We meet again, Mickey

We meet again, Mickey

When I tell people what I did over spring break, I get a variety of reactions.

Laughter. Sympathy. And from some fellow parents, knowing smiles.

My vacation involved a trip to Florida with my daughter — and about 100 of her middle-school friends. Four days at the Disney World theme parks, two overnight bus trips there and back.

I was one of the optimists who agreed to chaperone Edison Middle School’s concert bands and top jazz band at Festival Disney, a trip they make every three years.

We have been down this road before, as you may recall, but I’d never been in the driver’s seat.

Three years ago I volunteered my husband to chaperone our son’s band trip to Blog PhotoDisney, and I was his unofficial assistant. We managed to avoid major problems but did (briefly) lose a child almost as soon as we got there. And there were plenty of stressful moments trying to keep track of wandering middle-schoolers, their phones, instruments and assorted pieces of band uniforms. (Where’s my belt? Whose sock is this?)

My husband has reminded me ever since that it would be my turn when our daughter reached sixth grade.

Memory tends to fade over time, so I happily volunteered when trip planning began last fall. As spring break grew closer it all came rushing back. Parents, especially former chaperones, kept wishing me luck, as if I were going off to war. Huh.

My misgivings grew when I looked over the suggested packing list. Along with the sunscreen, shorts and comfortable shoes were “ear plugs” and “Ziplocs for motion sickness.”

The latter would prove valuable even before we reached Disney on our 21-hour bus ride.

One student threw up on the way down. Another succumbed to motion sickness after several trips down Disney’s “Tower of Terror.” And one lucky chaperone climbed into a ride where the previous occupant had, as they say, lost his lunch. Disney quickly provided the chaperone with a new T-shirt.

I’m not sure anyone used the ear plugs on the bus, but I did see chaperones pull out their ear buds to (air quotes) “listen to music.” The kids were just a TAD excited. Maybe it was all those trips to the sweets bar at the Golden Corral buffet.

Sleep on the bus was elusive. Thankfully, chaperones had their own double seat, but we older-ish parents can’t curl up the way we used to. The 1:30 a.m. fuel stop, when everyone was required to get off the bus, didn’t help.

Once there, we were in full vigilance mode, a constant swivel-head of counting bodies and corralling drifters. Whoever coined the phrase “herding cats” must have taken a feline field trip to Disney. Just as one group was ready to go, another would have to use the restroom, or need water, or stop to take a photo, or run off to some new attraction.

Our world became Disney, our day scheduled around fast passes and meal plans and evening light shows.

Planning was a challenge at times, with different levels of thrill-seekers and varying food tastes.

And there were spills. So many spills.

Just as I was drying off after being soaked on Animal Kingdom’s River Rapids ride, carrying my tray of food to our table for lunch, I felt a wave of lemonade cascade down my back. A cup had tipped over on a lunch tray behind me.

Later, on the bus ride home, a puddle of orange juice appeared under the seat in front of me, from a half-empty cup of orange juice thrown into one of the leaky trash bags.

And taking top prize: We stopped at McDonald’s for breakfast on our way home (staggering the students so as not to overwhelm the customers and staff). As I waited for my food, I turned to see iced tea gushing out of a nozzle at the drink station. It took us a few seconds to react until we saw the broken spigot in one of our student’s hands. Finally a chaperone yelled, “Pinch it!” and the McDonald’s cleanup crew sprang into action.

Chaperones didn’t have a lot of down time — particularly our cheerful bus captains, who had to keep order and relay information from the organizers to the rest of us.
While the kids swam, we counted heads to ensure no one drowned. When we got back to the hotel each night, after 10 hours at the parks, we made sure the kids showered and got to bed so we could retreat to our rooms for 5 or 6 hours of sleep before starting all over again the next day.

I’d awake in the morning, thinking, “I’m not sure I’m up for another day of this,” then see other chaperones stumbling downstairs for coffee.

But the kids made it all worthwhile. For the most part they were helpful, friendly, Blog Photocooperative and just plain happy to be there. Several overcame their fears and rode some of Disney’s craziest rides — Expedition Everest, Space Mountain, Tower of Terror, the Rock ‘n’ Roller-coaster. And the chaperones were a fun group.

Overall things went great. The kids behaved, the chaperones survived, and no one was left behind — though we may or may not have lost track of some of our charges in the throng of people leaving Epcot one night. Everyone made it to the bus.

Most important, the bands received “excellent” ratings, plus a third-place award for the eighth-grade concert band and a first-place and “best of class” for the top jazz band.

Credit goes to the head chaperones for their endless hours of preparation, and to our very patient and talented band director, Alex Blomarz, who kept the kids (and parents) in check.

When we got home, I dreamed about getting kids to rides on time. I felt lost without my lanyard of student ID cards. I actually missed the group chaperone texts and being around all the kids.

And I slept for 10 hours.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Maybe not on a bus ...

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Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or Twitter.com/jawurth..

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