Chaperoning brings back (lack of) memories

By Helena Rodriguez: FNM Columnist

I’ve taken on an unexpected role in recent years, that of being a chaperone. In some cases, I even get paid for doing this often-dreaded job. Does that make me a professional?

Probably not, especially since I have occasionally been known to not know all of the kids’ names and in one extreme and rather embarrassing case I will get to in a minute, I didn’t even know one girl was in our group.

My most recent chaperoning adventure was last weekend, when I served as a chaperone for the Upward Bound program at Eastern New Mexico University. We took a group of 22 people, which included myself, three other adults and the rest teens, to Albuquerque to tour college campuses and a medical lab.

We also went to the National Hispanic Cultural Center and to the Hinkle Family Fun Center, which made me feel like a teenager again, riding go carts with the youth, playing laser tag for the first time and riding the bumper cars.

Of course, I didn’t know I sucked at laser tag until the end. I thought I was killing all kinds of people, including some of my own teammates. But in the end, when I got my final score, I had only shot five people and only had a 3 percent accuracy rate.

My 17-year-old daughter, Laura, was not a part of the above group under which I served my last chaperoning tour of duty, but she has been a part of all of my other chaperoning missions. You can imagine the responses I’ve gotten from her.

There was the “Ah, mom, why do you have to go?” reaction. But strangely, when I offered to pull out, she didn’t like that idea either.

I’ve gone along with Laura to one high school trip to Albuquerque, which was in 2006, to two church summer youth conferences in Tucson, Ariz., and to a church youth Altitude Adjustment conference in Denver this past January. I am also slated to serve as a chaperone when our church youth group goes to a conference this summer in Louisiana.

My most recent chaperoning experience was fun. We had a long but enjoyable day touring the University of New Mexico and there were no problems because this group of mostly hard-working, college-bound kids was good, as far as I know. We only had to remind them to turn off their cell phones, iPods and other constantly beeping gadgets during the college, lab and cultural center tours.

But of course, as our director, Susan Cramp, pointed out, the idea was to keep them busy all day so that by the time we got back to the hotel at night, everyone was exhausted.

Fortunately, I’ve never had any chaperone disasters like losing a child. But last year when I went with our church youth group to Tucson, something happened that made me really feel stupid. We were staying in dorms at Arizona State University and were sharing a floor with youth groups from other states. When I went into the ladies room, I thought I would be nice and strike up a conversation with a young lady. We were both fixing our hair, and so I looked at her and smiled and said, “So where are you from?”

The young lady paused a moment, gave me the strangest look and then said in utter dismay “I’m with your group!” I turned a bright red hue and couldn’t stop laughing as I marched down the hall to tell Elvia and the other women chaperones. I knew they would give me a hard time, but man, did they ever. Elvia was like, “Helena!” I think she wanted to shake me.

When we were boarding a bus in Denver to go skiing, I sat next to an unfamiliar kid. He starting talking to me and I just kind of smiled. After a few moments, though, I realized this was one of our kids. I had not recognized him with his ski hat on. Later, I told Laura and she told him, and he was like, “No wonder your mom was looking at me funny!” Again, I felt stupid.

It helps to know the kids you’re chaperoning. Fortunately, I knew most of the names and faces of the Upward Bound students before we left because I taught for UB last summer and I also spent two months working on the Upward Bound yearbook.

Some of them, who didn’t know me, were surprised that I knew them. That was nice for a change.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom New Mexico. She can be reached at:
helena_rodriguez@link.freedom.com