Mama Madison: When mom gets a new roomie

The unexpected benefits of chaperoning a school trip

This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition. It was my husband who had originally signed up to chaperone the event, thinking that spending a few days with his 11-year-old daughter and her compatriots would serve as an excellent anthropological experience.

But when an unexpected work obligation made it impossible for him to attend, it was me left holding the bag. Or should I say bags, quite literally? I think it might have been possible to hike the full length of the Appalachian Trail with fewer supplies than these kids evidently needed to spend three days and two nights at a well-equipped church retreat center in Green Lake, Wisconsin.

Now, those who know me know I am a reasonably involved (perhaps over-involved) mother. I try to get to as many PTO meetings as possible, have never missed a music recital and I always come through with the juice boxes and pretzels when a group snack is called for. But historically I have drawn the line at chaperoning. Especially the overnight chaperoning of a gaggle of kids on the verge of adolescence.

What would I do if I found a group of seventh-graders in a coat closet playing "Spin the Bottle," or worse yet, "quarters" with something other than flat Sprite? How would I handle it if one of my daughter's sixth-grade classmates got her period for the first time on my watch? I've been to enough sleepaway camps, watched enough ABC Family and certainly read enough Judy Blume books in my day to know what kinds of things can happen when you take a busload of tweens an hour-and-a-half from home and plop them down in an environment with an adult-to-kid ratio that favors the latter.

But as is true with so many experiences I initially dread (like whitewater rafting or getting my eyebrows waxed), the good most certainly outweighed the bad. The kids were actually extremely well behaved and quite delightful. And there are few pleasures in motherhood that can top the chance to put on pajamas, gorge on Goldfish crackers and get all the sixth grade gossip while indulging in a late-night gabfest with your daughter and her roommates.

And no one in her suite, or any of the kids' rooms as far as I know, made inappropriate use of a closet.

The highlight of my FPS experience may have had very little to do with any of the kids, though. No, I honestly think the part of my adventure I'll remember the best was getting to spend time with the other adults, both parents and educators, who were brave enough to chaperone. There was the mom I got to know from Appleton, who as it turns out, lived just a few blocks from me, post-college, in Chicago. I'm guessing she and I passed each other dozens of times walking to the train many moons ago, but it took moving to the Badger State and having Future Problem Solving middle-schoolers for us to actually meet.

And while we didn't have nearly enough time to just hang out, it was fun knowing my dear friend and neighbor who was at the competition coaching another school was sleeping just a few doors down the hall of our lodge. I shared delightful carb-heavy, mess hall-style meals with some extremely interesting, and very funny, parents.

Oh, and did I mention my husband had signed himself, and thus me by default, up for a roommate? His, of course, would have been a guy. Mine though was a fellow Hamilton Middle School mom. Her child was in a different grade from either of mine, so we'd never even seen each other before, much less had a chance to bond. But we giggled, traded child-raising war stories and discussed hair product before falling asleep. It was kind of like being 11 and in summer camp all over again.

Yes, I may have chaperoned against my will and better judgement. But wills can be misguided and judgement impaired. I don't doubt for a second that another Future Problem Solving chaperone experience will be in my future.

Hopefully my new mom-friend will want to be my "roomie" again. And I can bring the Goldfish crackers. I am, after all, very experienced at buying snacks.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Talking about race with Families for Justice

Like many parents, I look at the wide world around my kids and do my best to prepare them for life. We talk about working hard, being kind and responsible, Internet safety, stranger danger, and the (gulp) birds and the bees. But what about a topic such as race?

Mama Madison: Checking it twice

If you're like me, looking around your house in the weeks before Christmas will probably have you convinced that the last thing your kids need to find underneath the tree is a pile of new toys.

Mama Madison: Managing holiday lists

I spend a lot of time talking to my kids about how lucky we are to have what we have. Though our house is tiny and our van is unequipped with automatic doors, we have all we could ever need, and a lot of what we want.

Girls on the Run of Dane County marks a decade of changing young lives

On the evening of Nov. 6, a throng of people gathered at Monona Terrace. They were there to attend an impressive anniversary shindig, but the real buzz of excitement centered on the event's guest of honor.

Mama Madison: Mom dates are hard

You may call them "play dates," but I like the term "mom dates," especially since my kids are still too young to really care that there's another small person to squabble over toys with.

Mama Madison: No judgments with No Excuse Mom

If there is an excuse for not working out and eating healthy, I have used it: I don't have time. I'm too tired. I'll start tomorrow. I'm no good at this, I give up. I don't know where to start. Yes, I have used all of these and more.

Mama Madison: Introducing kids to your CSA box

At almost a year old, my kids are in the blissful stage of life where they'll eat nearly anything that I put in front of them (at least as long as it doesn't require much in the way of molar action).

Mama Madison: Changing tables, changing times

My family recently went through something that we have not experienced in over eight years. We have become a household that no longer harbors a crib or a changing table.

From museum to school with MMoCA

"There really is no wrong way to do it." That's how Madeline, age 13, describes creating artwork. She and her classmates at Prairie View Middle School in Sun Prairie are honing their artistic skills by participating in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art's Art on Tour program.

Mama Madison: Coping with toddlers in a Wisconsin winter

I'm having trouble enjoying the season, because I can't keep myself from thinking about the miserable weather that's sure to be following close on the heels of the crisp, pleasant fall we've been having. I am not at all emotionally prepared to be the parent of two toddlers during a Wisconsin winter.

Mama Madison: Melissa Wardy pushes positive messages

I've always been a supporter of companies that empower women and girls, and when the creator of such a company is a fellow Wisconsinite, I get even more excited. When Melissa Wardy of Janesville got fed up with stereotypes found in clothing for girls, she started her own company.

Mama Madison: Three cheers for reading at the Wisconsin Book Festival

Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.

Mama Madison: What's in a name?

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.

Mama Madison: Eugster's is more than just a visit to the farm

At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.

Help for home-schoolers at the Madison Mentor Center

Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"

Mama Madison: Yummy Sprout is a wonderful resource

After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?

Mama Madison: Tips and tricks for baby air travel

As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.

Mama Madison: Apple-picking time

The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.

Mama Madison: Baby feeding recommendations

I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?

Heartland Farm Sanctuary helps animals that help kids

Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.