Background information: Growing up, my wonderful grandpa was a man of many odd jobs. Most notably he was a mystery shopper, a St. Nick impersonator, a school bus driver, and a petting farm tour guide. (Yeah, he was the greatest.)
For quite a few years he worked at Green Meadows Farm, near where I grew up in Waterford, WI. He passed away several years ago, but shortly thereafter I was invited by Mavis, the owner and a wonderful family friend I'd known since childhood, to work at the farm for a summer during college. I agreed happily, and for the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I carried on my grandpa's legacy and worked at the farm. My main responsibility for the first half of the summer was as a tour guide for school field trips, day camps, church groups, YMCA groups and so on. And man, what a crazy, fun, nerve-wracking experience it was.
Obviously most people can't probably relate to this on a personal level, (if you can, hit me up. We have so much to talk about) but if you've ever thought about being a tour guide at a petting zoo infiltrated daily by hundreds of school children, here's what to expect and how to survive. If this article makes you consider it, good call. It may sound crazy, but it's definitely the good kind of crazy.
(P.S. Shout out to Green Meadows Farm, the best petting farm in existence.)
1. Read the employee manual in the days prior to your first tour.
Recite farm animal trivia to your family at all hours of the day. Ignore their pleas for silence. You have to be ready.
2. Do not get too confident when, on the first day, you are given a well-behaved 30-kid church group.
They are easing you in. This will not last.
3. Do not quit when, on the second day, you are given an unruly 65-kid group and you realize that yesterday was a scam.
4. Revel in your skills as you spout off facts about chickens as though you grew up on this very farm.
(You did not, you grew up in the suburbs.) [Also, it should be noted that chickens lay eggs the same color as their earlobes. Yep. #truthbomb]
5. When your group’s teacher decides that they know more than you because they’ve “been here before":
Resist the strong urge to yell, “Well this is my job! How about you focus on not losing Jimmy for a fifth time??”
6. In the case of post-hayride pandemonium, use chaperones to corral children into a smaller space.
Under no circumstances should you let them discover the rubber duck racing station past the chicken coop. You will not make that mistake twice.
7. Ignore the desire to yell at the overly concerned parents who stop to use hand sanitizer every time a child touches a wood chip or blade of grass.
Do, however, request that children refrain from shoving their entire hands into bowls of pig feed from which pigs are currently eating.
8. Play it cool when the goats escape.
Even when one pulls out a clump of your hair, maintain your composure and causally force or lure the reluctant goats back home. Do not let the goats get the best of you. Never let them see the fear in your eyes.
9. Never cut across the hill to the pony ring if any other group is heading that way too.
Pony ring breaches of etiquette can burn coworker bridges in an instant.
10. Get very comfortable with milking cows.
You will have to assist 50 children milk the cow each day for 2 months. Be aware that half of the kids will think it's amazing and will want to squirt you and anyone else in the vicinity. The other half will look at you with extreme suspicion and disgust in their eyes and make you do all of the milking work.
11. Don’t go directly into the kitten barn without first traveling through the goat family area and the silo room.
You will irrevocably damage the delicate balance of the farm should you stray from the expected path. Additionally, remember that most kids lose their damn minds in the presence of kittens and no longer remember how to act like humans.
12. Do not climb into the calf enclosure without being able to easily and gracefully remove yourself once you’ve done what you needed to.
13. The small animal building is a time vortex and the loudest, most echo-y place in the known universe.
Set a strict 7-minute policy and keep to it. Get in and get out.
14. When the llamas are feeling especially saucy:
(Which is basically always, llamas are crazy horny.) During your tour, casually point to a cloud or a goat or a bug or anything to keep kids’ questions and parents’ jokes under control.
15. When a child from a visiting family (not associated with your group in any way, it's important to add) slides under a fence and begins to admire the enormous draft horse from 5 inches away, quickly (and with an air of fake calm) get the kid the hell out of there.
Lawsuits are frowned upon at the farm.
16. When taking your group to the hand washing trough before lunch, forgo paper towels altogether.
Convince the children that air drying is another magical part of “farm life."
17. Do not cry when your group of 60 people requests their third twenty-minute bathroom stop in the span of 2 hours.
18. When twelve kids ask to hold your hands at once, let them.
Even when half of them have to cling to your arms and start stepping on your heels. If they love you, they are slightly more likely to listen to your facts about turkeys and stop throwing stuff at each other.
19. If you care about your sanity, stay away from the Music Machine.
Yes, the kids love it, but is it worth the temporary deafness and the overwhelming stress that naturally accompany 50 kids banging on pots, barrels and cans at the same time?
20. When children and adults alike start complaining of the 90-degree heat, calmly remind them that you and the animals are hot as well, and that you will all survive.
[And that no, the one drinking fountain on the opposite side of the farm is not a convenient detour.]
21. And at the end of the tour, when you’ve passed the pigs and the geese and the peacocks and have finally arrived back at the exit, wait patiently as they take another half hour to load up the bus and drive away.
Wave jovially as the bus pulls out of the gravel parking lot. You’ve done it.
22. Go home and sleep.
Tomorrow might not be so easy.