Herding cats

I survived the day-long trip to the amusement park with the middle school band. As the parent of a 6th grade band member, I was assigned to chaperone a group of six 6th grade boys. I was supposed to share those duties with another parent, but a minor family emergency prevented her from coming on the trip.

So there I was, in a major theme park with four preteen boys I’d never met (plus the two I had brought with me). One of my new acquaintances immediately informed me that he has ADHD. I’m not sure if he was giving me fair warning or simply trying to excuse his behavior in advance. Personally, I would have diagnosed him as a compulsive shopper: he dragged the group through every gift shop on the property and squandered a good deal of money in the arcades. He spent every penny in his wallet, which unfortunately included money unwisely entrusted to him by one of the other boys.

We headed off into the park. The boy whose mother had to bow out because of the family emergency kept running ahead of the group, and the two who had come with me are notoriously slow. Thus I spent a great deal of the day alternately hollering at Speed Demon to stay with the group and admonishing the Sloth Boys to keep up.

A little more than halfway through our day, Speed Demon decided to check himself out for a visit to the men’s room. We were in a gift shop with an alarming number of exits and lots of clutter; having only two eyes, incapable of independent movement, put me at a distinct disadvantage. To make matters worse, a couple of the boys decided to sit on the floor to check out merchandise on the bottom shelf of a display. I had to comb the shop to locate them, and a quick head count left me one short. Speed Demon was missing.

I asked the Floor Boys if they knew where he was, and they thought he might have gone to the men’s room, the nearest of which was several buildings away around a corner. At this point I failed the Good Shepherd Test; I was unwilling to abandon the five charges I had in hand to go in search of the one who was missing. Even if I told them to wait for me in the store, I wasn’t confident that Mr. ADHD would remember the order once he completed his purchases. I was 100% certain that if one of them left, the whole bunch would follow.

As I hovered in the doorway closest to the distant men’s room, urging the Floor Boys to wrap it up so we could all go in search of Speed Demon, the latter sauntered into sight. I pounced on him and read him the riot act; he seemed genuinely contrite, but the group dynamic took a decided turn for the worse from that point.

We limped through the rest of our day, heat, fatigue, and significantly longer lines taking their toll on group morale. When dinner time rolled around, Speed Demon discovered that Mr. ADHD had spent all of his (Speed Demon’s) money. I bought dinner from a sidewalk vendor for Speed Demon, who then proceeded to take off in search of a table (there were none in sight) while the rest of the party ordered their meals. And then I lost my cool.

I bellowed at Speed Demon in my angry parent voice. He was smart (or experienced) enough to come back, though he was pre-adolescent enough to act like he didn’t know what I was so worked up about. I barked at him to sit on the curb until the rest of us had our food; I was the last to order, and when I turned around with meal in hand I found all six of them perched meekly on the curb. The herd mentality had finally clicked in.

The rest of the day passed without incident. As we headed back to the bus, I sent the rest of the boys ahead with other band members so I could walk with Speed Demon. I asked him about the family emergency that had prevented his mother from coming with us. He actually seemed relieved to have someone to talk to, even if only for a few minutes. I found myself wishing we could have found another adult to go with our group — we might have avoided some of the difficulties of the afternoon if my attention hadn’t been so divided.

At least we got to end our day on a more peaceful and conciliatory note.

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