Going as Chaperone Opens Parent's Eyes
By Kathy Chin Leong

The long-awaited East Coast trip was finally here. After six months of candy, Entertainment book, and cookie dough sales, the rambunctious 8th graders at Kings Academy was heading for the East Coast, and so was I, as one of the 25 fearless chaperones.

In actuality, I couldn't bear the thought of my 14-year-old daughter flying 3,000 miles across the country without one of her parents. When the school asked if any adults could like to come along to help, my hand shot up.

But first I had to ask permission. Other students, secretly waiting for a week of freedom, were adamant that their Mom and Dad stay put. But sweet Gwen smiled and said, "Sure," when I pitifully asked if I could come along.

What I thought would be a simple trip, turned out to be more complex and exhausting than imagined. We would be zipping through Boston, New York, and Washington DC in three luxury tour buses making sure we didn't leave anybody behind. I didn't realize that being a chaperone meant I had to be on call 24 x 7 to my group of 8th grade girls. Fortunately, my five gals were independent, mature young women, compared to my peers who had to baby-sit some nasty gossipers and boy-crazy teens.

Compared to taking Gwen on a trip alone, this excursion gave me an opportunity to view her in context of the eighth grade world in general. This Class of 2008 was like any other.

Seeing the antics of the other 80 or so kids in this entourage took me back to my eighth grade year at Leonard Herman Intermediate School in San Jose.

TEENAGE ANGST REVISITED

It was as if the stereotypes all came back to haunt me: the girls wearing too much make up and not enough clothes; the jocks with attitude, too cool, yet too stupid to listen to rules and regulations; the boys who had crushes on the girls and vicesa versa.

The hormones, coupled with teenage angst, erupted everywhere. Thanks to a dad who was walking to an ice maker in the hotel, a potential romantic interlude was interrupted on the stairwell.

During one shopping spree on 5th Avenue in New York, one of my chaperonees asked me, "Mrs. Leong, what do you buy for a boy you don't like?"

My response? "Nothing. If you don't like him, buy him nothing."

"I have to buy him something, he bought me something." Sigh.

Another evening the girls were extraordinarily hyper preparing for their outing to see "The Lion King" on Broadway. In one tiny restaurant bathroom, one of our girls was putting on eyeliner when another one opened the door and bumped into her, subsequently sending the eyeliner wand into her eye socket. She screamed, the other girl screamed, and then all the girls flocked around her like mother hens.

Earlier that evening in the hotel, one gal was spotted running up and down the hallway pounding on doors shouting, "Hairspray! I ran out of hairspray!"

Gwen didn't fit into any of these categories. My 14-year-old whose best friends are one and two years younger than she is, found solace hanging onto me when it was time for the kids to freely roam the museums and shopping malls. "Do you want to go with your friends?" I would ask.

"No Mom. I'll stay with you." I don't know if she felt sorry for me, or if she just preferred to stay with her mom because she didn't really have that much in common with the other girls. Nonetheless, we enjoyed shopping in Faneuil Hall in Boston, milling about Gettysburg, and soberly reading the names on the Vietnam War Memorial.

HEY, DUDE

While I saw so many familiar aspects of eight grade youth, during this generation, I noticed communication and entertainment is definitely different. When I was a teenager, the cool word was "Man. Hey man. Look out, man..."

Now it's "Hey dude. Watch out dude." And if you are mad at the guy, you say, "Duuu...uude!" (That's what my 15-year-old nephew James tells me anyway).

I couldn't help smiling as I saw this crop of young men and women straddling childhood and adulthood, one foot in both worlds, unsure of where to land both feet. Our theater experience at The Lion King is a case in point: Clad in every hue of eyeshadow imaginable, these lovely ladies wore gowns and high heels, but clopped in like Clydesdale horses at a county fair. Several snapped gum, jawing their sentences. When one gal went to the restroom, her girlfriend threw her nyloned legs up over her seat saying, "I'll save your place!"

She looked embarrassed when I motioned for her to sit up straight and told her this was not the movie theater, that we had assigned seating, and that her friend would not lose her spot.

Some of the boys felt awkward in their starched dress shirts and Nike tennis shoes. A few with sports jackets and matching ties looked dapper, and I bet their mothers must have picked these out beforehand. Out of their element, these same guys would later be giddily snapping photos of two mating squirrels at the graveyard of Paul Revere.

ELECTRONICS

As we rode from city to city in our wide and plush tour buses, we could have been one big advertisement for Fry's Electronics. The kids were rocking to music on their CD players (this is pre- IPod), cramping thumbs on GameBoy, reloading their digital cameras with memory sticks, yakking on cell phones, and playing computer games on their laptops.

It is a different and crazy world. When I went to the girls' room to say good night, I had to take a picture of the entire writing table, covered with electronic doodads and wires, as if they were alive, recharging themselves for the next day of frenetic activity.

RETURNING HOME

It was soon the last day of our vacation. The tour guide lauded the kids on being one of the best groups ever. We had the privilege of staying at Sheraton Hotels and other four and five-star hotels because our students had been respectable guests in past years. The kids saw Ground Zero in New York, walked several Smithsonian museums in DC, and saw where George Washington had built his plantation in Mt. Vernon.

What I saw was my first born child, slowly emerging into a gracious young lady, carefully and judiciously entering friendships with boys and girls. I also saw a cross-section of America's Class of 2008, a class old enough to understand presidential scandal terrorism at its worst, and a war that has claimed lives of those they know and love.

On this 8th grade field trip, I saw a lot of my past, and I'm so glad I don't have to go there again.

****

IF YOU GO AS A TRIP CHAPERONE, REMEMBER...

  • You're there not for yourself, but for the kids.
  • You won't see things on the trip that you want to see, and that will have to be okay.
  • You may have to skip out on activities if you have a sick kid in your group.
  • Keep an eye on them at all times.
  • Make sure each student wears a watch and checks in at appropriate times.
  • Enforce the rules of the teachers. You are chaperone, not a friend.

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