I had the opportunity to chaperone a trip with 33 thirteen year olds to Washington DC and New York. My non-teacher friends thought I was nuts. My teacher friends wished me well with a wink and a nod. My family blessed me and asked if my Living Trust was finalized!
After the first day with a 3:50 AM departure I had my doubts. We met the kids and took a bus to the airport. We weren’t out of town 2 minutes before the first teen reached in his pants for a handful of candy. Gross. You’d think the early morning flight would find kids tired, not so, they were bouncing off the narrow walls of the plane, talking, laughing, and being silly as only 13 year olds can.
On the bus from the airport to the sights of the first Memorials of the trip, I couldn’t conceal my annoyance at the kids who were singing 99 bottles of beer on the wall while others were burping to the beat. At the Memorials, the kids were more interested in playing in the snow than paying tribute to the men and women who have served our country. My mantra was “they’re only 13, they’re only 13, they’re only 13”.
My challenge: Keep my own mercurial hormones in check and not go head to ever-pounding head with them. The mantra helped. Day 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 were better. In fact, sometimes I was downright impressed with their insights.
I enjoyed the trip immensely and felt privileged to receive such individual attention from our tour guide. Every “attraction” from the Capitol to the Holocaust Museum to the Broadway production will never be forgotten. Despite my duties of herding teens from place to place, I learned a lot, which was my original intent for going in the first place.
But the learning for me that I did not expect came from being around the kids. It was an exercise in patience that hadn’t been tested to that extent, ever. I tried to remember the angst at wondering what others thought of me when I was a gangly, not too pretty 13 year old. I forced the memories of this age to come flooding back to me. It was uncomfortable. Was I kind to others, including the “have-nots” of the world? I think I was. Was I thoughtful? Probably to adults, but not to my mom and stepfather. Was I interested in anything other than my own social status? Good God, no.
I vaguely remember the trip to our own State Capitol in 1971. I can’t recall much of the details about the trip, just that I wanted to sit on the bus by the cutest 8th grade boy. So shallow.
It’s not easy being 13. It’s not easy being around 13 year olds. And it is certainly not easy to admit our own narcissistic behaviors past or present. I discovered, through this trip that I had my own memories to attend to and my own self-absorbed sins to atone for. Perhaps it’s karma that I find myself working with this age group. I can live with that. Glad I’m no longer 13 though. Pass the aspirin.