Recently, I took a month off of work, packed my VW Tiguan and made the almost 1,900-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 fieldtrips, 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 5 very different…very demanding…very energetic girls. So here are five tips for the rookie field trip 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. 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 in 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 kids 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 dolling 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). But within minuets the Docent approached me and, very 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, ask before you leap.
4. Be Creative:
Taking running and yelling away from a group of 1st-graders outside is like eating the last cookie in front of a group said 1st graders. So I had to improvise. I created a game that I thought would interest all five different 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 the time flew by.
5. No Special Treatment:
This was a hard one. I found myself really looking out for my child when it came to the group, wanting to her to have an equal say in all that we did. But 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 reveling. 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 in amongst the havoc I spotted my girl, 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 have seen her playing with the others, but letting her be “her” gave me see a wonderful glance 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 just might make your experience one your own kids will remember for years to come as well.
Photo: Getty Images