Nine Ways a Birthday Party is Like a Field Trip

As some of you may know, the boys and I are without Jason for a couple weeks, as he is off in Texas taking classes for his doctoral program. All in all, we have fared pretty well without him, but last night I had the ultimate "Surviving Without Jason" test: the boys' birthday party.

Yes, last night I found myself alone taking the boys and some of their friends to a Grizzlies semi-pro baseball game. And while this party went very well and everyone seemed to be happy with it, it was a wee bit hectic. In fact, the whole event sent me straight back to my teacher days and into one of my most challenging teacher roles - Field Trip Coordinator.

Some teachers love going on field trips. I however, do not. If given the option, I would almost always decline to go on any field trips when I was teaching. Even the most educational or beneficial field trips were rejected. Spend a few hours reading to environmentally impoverished day care children? I don't think so. Plant trees in the park? Have to pass on that one. Go sing to nursing home residents? No way, Jose. It was just too much responsibility and hyper-vigilance for me. Every minute I was out in the non-school with those children I felt the weight of the responsibility for them heavily on my shoulders, and that was a weight I was happy to avoid.

However, for the benefit of my children, I once again put myself in field trip mode last night to go to this game. And there really were a lot of similarities between this party and field trips in general. Here are a few things brought to mind by the experience:

1)Field trips are all about counting the children. You count your charges up constantly. When they arrive. When they get in any vehicle. When they get out of the same vehicle (well, you never know). Last night was the same way, and here was our basic equation: 1 (parent) + 2 (birthday boys) + 5 (friends) = 8 people. We also met 2 adult friends there are the park, which made us a grand total of 10. Unfortunately, while this addition problem seems simple to figure out right now, somehow I had some trouble with it during the planning phase of the party. My first clue of this problem was when the kids all went outside to get in the van at our house, and there weren't enough seats for all of them. I don't know what I was thinking when I added this up earlier in the week. However, it is true: the van holds 6 passengers, and we had 7 children, so we immediately had a problem. It took some quick thinking on my part to figure this little snag out, because obviously with only one driver, one vehicle was our only option. At this point, I feel that I need to assure all of the parents of all of our guests that all of their children wore a seat belt to the game. (And in the back of my mind I'm still hearing one of my sons wailing in horror, "My mom is sacrificing meeeee!!")

2)Children can get carried away looking out the windows in the vehicle of trip transportation. In real life, this meant that when they kept hollering out, "Hey, there's a police officer right behind us!", they were just joking. (See #1)

3)You should make sure and include all adult chaperones in your count when you order your tickets. About half way to the stadium last night, a thought struck me. "If I miscounted the van seats, could I have miscounted the number of tickets I ordered?" The party plan was for me to order all ten tickets (eight for the van riders, and the two for our adult friends), and have them all waiting at the Will Call office. However, the further I traveled down the highway, the most convinced I became that I didn't buy enough tickets. And sure enough, I had only bought eight. Thank goodness I had enough to get the partygoers in the stadium, because corralling them through the ticket-buying line in addition to all the other places we had to go would have just been too much. (see #4)

4)Corralling a group of energetic, excited children between the ages of 10 and 13 through a crowded public place can be a challenge. I so wish I had a visual to demonstrate this, but alas, I do not. You will just have to visualize me in herding mode: knees slightly bent, almost in a crouch, body leaning forward a bit, ready to spring. Arms extended out from my sides. Hands are out, ready to motion children back into the right path, neck is extended forward, and head is constantly moving back and forth, watching for any potential escapees from our chosen path. Eyes are constantly moving - Everyone with me? Anyone look distracted and ready to wander? Any bad behavior I need to nip in the bud? (Which could include pushing, shoving, excessive hugging, and all forms of poking or prodding.) Yep, that was how I looked all the way from the car, to the Will Call office, back to the front gate, and all the way to the seats, where they were at last semi-contained.

5)No contraband candy allowed. It is not okay to try and take a large amount of candy into the baseball park, even if it was bought on sale with the great intentions of distracting the partygoers from wanting too many expensive concession stand treats. ("Oh, that guy is selling cotton candy? Well, who wants yucky cotton candy when we have...Skittles!" shaking the box to make it more appealing) If you do try and take contraband candy into the park it will be confiscated at the front gate - all five boxes. The gate staff will tell you that you can get your candy back when you leave the park, but when you go back, the candy will be gone. (As a side note, they really should provide some of those free, postage-paid envelopes at the park gate like they do at airport security checks for your pocket knives and things you forget to take out of your pocket. But they don't. And I have to say that the gate candy guard looked pretty happy about that.)

6)There is no rest for the weary field-trip chaperones. It is pretty much constant observance and general vigilance. Plus a lot of heading off behavior issues. Things constantly steam out of your mouth in your most stern teacher voice, like: "Okay, no tickling in the van." "I'm sorry, but I am not taking anyone who is screaming into the ball park." "Could we cut down on the gagging noises up there, please?" "Um, if you bought that food with your own money, feel free to spit it out on the ground for fun. If I bought it, please keep it in your mouth." "Yes, you can form a conga line, but you must watch out for other people." And so it went.

7)All electronic devices are best left at home. It can be a little challenging when you get a new, fun electronic gadget for your birthday, as Jericho did, and feel that you can't bear to leave it at home during the party. I warned Jericho that if he brought this fun new toy, he would have to share it around, and he did an admirable job of this. However, in slow moments during the game everyone wanted to play it all at once, and that got a little problematic. Of course, on the ride to and from the park, an electronic toy can provide lots of entertainment for the partygoers with its fun games and sound effects. Although yes, I did hear myself saying, "Jericho, you must turn the loud machine gun sound effects off while Max is on the phone with his father so it doesn't completely freak his father out." Yes, good times.

8)It's so good to have help. Extra adult friends who meet you at the park and sit with you are wonderful, even if you do miscount and don't buy their tickets and they have to stand in line to buy them on their own. For one thing, once help arrives, the primary field trip chaperone/party coordinator can actually leave her position of vigilance and go to the bathroom. I am really grateful for my friends Gay and David for joining in the fun.

9)All is well that ends well. For me, it was a little stressful to run this party, but I really think for the kids it was all fun and games. And I suppose in the long run, that's all that matters.
(Next year, however, I think we'll throw a party that ends just as well...with Jason around.)

Anne  – (16 June 2009 at 11:28)  

You are a very brave woman!

Bob  – (16 June 2009 at 12:08)  

Oh, my! At least you didn't try to make waffles for them.

Bob  – (16 June 2009 at 12:44)  

And is Jericho trying to figure out how to throw a knuckle ball - or is he just posturing so that he can put his arm on the seat back next to him?

jlockecz  – (17 June 2009 at 08:25)  

Only one more year of summer classes for me! Hooray!!!

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