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Hey, parents, we need you! (Now go away.)

You volunteer to go on the school field trip. Then they tell you, "Thanks so much for driving, but could you make sure the kids don't know you're there?"

By Leslie Crawford

"Please, Mom, ple-e-e-ase, please, please come on the field trip. You never go on field trips."

That's not true, but the "You never…" and "All the other kids' parents…" usually sets off my parental guilt alarms, especially when my daughter clasps her hands in prayer and supplicates herself on the kitchen floor.

So like many busy parents – i.e., every one of us – I wind up brokering a Rumpelstiltskin agreement with my child, blithely consenting to things that will transpire impossibly far away in the future – in this case, chaperoning the all-day spring field trip.

Suddenly, here it is late May and an email from the room parent arrives thanking me profusely for agreeing to drive four second graders and a teacher to a nature preserve an hour away from the city. It's a particularly bad time to miss an entire day of work, but at least we'd be outdoors amidst wildflowers, farm animals, and forests.

Field trip day, I arrive at school with a resigned sigh of relief that if nothing else, along with getting to spend a spring day out in nature, I'd be spending it with my daughter. The second I set my foot in the classroom, something's amiss. My child looks forlorn. When I pull her aside, she tells me that none of the chaperone parents are allowed to be in their child's group. She's been counting on this for months. I'm cursing the field trip gods that I'd sacrificed a precious day off work when I really don't have a lot of these days to sacrifice.

After carefully navigating my minivan along circuitous cliffs so the boy who announces he easily gets car sick doesn't, we reach the nature preserve. The counselors gather the kids, teachers, and parents in a giant circle. Instead of telling us to steer clear of steep ledges, ticks, and poison oak, the 15-minute speech is devoted primarily to warnings that we remain vigilant about keeping the most invasive species at bay: "Parents, don't take close photos of the kids – take them from a distance. We want them to feel free to experience everything here." "Parents, we ask that you don't spend the day in your child's group since this prevents them from experiencing everything here." "Parents, please refrain from talking too much. And if you would, let us do the teaching."

Beware the parents.

Boy oh boy. These counselors must have their share of run-ins with all manner of helicopter moms and dads, hovering over their progeny and making the kids whose parents weren't there feel terrible. ("Dylan, would you let my little Gracie pass you so that rattler near your foot won't bite her?") I found myself not only cursing the counselors, but those swarms of obnoxious parents who preceded me and ruined it for the rest of us.

I found a group of moms a picnic table, where I groused about counting on spending the day at least within spitting distance of my child. They agreed it wasn't fair and that's when a few of us agreed to mutiny.

I spotted my daughter's group heading to a canopy in the forest and skulked a couple of yards behind them, occasionally ducking behind shrubbery lest I be admonished.

When I kvetched at work about using a precious day off to drive other people's kids (no offense), my co-worker said this wasn't unusual at her school. At one overnight field trip on a historic ship, parents put in charge of groups of children that didn't include their own then were instructed that they could say only two things for the entire 24 hours: "Avast!" if a child was about to leap overboard or otherwise put themselves in mortal danger or if asked for help declare, "That's none of my business!" and then turn away.

Are we viewed as just evil necessities by most educators?

I can't help think more about how I can best support my daughter, and my daughter's school. Is it worth it that I'm offering my time to be a mini school bus driver? If not, how could I best use a day off of work in the service of my daughter's and her classmates' educations?

One thing is for sure: next time I consider going on the class field trip, I'm going to ask in advance that if by field trip they mean that they want parents standing over there in that field… the one far, far away.
 

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

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