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: Parental dice rolls?

Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."

Mama Madison: What constitutes a keepsake?

As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.

Mama Madison: Young love

Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (Near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.

Mama Madison: What a mother fears most

All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.

Operation Fresh Start's Youth Conservation Corps helps kids, and kids help parks

Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.

Mama Madison: Summer stress solved by yoga

The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.

Mama Madison: The greatest fans of road repair

Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.

Mama Madison: The alarm sounds

As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.

Mama Madison: My summer book list

For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.

Make Music Madison gives young artists a chance to perform

The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.

Mama Madison: Watching talent grow

Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.

Mama Madison: Writing time at Olbrich

If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.

Mama Madison: When UW-Madison's semester is over, the kids want out too

There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.

Mama Madison: Another amazing talent show

My passion for the talent show clearly runs deep, but I'm more than just a fangirl. This year marked my second as one of the "Ziegfelds" of the Follies, Hamilton's annual showcase for singers, musicians, dancers and other varied forms of entertainment. Trust me, when you are part of the spectacle's "producing/directing" team you get a new-found appreciation for how hard the kids worked to get up on stage.

Mama Madison: Preserving children's stories

My daughter, who turned twelve just this past week, is not legally "of age" when it comes to social media. But I guess, in many respects, especially in those that involve screens, I am a permissive pushover. I've allowed her join some networks.

Tenting tonight? Not so fast -- take the time to prepare for the first family camping trip

What adults love about camping -- sleeping under the stars, getting away from it all, the sounds of nature -- can be scary for children. It's dark in a tent. Nothing is familiar. Of course, camping with kids is more work for adults, too. Stay cool, live in the moment. Forget about that lost fork. Making s'mores, spotting wildlife, that's what kids will remember.

Mama Madison: It's time for the college tour

I have just returned from a whirlwind, five-day, four-city college tour with my son. You know those "101 Things to Know Before Visiting Disney World" guidebooks that experienced theme park travelers have written to help the uninitiated? I think I am now officially seasoned enough in information sessions and campus tours to give some serious thought to penning a similar "insiders guide" for the junior-year parent.

Mama Madison: When mom gets a new roomie

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.

Mama Madison: Earth Day awareness

It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.

Mama Madison: Parents should know and understand school codes of conduct

I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.

Emails from Isthmus Parents feature event highlights, story links, site updates, and occasional special offers from trusted sources. Name and email address are required. Thanks!