In a moment of weakness, many months ago, my husband volunteered (well, I volunteered us, meaning him) to chaperone a bunch of middle-school band students at Disney World over spring break.
I was (pretty) confident he was up to the task. What I didn’t know is that he would set a new chaperone record.
The performances weren’t scheduled until Thursday and Friday, but we opted to drive down earlier in the week to spend a bit more time at the park with family and friends.
The drive down was fairly uneventful, save for the giant billboards screaming “STRIPPERS!” and “CAFE RISQUE!” throughout Georgia and Florida. (“As seen on Jerry Springer,” one noted, presumably to lend some sort of TV cred to their “performers.”)
Luckily, the kids didn’t seem to notice.
The bus carrying most of the 150 students and bleary-eyed chaperones was scheduled to arrive at Disney’s Animal Kingdom by 9 a.m. Wednesday, and we were there to meet them. Once inside, the kids practically ran to the giant “Expedition Everest” roller-coaster.
Not all of them were thrilled by the idea of 80-foot drops and plunging backward in the darkness, so another chaperone agreed to take some of the kids in our group on Everest while we stayed with the rest.
A few minutes later, my husband’s cellphone rang. It was our erstwhile trip director, who reported that my husband had lost a boy from his group.
“No, he’s on the ride,” my husband said.
No, he wasn’t. Turns out he had wandered away on the way to ride Everest. Fortunately for him, he managed to find a familiar face from the middle school right away. Unfortunately for us, it was the band director.
We had been inside the park for approximately 30 minutes.
“Did I set a new record for losing a child?” my husband asked nervously. Heh-heh.
“Pretty much,” the band director replied, adding. “We’re going to promote you to captain.”
From that point on my husband, who is sort of naturally caffeinated anyway, was on hyper-alert, doing a constant head count as we elbowed our way through the spring-break crowds.
It’s not easy supervising four or more children who range from the thrill-seekers hoping to ride the “Tower of Terror” 13 times to those who prefer the arcade-style “Toy Story Mania.” Not to mention a lack of consensus on food tastes.
I assumed the role of assistant chaperone (assistant captain?), stepping in any time my husband seemed ready to blow. I’d help get the boys out the door in the morning (after I noticed that my son performed the first day with his shirt buttoned wrong) and get them through the food lines.
Overall, the trip was a blast. Lots of devoted parent volunteers and chaperones made things go smoothly, apart from a missing belt or two. And the kids loved the roller coasters, “Soarin’,” “Test Track,” Indiana Jones and the African safari.
My daughter and I had plenty of down time to enjoy the park, too, including a meal inside Cinderella’s Castle, which she had so desperately wanted on our trip to Disney four years ago (when it was sold out).
It was nice, though I could tell she’s moved past the princess phase. She was more excited about adding to her autograph collection (and got a bigger kick out of Phineas and Ferb). She took one look at Cinderella and said, “She’s wearing too much makeup.” That’s my girl.
In any event, the Edison students made their band director proud, raking in 11 awards (insert image of beaming parents).
Of course, the biggest news of the trip came not in Florida but back in Champaign.
I was standing in the Lego Store at Downtown Disney, in between sets by the band, when my husband walked up with an odd look on his face.
"You’re on vacation, there’s nothing you can do about it, so don’t worry,” he began.
“What happened?” I demanded, figuring he’d lost another child.
“President Hogan quit,” he said, whereupon I uttered something inappropriate for the young Legos customers nearby.
We had heard rumors that the University of Illinois president might step down before July 1, a story that reporter Christine des Garennes and I had been following for several months. But no one expected Hogan’s resignation that week. And as the journalism gods would have it, my fellow beat reporter was off that day, too.
I immediately called our newsroom, where other reporters had the story under control. I managed to make a few phone calls to help out, but mostly I had to just fret from afar.
When I got back the following Monday, I was approached by a university official who asked with concern, “What happened last week? Where were you?” (He apparently thought I’d been fired.)
In Disney World, I explained lamely.
News doesn’t respect vacations, baseball games, piano lessons or family events. I’ve juggled interviews in all those situations. It’s just a fact of the job, like so many others these days.
But I wasn’t. And just steps away, in the bright Florida sunshine, our kids were performing. It was the only time they would get a chance to play at Disney during middle school, whereas presidential resignations aren’t that uncommon anymore. I’ve covered two in the last three years.
So in the end I didn’t fret too much. Work will always be there. Kids are here and gone before you know it.
We may be making the trek to Disney again in three years with our daughter, and one of us will probably chaperone (if she wants us to). I’m already bracing for a resignation.
Julie Wurth writes and blogs about family issues and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. You can contact her at 351-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org  or follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/jawurth.
Top: The bus arrives at Disney Word's Animal Kingdom park on March 21. Annie Mattson (front) poses with fellow sixth-graders Joanie Urban, Kelly Evans, Liz Roadcap, Lauran Miller, Sadie Kasten and Jasmine Lee (left to right). Julie Wurth/The News-Gazette
Second: Riders ascend to the top of " Expeditiion Everest" at Disney World's Animal Kingdom park. AP file photo/John Faoux
Third: The famed castle at Magic Kingdom, home to "Cinderella's Royal Table" banquet hall. Julie Wurth/The News-Gazette
Bottom: Edison Middle School's sixth-grade concert band, led by band director Mike Lehman, performs at Downtown Disney. Julie Wurth/The News-Gazette.