“My teacher wants to talk to you” my daughter (Ella) informed me recently after school. Alarm bells started ringing in my head but Ella wasn’t crying so unlikely to be any bad behaviour or injuries. It seemed my name had been drawn from a hat to be one of two parents to accompany the class of junior infants (5-6 year old girls) on a field-trip to the nearby teacher-training college. I vaguely recalled volunteering so let it be clear that this wasn’t some Hunger Games style sweepstake with death a virtual certainty to all but the sole victor!
The day in question began with myself and the other parent in question being shown to the staffroom for tea / coffee / water. This was more of a trip down memory lane for the other parent as she had attended the school and therefore the staffroom had that strange aura of a forbidden inner sanctum. For me I had never been in the staffroom of a girls’ school before, so I just wandered around looking at the various notices and was slightly startled when morning prayers started over the intercom. A call to morning prayer always conjured up minarets and mosques so it was unexpected to hear small voices quietly thanking God for spring’s bounty.
After about 15 minutes we were summoned by the padding of little feet outside the doorway. The teacher took control at the head of affairs and the other parent patrolled the middle of our merry bunch while I was assigned the role of minding the rear of the group, making sure stragglers kept up the pace. I decided to approach this in the manner of a steward at a GAA match, arms out, making myself as big as possible and frequently uttering “move along now girls”. I also used one of my favourite golfing sayings “keep up with the group in front of you don’t just stay ahead of the group behind”. Although I think this may have been lost on my audience.
Immediately I was asked the not unreasonable question “who are you?”, “Ella’s daddy” I responded and that seemed to suffice. Ella being my fourth child, I am now well accustomed to being described only in terms of my children, the days where I can simply reply “Eoghan” are long behind me. I noticed Ella smiling somewhere in the middle of the line, now I’m sure there will be plenty of days to come where she will be hiding her head in shame at the mere thought of being associated with me in front of her friends so I’ve got to cherish these moments while I can.
Google maps shows the journey from my daughter’s primary school to the teacher-training college as being roughly 1km in length and indicated a timeframe of 11 mins. I think google maps should also have an option showing how long it would take to “herd cats” along the route as this would be more accurate. Don’t get me wrong, the girls were all very well behaved but the distractions of being outside the school with their friends were non-stop and not to be ignored “ooh look a sign”, “ooh look a bus”, you get the gist.
It wasn’t long into our journey when another question was being fired at me “what are rabies?”. I did a quick double-take to make sure I’d heard this correctly as visions of Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to explain the facts of life in Kindergarten Cop came flooding through my brain. Apparently somebody had mentioned mice / rats and the danger of rabies. I explained that rabies was a disease but there was no need to worry as we didn’t have it in Ireland. My response barely registered with the girls as by then the conversation had moved onto Captain Underpants and potatoes, I wasn’t sure of the link and I don’t think I will ever find out.
Eventually after much cajoling and many stops to take deep breaths to calm down (mainly required by teacher and parents) we made it to our destination. There the girls were greeted by an array of female trainee teachers, me and my y-chromosome felt strangely out of place like that guy who stumbles into the island inhabited by the amazons at the start of the Wonder Woman movie!
The exercise for the day was to programme bee-shaped robots “Beebots” to navigate various different scenarios. The girls took to it with great gusto and really enjoyed the learning / game in a different environment. I couldn’t help thinking that if I had accompanied one of my boy’s classes on a similar trip, the Beebots might have been encouraged to move in a more forcible manner.
I was also impressed by the mantra that was used whenever the girls were rotated to a different learning station. Hands on head, hands on shoulders and then hands on knees. While initially this did seem a little bit like instructions at Guantanamo Bay, it clearly had the desired affect as everyone really calmed down afterwards. I’m definitely going to incorporate this “re-set” mechanism as part of my my own daily life!
Before long it was time to say goodbye to the Beebots and trainee teachers and make our way back to school. I think by this time some of the group had gotten fed up with my constant refrain of “keep moving girls”, at least I assume that’s why I was informed that one of Ella’s classmates had a brother who is a boxer. Still I got very friendly thank-yous and a wave good-bye when I left them at the school gates. Ella seemed to enjoy that whole experience although she did inform me that I wasn’t allowed join her class the following day when I joked that my presence would become a regular thing.