It’s the day of my seventh grader’s band field trip—a Music Educators Association Band Festival at a nearby school. With minimal negotiations, Raf has granted me permission to be a chaperone. The terms? I ride on a different bus. No problem. It’s my first experience on a trip with middle schoolers.
At 9 a.m., we gather outside the school, waiting to board the buses. Roughly eighty baby-blue band t-shirts surround me; I’m lost in a sea of familiar faces—some kids I’ve known since they were in elementary school. I stand in the back of the crowd. I’ve unknowingly tapped into my powers of invisibility. Where are the hugs of joy and recognition, the squeals of delight that I received when I chaperoned the second grade field trip two weeks ago? Or fifth grade camp two short years ago? What dimension have I stepped into?
I’m the last one to board the bus: time seems to slow as I amble down the aisle, feeling like a misfit in a John Hughes movie. My eyes dart to the back, scouring the periphery for an empty seat. I slink into number 18 on the right and look out the window. The bus is so fogged up I can’t see outside. Rain pelts the windows. We listen to safety announcements and get underway. I sit in silence. A boy in front scrawls “Help” on the window. Desperate for human contact, I text my sister and friend about Jack and Rebecca Pearson’s marital status.
We arrive at the junior high school and I wait outside while students get off the buses. Raf steps off the other bus with his sax. He spots me out of the corner of his eye, but instantly diverts his attention to something more interesting—the green dumpster in the loading dock area. We make our way to the warm-up room, where the kids prepare for their performance. I’m thrilled to be here, grateful for the opportunity to witness the behind-the-scenes action. The band director is one of the finest, most talented, well-respected and good-natured teachers around—the kind you’re thankful your child gets to interact with every day. Even high school seniors I’ve encountered deem him their favorite of all-time. He instructs and inspires, and gives them a few words of encouragement before their performance, calling it a “watershed moment.” It’s beautiful. I hold the door open as they scurry off to the gym. Many offer polite thanks. My son smiles with his eyes, his lips ever so slightly upturned at the corners. He might even be glad to see me.
The students settle into their seats and begin. The other chaperones and I sit in the front row of the bleachers. I’m filled with excitement, yet I go against my instincts and refrain from all my normal cheering behavior. I do not shout, hoot, holler, whistle or stand. I contain my pride and exuberance and just clap admiringly, aware of my form, remembering that Nicole Kidman garnered unwanted attention for her seal-like style after the Oscars.
After three songs, the kids head to the clinic room. Here, a band director from the University of Washington, who’s one of the judges, gives wonderful feedback and tips. He talks of making the pauses more like commas, rather than periods, and offers insights like “sometimes silence is meant to be dramatic.” I’m in awe of the experience they’re having. Raf catches a glimpse of me down the hallway afterwards, and suddenly feels compelled to scrutinize his sheet music.
We make our way to the gym again to listen to another band’s performance. The kids fill out evaluation forms and it’s back to the buses we go. As we mill around in the parking lot, I learn that there may be one student still inside. Eager to fulfill my chaperoning duties, I offer to run inside and check. No sign of her. I exit through the glass doors, and, to my horror, the buses are starting to pull away. I wave my hands frantically. Someone sees me. Surely, she’ll alert the driver. I’m wrong. I sprint down the sidewalk, in pursuit. It’s too late. I stand there, dumbfounded.
This is happening.
I AM in a John Hughes movie.
All I know is I need to get to McDonald’s, so I start walking down the semi-country road. I continue determinedly, as I call the middle school office and tell the assistant what’s happened. “You can’t walk. It’s three miles,”she tells me. My mind races; all I can imagine is a busload of middle schoolers returning to pick up a mom chaperone stranded on the side of the road. In the history of field trips, could there be anything more embarrassing? I quicken my pace. The band director calls and tells me not to worry, the kids are waiting in line and eating, he’ll send an empty bus back, there’s plenty of time. I stand at the side of the road, nibbling almonds. The rain has thankfully slowed to a drizzle.
Sometimes silence is meant to be dramatic.
The bus returns, puts on its flashers, and I climb aboard. When I arrive at McDonald’s, I push my way through a throng of students (including those from another school) and make a beeline for the bathroom. A boy I’ve known since he was in first grade says, “Hey, didn’t you get left back there?” Not ready to divulge my plight, I coyly reply, “Well, I’m here, aren’t I?” The band director apologizes profusely and we chat about the day’s performance. I get my neon-colored Shamrock shake and linger off to the side, gazing through the windows into the PlayPlace. Raf shovels handfuls of fries into his mouth, uses a couple of them as straws, and stands with his mouth open as a girl tries to toss a few in, like feeding time at the zoo.
The bus ride back to school is uneventful, save for a few raindrops dampening my forehead through the partially open window.
As we depart from the buses back at school, a boy I’ve never met says, “They left you? That sucks.” I smile at the absurdity of it —the memorable and unexpected adventure of my first middle school band trip.