I took a personal day this week to be a parent chaperone on my son’s class field trip.
The trip was to a local theater to see a live performance of the children’s book, Click Clack Moo. I wouldn’t say it’s the most popular book ever, but Eitan has it and enjoys it very much. The basic premise is that Farmer Brown’s cows and chickens get very cold in the barn at night so they go on strike. They refuse to give Farmer Brown any milk or eggs unless he supplies them with electric blankets. The cows learn to use the old typewriter that Farmer Brown left in the barn to send him their demands; hence, the title for the book.
It’s a cute story; just trust me on this.
The show itself was cute, as well. The theater troupe turned the story into a musical and updated it a bit for the younger target audience. The most notable difference was the addition of Farmer Brown’s granddaughter, Jenny, who is visiting him. She has brought her laptop so she can check her email and keep in touch with her friends. Farmer Brown takes away the laptop (and the printer that Jenny also brought for some reason) because he feels like Jenny is never willing to help out on the farm and sticks it in the barn. I’m skipping parts, obviously, but the lesson of is about finding ways to compromise and work together toward a common goal, rather than sticking to one’s opinion at all costs.
My point, though, is less about the show or it’s message and more about taking the day to be with my son and his class. The time I have to spend with Eitan has continues to dwindle; my caseload at work was increased in the fall, I’m still teaching religious school twice per week and I’ve taken on some more private practice clients, as well. We’re all too familiar with this refrain by now; keeping busy means I’m making money to support my family but it’s a struggle to find time to actually be with my family. In fact, now that Shayna has begun expressing herself more clearly, I’m waiting for her to have her own “Daddy lives work!” moment. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.
I try to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can to stay involved. I take days off to volunteer for field trips or go to work late so I can be at the school for early morning class programs. Also, if making these arrangements means that I have to finish assignments at home in the evenings once in a while to make sure I get my paperwork done, so be it. I want Eitan to know that I’m working a lot but that he and Shayna are my top priority, no matter what else is going on.
There is an additional benefit to going on a field trip with a kindergarten class, though: it’s fun. Let’s be clear: Click Clack Moo was hardly sophisticated theater. The show was enjoyable for what it was but we’re not likely to see cows chanting with picket signs at the Minskoff Theater anytime soon. There is something to be said, however, for spending an hour watching people in ridiculous costumes, hearing relatively clever songs and, most importantly, listening to children laugh through the whole show. There’s a reason J.M. Barrie put orphans in the theater1 at the premiere of Peter Pan; children’s laughter reminds adults how to relax and just enjoy themselves.
It wasn’t only the performance, either. Between the bus rides and the waiting periods before and afterward, Eitan’s classmates and I had conversations and played games together. We played I Spy, told jokes and made faces at each other. The kids asked about my age and then told me how old their parents were. They told me about their families, their interests and each other. I don’t mean to paint myself as the Pied Piper of kindergarten children; certainly, some of my experiences as a camp counselor and as a father are clear indicators that there are limits to my powers of influence over kids. But these children, in particular, engaged with me because they knew I was their friend’s father and because I was an adult willing to listen to what they had to say.
This is not a commentary on other parents, either the other chaperones on the trip or the parents who were not present. Certainly, I understand that everyone faces a different set of circumstances regarding their availability to participate in these types of events. I’m fully aware that most jobs do not offer the kind of scheduling flexibility that mine does and that supervision for a family’s other children is not always as straightforward. Far be it from me to make any judgments about the ways in which parents demonstrate their involvement in their children’s lives. I just know that I had the opportunity to spend extra time with my son and his friends and I wanted to take advantage.
Eitan’s smile when he saw me waiting in the school lobby was all the justification I needed to know I had made the right choice.
1. My apologies that the video clip doesn’t show the opening of the play, when the kids actually start laughing. The adults in the audience watch a man come onto the stage dressed as a dog and have no idea how to react. It’s the children’s laughter that helps them relax and accept the entertainment. Again, just trust me on this.↩