidst the havoc, I spotted my daughter picking dandelions and making a bouquet that she would later ask me to take to her mother. That’s her personality. I would have loved to see her play with the others, but letting her be “her” gave me a wonderful window into her world.
Was this experience daunting? Yes. Was it frustrating? At times. But these were two days that I will not soon forget. And using these five tips, you too would be able to make your experience one that your own kids will remember for years to come.