I volunteer teach at a local nature center. Every week a class of first graders visits for a lesson on animal habitats and a hike through our swampy forest. I like kids. I like nature. What I don’t like are the parent chaperones who accompany their kids on these field trips and annoy the hell out of me and ruin any possible fun their kids could have in the outdoors. If you recognize yourself as one of the following types of parent (and by parent, I mean any adult who comes with a child on a field trip), then do your child and the nature center staff a huge favor and stay home. Please.
The “My Child Is Special” Parent
This parent honestly and truly believes that his or her child is more sensitive, intelligent, or “special” in some way than the rest of the class. I’m not talking about parents of children who have autism or some other legitimate issue. I’m talking about the parents that regale you with stories of how little Olivia said her first word in utero and began reading Shakespeare to overcome boredom between breast feedings. These are the parents who glare menacingly when you tell their darling Madison that it’s time to sit on her bottom and not time to climb in the turtle tank. These are the parents who allow their child to eat whenever he is hungry although the other children must wait until lunch time. The parents of these “special” children do not believe that their child should be made to follow the same rules as the rest of the class or he may have his creative spirit squashed. I have one thing to say to these parents: Your child is not special. Your child is coddled, pampered, and most probably developing a mammoth sense of entitlement. You are making your child into someone the world will hate.
The “Let’s See If I Know More Than You Do” Parent
These parents have at least some basic knowledge about animals, plants, and nature and are keen to demonstrate that knowledge to anyone, especially the guide who is teaching their child’s class. They will not allow the teacher to make a statement without challenging it, adding to it, or asking some esoteric question. For example, I may say, “In this tree here are some holes made by a woodpecker.” The “Let’s See If I Know More Than You Do” parent may counter, “What type of woodpecker made them? A downy? A red bellied? Do you get many pileated woodpeckers in this forest?” Seriously? Do you really need to know this information? And more to the point, do I look like an ornithologist to you? Read my name badge; it says “volunteer,” not avian specialist. When one of these parents continues to show me up, I can usually make him (it’s always the dads) stop by complimenting his extensive knowledge and suggesting that I’m sure he would love to fill out a volunteer application because we always need more help. That shuts ’em up.
The “I’m Too Important To Turn Off My Cell Phone” Parent
If your job is so important that your “people” need to be able to communicate with you 24/7, perhaps you should reconsider chaperoning a field trip where you will be hiking in a somewhat remote forest. If you are lucky, your cell phone reception will be sketchy. More likely, it will be nonexistent. We can all hear you scream, “Can you hear me?!! What?!!” and mumble expletives, but we can’t hear the birds or crickets. This takes away from the ambiance of the natural world somewhat. Furthermore, if you are busy giving your surgical resident step-by-step directions on that pesky heart bypass you’re supposed to be supervising, I doubt that you are really paying close attention to your young charges on the field trip. Oops! Was that your child who just fell in the creek? Maybe you can call for help on your cell phone.
The “I’m Only Here For the Gossip” Parent
Yes, I know that it’s not often you get to see other adults in a social setting because you’re usually busy at work, but guess what? This isn’t a social setting either. This is your child’s field trip, an educational activity in which you are supposed to be assisting. If you’re busy chatting with Dot about her latest spat with her husband in the back of the classroom, then you are not intervening when little Cody starts picking at the bottom of his sneaker and eating the dirt. You’re also distracting. Shut up.
The “No One Told Me” Parent
Prior to each field trip, a letter is sent out to potential parent chaperones outlining the activities of the day and clearly stating that they and their children should “dress for the weather.” It also advises them that the field trip requires moderate walking. Then, on field trip day, the bus pulls up and off steps a woman in a business suit and heels, her manicured nails freshly painted and her hair perfectly coifed. Whenever I see someone dressed like this, I have the urge to remove all chairs from the room and force the chaperones to sit “criss cross apple sauce” like the first graders on the floor. This parent is appalled that she has to slog through sandy and muddy trails and get spider web detritus on her Chanel suit. You know who you are, Ms. “I can’t wear faded jeans, a frayed T shirt, and sneakers to my job.” Too bad. We told you. And we’re not paying the dry cleaner’s bill either.
I must admit to feeling a little bad for the parent (often a grandparent) who’s morbidly obese, has an artificial hip, and walks (walks is putting it kindly; it’s more like lumbers) with a cane. I know you want to be a part of your child’s life, but you are clearly in over your head. Witnessing a heart attack is detrimental to children’s mental health, or so it seems to me. Be a part of your child’s life in a more sedentary way, like watching “American Idol” together or playing poker.
The “I Want To Be Back In School” Parent
I know it’s exciting to have a day off work, wear your dirty sneakers, and tramp around in the woods. This does not mean, however, that you are a first grader again. You are an adult. You were adult enough to create a child, so be the adult. It’s incredibly irritating to ask a bunch of first graders a question and have one of the chaperones call out the answer. First of all, we raise our hands to answer a question. Second of all, I WASN’T ASKING YOU! Let the kids answer the questions please. I promise that if you want one, I’ll give you a “Good Job!” sticker anyway.
The “Nature Is Dangerous” Parent
Yes, there are some possibly dangerous things “out there” in the forest. Will you encounter them on your field trip? No. It is very unlikely that we will have a run-in with a venomous snake, a poisonous mushroom, a falling tree, or a rabid raccoon while hiking. Warning your child about these things will just make him jumpy and timid. Relax. I’ve worked as a nature guide for over 10 years and have only lost one or two children that whole time. And we eventually found them.
Yes, there is an abundance of poison ivy in the woods. I point it out to everyone and warn them about it. If your child is inattentive, oppositional, or just stupid enough to walk in and/or touch the poison ivy, he deserves to itch.
Many parents have been brainwashed by the hand sanitizer lobby into believing that the world is crawling with lethal bacteria just waiting to attack them and their vulnerable offspring. They are easily identified by their shrill “Don’t touch that!” shrieks and the extra strength hand sanitizer clipped to their belt buckles. These parents are appalled when they learn that the class will be eating lunch outdoors on picnic tables. They scramble to wipe down and cover any surface that their child’s food may possibly touch. They carry a stash of handi-wipes, which they apply to their child’s hands and face approximately every 3 minutes. I like to cough on these parents and their kids when I’m sick.
Now that you know what type of parent not to be if you decide to chaperone your child’s field trip, you can avoid unnecessarily perturbing the nature center staff. If you recognize your behavior in one of the above descriptors and decide to chaperone your child’s field trip anyway, I know who you are. I don’t like you. And I will write nasty things about you. Consider yourself warned.