Lessons Learned: Trapped in Kindergarten Chaos

My children are 10 and 6 and it’s only been during the course of this current school year that I’ve been able to be the “stay-at-home” mom that can pick the kids up from school, take them to their activities, and volunteer in the classroom. Nevermind that I work from my home, probably more than I worked when I commuting to an office, but my new work-from-home schedule does allow me the flexibility to me more involved with my two sons – something that I’m extremely thankful for.

Ok, so when I was the full-time office-bound mom whose kids were in school until 6:30pm, running the rat race, and enlisting family to take my kids to their activities, I used to dream about being able spend more time with my boys. One thing that I wanted to do was to chaperone field trips. I often thought about how much fun it would be for my younger son, Evan, to have his mommy on the trip laughing, learning, and having fun with him and his classmates. I also have to admit that, when I was a high school teacher about 10 years ago, my colleagues and I were absolutely convinced that elementary school teachers had a “cake” job teaching little ones. I mean, how hard could it be to make colorful bulletin boards, teach the ABCs and 123s, and get hugs all the time? Seriously! In fact, I had a friend who would always say “Elementary teachers teach ALL subjects!” which would make me think she was crazy. High school teachers specialize in one subject. They give exams. These grades matter for college admission. It must be the more difficult of the two jobs, right?

Well, this year, I have certainly gotten the answer to this question. Being a weekly volunteer in my son’s kindergarten class has allowed me to see all kinds of things: kids who refuse to speak, kids who throw fits over everything, kids who constantly have to go potty, kids who never stop talking, etc. Somewhere in there, the teacher is actually managing it all and they kids are actually learning. Controlled chaos. Every Wednesday, I show up to be library mom. I take the class, in two groups, to the library. Even though I’ve got those kids organized, walking single file, and listening it’s still like running the gauntlet. We have 15 minutes in which to get 8 kids the books they want and give them reading time in the library. The first time I did it, I worked up a sweat! After 8 months, I’m a pro! So, how tough could it be to chaperone a field trip? Lucky me, I found out! And it certainly wasn’t like the trips I used to run as a high school teacher.

The field trip was a beach combing trip to a local state park. There, the kids would learn about wildlife, sea life, and get to examine sea life in its own habitat with little microscopes. I would accompany 4 kindergarten classes with at least 10 other moms and each of us would be assigned a small group of kids for the day. My group consisted of my own son and one other little boy from the same class. Easy peasy. One would think that, over the course of 10-15 years, school busses would have become more modern and comfortable. Well, one would be wrong. Even though there were more participants than the bus could hold, the school district would only provide one bus for this trip. This meant that three people would be squeezed into each seat, adults included. The bus comes equipped with an air conditioner, but because of tight budgets, the driver isn’t allowed to put it on until the bus is fully loaded. During the 15 minutes it takes to load 70 small children and chaperones in 85-90 degree heat, the bus can become unbearably hot. Ours certainly did. I was unlucky enough to be one of the first to load. In minutes, the bus became hot, sweaty, and smelly. Kids were whining…loudly and I kept wondering what I had gotten myself into. The torpedo on wheels (I swear the driver was speeding) soon became a sweaty, noisy, cramped torture chamber and knowing that we would be going over a few bridges, I started looking at the windows and ceiling for escape routes in the event of an emergency. I determined that, in the event of an emergency, we would be totally up a creek without any paddles. We were packed like a can of sardines. So, to get my mind off of the thought of catastrophe and my sweaty behind (let’s just say that vinyl seats are not my friend) I started asking my son and his classmate Billy what they wanted to see on the trip. That’s when I realized that little Billy was one of the non talkers. No matter what I said or asked, Billy would not respond. He would not talk or even shake his head. Meanwhile, I couldn’t shut my own kid up, so Evan made up for both of them.

Despite the fact that Billy decided to be non verbal for the day (he does talk to kids, just not adults… maybe he’s on to something) we had fun combing the beach, looking at seaweed, starfish, seagrass and learning about the ecosystem. It took all of the teachers and moms (and 1 dad) to keep the kids moving in the right direction and doing what they were supposed to do, and the bus rides were chaotic and torturous in both directions. By the time we rolled in to the school, I was exhausted and a little stressed out from the heat, noise, and general chaos. I kept thinking that I couldn’t wait to get home to take a shower and a nap. Meanwhile, the teachers and students still had another 1.5 hours of school left. I decided that these teachers must be super women and that the job of the elementary teacher is fundamentally different and more difficult than any other in the K-12 system.

It’s funny how we tend to romanticize past or future experiences. I had always envied the moms and dads who could participate in school events and felt guilty that I couldn’t. When we are imagining how something might be (or how it was), it’s generally all hearts, flowers, and rose-colored glasses. I certainly never considered the craziness, discomfort, and insecurity of the bus ride and how it would affect my overall experience as a parent chaperone. The trip itself also enlightened me as to how difficult it is to be a teacher these days and how important parental involvement is. What made it all worth it was hearing my son say, “Mommy, I’m so happy you came with me today. I love special time with you, mommy”.

When I returned home, I did take that nap. In fact, it’s the next day and I’m still in my jammies. Luckily, I have a good six months before the next field trip. That should give me just enough time to recover from this one.