Friday, July 26, 2013

What I did at Summer Camp.

One my goals in taking my Facebook hiatus was to find more time, and to use some of that time for more writing. Again, I'm not sure what it will amount to if anything and right now they're just little snippets of a whole picture.

This past week was Jack's Tennis Camp, which went a lot better than expected, and I'm proud to say he completed the week and can now hit a Tennis ball. Sort of. The beginning of the week, however, was tough and I give his father all the credit for pulling him through this one. He was patient, understanding, and stayed the whole three hours at a camp that was drop off and pick up. The Instructors also deserve some credit for recognizing his need for one on one instruction and some alone time practice. Once he knew what he was supposed to do and was allowed to do it, on his own, his comfort level increased dramatically and he was able to join the group and actually enjoy himself. It's amazing what a little understanding and adjustment can do.

The whole experience and the words that my son was saying at the beginning of the week sent me back thirty something years to my own experience with Camp, so I decided to write about it and share it here. It's been an experience that stuck with me and writing it out was not only therapeutic but also eye opening. Enjoy! Or not...

Summer Camp

One summer, back when I was seven, my then foster mother came up with the bright idea to send me to camp. It was the YMCA Day Camp and it was only for a week. At least I think it was only for a week. In any case, that was the length of time I went. I’m sure she must have been thinking something like, “Well, now I have a child. It’s summer time. What do you do with a child in the summer? I know! You send her to camp!”

Camp. A supposedly fun filled, noisy place where I could run and swim and play sports and be competitive and learn skills and socialize.  A perfectly logical choice for any normal little girl, I suppose. Only I wasn’t any normal little girl. People said I was shy, but it was more than that. I could barely run, and certainly not fast.  I could not swim. I didn’t and hadn’t ever in my life played a sport. I wasn’t the least bit competitive. I had no desire to learn these skills, and I lacked the ability and the voice to socialize with people I didn’t know. Surely someone else in my life must have known all of this besides me. I can almost hear them now. "It will help to bring her out of her shell..." This was a phrase I had heard often, and it made me wonder if they thought I was a turtle, or perhaps a clam. In my mind I saw the image of a large seashell strapped to my back so it looked as if I had wings. I liked the image and didn’t see any reason why they would want me to come out of that shell.

The truth was, I was perfectly happy in my “shell”. It was where I felt most comfortable and safe. There was no need to try to pry me out of it. The truth is, even today, at the age of forty-one it is still where I feel the most at ease. No amount of prying was ever going to turn me into anyone else. My shell is my home. Perhaps I am a turtle after all.

The first day of camp stands out more vividly than the rest. It started with a car ride to The Thunderbird Motel, which was where the bus would pick me up. I’m not sure if the word nervous can fully describe what I was feeling. I was nervous, that’s for sure, but it was more than that. My thoughts were racing, although they never dared to become actual words. And my thoughts were also pervasive. What will the bus look like? My school bus is yellow, but I rode a bus once that wasn’t yellow. When will it get here? Who will be on it? Kids on the yellow bus are mean, but there weren’t any kids on the other bus. Where will I sit? If it’s not a yellow bus I’ll have sit next to a strange man. How long will it take? I got sick on the other bus. If it’s not a yellow bus I’ll get sick on this bus. What if we get lost? What if I can’t find my way back?  Where do I go when we get there? Who will help me? What will they make me do? Will I be able to do it? I won’t be able to do it. They will be mad that I can’t swim. What will we play? When will we play? Where will I put my bag? When will I get there?  What if I can’t talk? They will get mad if I can’t talk. Will it be in the woods? How will I know what time it is? How will I know when to leave? How will I know the right bus?  And on and on it went. This, all before I even started my journey. I had no idea what to expect, and I needed to know what to expect. I also needed to know what was coming next and in the precise order it would come. I only had my past experience to rely on and believed if something happened once, it would happen, again and again and again. Life experience has since taught me that this isn’t necessarily true, however, I still can’t force my brain to believe it.

The bus ride ended up being the least of my worries, simply because I didn’t have to say anything to anyone. It was noisy, as all the other kids yelled rather than talked, but I managed to stare out the window and tune most of it out. The bus ride to and from would end up being the best part of the whole experience.

Once we arrived at the camp all of my racing thoughts and questions returned, along with my inability to speak above a whisper. “Speak up, Hope” was another commonly heard phrase, especially in School, in front a group, or with people I didn’t know.  I would try and try, but if I could get the words out at all, it was never above a whisper, and it hurt to try. It physically hurt. It’s only recently that I learned that there was an actual name for this. Selective Mutism. Eventually, this was something I grew out of. But even now my voice is the first thing to go when I’m extremely nervous. It’s as if I have a volume button the instantly turns down the moment I’m around unfamiliar people or places.

The Camp Counselors were lined up as we exited the bus, and although the process by which they determined which child belonged to which counselor is all a blur now, somehow, I ended up being assigned to one. To this day, I’m not completely certain I was ever even with the right group to begin with, as I was always the kid “left over”. The one without the partner, or the fifth wheel in a party of four. I was the quiet, blond haired, blue eyed, day dreamy little girl that completely went unnoticed.

Day one, for me, was a mess. It was complete and utter chaos and confusion, as we bounced from one noisy activity to the next. I was somewhat relieved when our first stop was to the locker room and I learned where to put my bag. I made a mental note of what building it was in and specifically what locker I had. I only had to count from the first locker to the left of the door. One, two ,three, four, five. Five. I had the fifth locker. If I knew nothing else, I knew where my bag was and how to get it.

The rest, however, when I remember it, resembles a dream. The kind of dream where nothing really makes sense and you’re always late, or running behind, and you’re trying your best to figure things out, but still have no idea what is going on. All of the other kids in my group seemed to have some kind of mental telepathy or super powers. They all knew what the others were doing without anyone ever having to speak the words. They all knew the rules to the games and how to hit the ball and in which direction to run. I knew none of this, and if anyone was explaining it, I certainly couldn’t make it out above the voices of chattering children. I remember trying to ask the counselor questions.  I remember standing by her side and waiting for her to notice that I was there. Most times she didn’t notice, and the times she did, she couldn’t hear me and would get annoyed. At least it seemed to me like she was getting annoyed. It seemed to me like I was doing everything wrong.

Lunch time that first day, was probably the longest half hour of my life. For reasons I will never comprehend, my foster mother, had completely missed the fact that she was supposed to pack me a lunch. A mistake that she would never make again, as I reminded her of it continuously for months after. While all the other children and counselors sat and ate their brown bagged lunches at the picnic tables scattered among the trees, I sat, alone. Eventually one of the adults noticed I had no lunch and gave me an orange. An orange that I couldn’t peel, as I had no finger nails. I did the best I could, but by this time lunch was almost over and I threw most of the orange in the trash.

Swimming came after lunch, which I thought was out of order because everyone always said to wait to go in the water after eating.  Because I didn’t actually know how to swim I was in the beginner group and I needed a partner. Most of the kids paired off immediately and the two girls I asked to be my partner decided to partner up themselves. The councilor ended up being my partner, which was fine with me because I figured she wouldn’t let me drown. I had fallen off a raft in an above ground pool at age five and was convinced that I had drowned once already. I wasn’t in a hurry to let that happen again.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with running races and mouthing the words to songs I didn’t know. The highlight of my day was heading back to the locker room, as I knew exactly where my bag was. One, two, three, four, five. The fifth locker. I was changed and ready before anyone else, wanting nothing more than to find my bus, where I could sit and stare out the window for the whole ride home. I remember I was in bed by 6pm that first night, out of complete exhaustion and overload. And I remember my foster mother commenting on how “All that fresh air must have tuckered her out.”  I had told her that I didn’t like it, and I remember thinking, why doesn’t she believe me?

The rest of the week, was much of the same, except that I had a lunch and could get out of having to talk by shoving food into my mouth. By the second to the last day a new girl, Linda, arrived, which gave me a partner finally, as all the others had pretty much stuck together. For some reason, she insisted on calling me Diana, and I let her. Linda and I were partners in swimming, the egg race and the three legged race. She was a bit bossy, but it made it easier to figure out what I was supposed to do. Linda and I didn’t sit together at lunch.

On the last day, as we were changing in the locker room, a pudgy little mean girl told me she hoped she would never see me again. I was completely shocked and was sure she was talking to someone else. I looked around me, but it became apparent that she was indeed talking to me. I’m not sure if it was because I knew it was the end of the last day, but somehow, I found my voice and told her “I was glad I never had to see her again.”  I wasn’t mean about it. In fact, I didn’t really even mean it as I had no idea who this girl was. Did she know me? Was she in my group? Did I know who was in my group? No. The truth was, I didn’t. I always knew where my group was because I had studied my counselors face and the length of her brown hair. I could recognize her and Linda. No one else. After spending an entire week with these kids I didn’t know any of them. I didn’t know what they looked like and I knew no ones name, except for the bossy little girl, that called me Diana.

Hope, who probably isn't really a turtle. 

Also, google drive can bite me.

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