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.

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