Virtue & Mischief: Best laid plans


I fancy myself a pretty laid back guy, able to adjust to unplanned contingencies with aplomb and equanimity. Upon sober reflection, however, I cannot deny that reality presents a more mixed picture. Sometimes I deal with unanticipated “flies-in-the-ointment” with ethereal calm, sometimes with obvious irritation or worse.

It’s axiomatic that the best laid plans of fathers and husbands (and all other humans) often go awry. It’s rare when the Swensen family arrives at its destination, whether it involves a cross-country trip or a quick drive to Sunday church services, on time and without a snag. The particulars vary. No matter how much I rehearse or consider conceivable exigencies, something unforeseen happens: food is spilled at the last minute and must be cleaned, a pet vomits on a piece of furniture, an outfit doesn’t fit quite right and must be discarded for something “better”, a nail on the road inexorably attracts the tread of one of our tires and gleefully shreds it. Illnesses, mechanical issues, arguments, weather, a malfunctioning alarm clock—they’ve all been culprits serving to foil my occasionally obsessive desire to arrive somewhere at a particular time.

Earlier this week, Abby, scores of her eighth-grade peers, and several adult chaperones ventured east on three chartered buses to tour various historic and cultural hotspots in our nation’s capital. They spent approximately three days there, wedging in visits to the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, Ford’s Theatre, and the White House, to cite just a few items on their rather extensive itinerary.

Call this a wild guess, but I suspect that during this junket the kids (a) consumed massive quantities of healthy and unhealthy foodstuffs, (b) acquired very little sleep, (c) accumulated lots of memories that will last for decades, and (d) possess no conception of the magnitude of the sacrifice the accompanying adults discharged on their behalf. Call me a crusty old dude if you like (why not? My kids do), but there ain’t enough cheddar in the National Treasury to entice me to go on such a trip with over a hundred teenagers. I’m convinced that Providence has designed and constructed a very special mansion in Heaven for those hardy souls—the few, the proud, the certifiably insane adults who serve as chaperones on Junior High class trips.

Abby and her cohorts were to depart Washington, D.C. on Friday in the mid-afternoon for their return to Darke County, and were scheduled to arrive in Greenville somewhere in the neighborhood of 3:00 a.m. Saturday. But early Friday evening we received a “one-call” message that there were some mechanical issues with one of the buses, that the travelers had therefore not yet departed, and that we would be kept up-to-date with any developments. Oh. Boy.

It’s one thing to experience a hitch in one’s plans when it involves, say, a detour on your way to work or perhaps a DRM (“Diaper-Related-Mishap) in the van with one of your toddlers as you drive through the Appalachian Mountains on your way to a family reunion. It’s another altogether when you’re talking about serving in loco parentis (for an extra half day, attempting to kill the hours in a shopping mall) to a bevy of adolescents who are supercharged on adrenaline, sugar, hormones, and sleep deprivation. I shuddered at the mere thought. To my mind, situations like that are precisely why the concept of hiding a cyanide tablet in one’s fake molar was invented. On behalf of all involved I uttered an immediate silent prayer that Angus MacGyver might wander by soon with a paper-clip, a few rubber bands, and some WD-40 with which to repair the bus in five minutes and send the merry Green Wave band on its way home.

Alas, Mr. MacGyver never arrived, a different bus had to be summoned (from where, exactly, I don’t know, but it took several hours to get there), and I gather there was an additional hitch or two before the troupe of teens and adult overseers—exhausted, but safe and grateful at the prospect of a hot shower and a warm bed—dropped anchor at the appointed spot, if not the originally appointed time.

Three cheers to the kids who adjusted reasonably well to a less-than-optimal situation. Three cheers to Mr. Mortensen and his crew of chaperones who went above and beyond the call of duty—and put in some serious overtime, too—ensuring the students had a great, calamity-free experience. And, finally, check your in-box and text messages, Angus. We need to chat.

By Tim Swensen

Virtue and Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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