Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sum, Sum Summertime

Carefree days on the beach. Ice cream, lemonade and cookouts every night. Afternoons lazing by the pool. Making new friends and maybe developing a vacation crush. Mini golf, drive-in movies, building sand castles. Yes, it's summer.

Wouldn't it be awesome if the next 10 1/2 to 11 weeks were all of the things up there in that glorious first paragraph? They could be, if it weren't

No, I'm kidding. Camp is awesome! Well, most of the time. I had a great time every summer when I was a kid. My dad ran the camp at my elementary school, which was literally a 50-foot walk through my backyard. He was a teacher in a nearby town, so had summers off. In addition, he'd worked for YMCAs in various locations, so he was a master of motivating and entertaining kids of all ages.

We played tons and tons of softball, sometimes against camps from other elementary schools in town, as well as regular games of Capture the Flag. There were arts and crafts, which I never really enjoyed, and quieter activities like chess and checkers. We had bike parades and story time, played basketball and four square and went absolutely crazy for the slip-and-slide. The last week of camp there was a town-wide jamboree in which we competed in track and field events against other camps, followed by a cookout and an awards ceremony. It was fantastic.

I don't remember any bad days at camp, but I'm sure I had some despite the fact that my dad ran the place, my older brother and sister were there, along with a lot of my neighborhood friends, and the counselors were really nice. Let's face it, camp can be a hassle sometimes, no matter who or how old you are.

My kids started going to camp when they were still in preschool. Over the years they've gone to numerous other camps. For the most part, Amelia has enjoyed her time at a private school summer program and one at her elementary school. The Girl Scout camp she attended last year, however, drove her to tears a few times. She didn't like the amount of outdoor time they had, and was a little freaked out about a bee hive near some of their activities. Also, she didn't know anybody in her group, although she had a friend in an older section.

Owen mostly enjoyed his camp experiences through elementary school, all of which took place at the same private school near us where Amelia went to camp for a few years. He met a few friends and had fun swimming and playing some of the sports. He had a handful of rough drop-offs over the years, but the counselors and camp director were for the most part adept at helping him get back on track.

Once Owen hit middle school, however, camp, like school itself, became more difficult (see February 6, 2016, "In the Spotlight").

He no longer wanted to go to the private school camp, which was fine. I talked to a woman who'd worked closely with him while Owen was in elementary school, and she mentioned a camp that she ran every summer. Kids could choose their own activities, which sounded good to us and to Owen. Rather than having to mix sports with other things he liked to do, Owen could tailor his experience. He chose woodworking, photography, computer lab and making music on the computer as the things he wanted to do for a few weeks in July.

The camp director, Jenny, let Owen visit a few days ahead of the opening, so he could meet a few teachers and get the lay of the land. The camp was held at the middle school near our house where Owen had just finished 6th grade. It was a familiar place to him, which was good, but also the place where for the last six weeks of that school year, he'd refused to go due to his anxiety.

Needless to say, he struggled with camp. He spent short amounts of time in the building, walking around with Jenny and checking a few things out, but not attending any of the activities he'd selected. As a result, he and I spent a lot of time together, doing various activities but also hanging around the house. I was frustrated, but felt terrible as I watched Owen struggle.

Last year, after 7th grade, Owen was once again signed up to attend this camp. His school year had been another roller coaster ride, culminating once again in his refusal to go to school the final five or six weeks. He signed up for similar activities at camp, and met with teachers ahead of time. This time, he managed to take part in the Mythbusters class several times over three weeks, but that was it.

This was progress, albeit a slow advance. Owen had difficulty expressing just what it was that made him so anxious about attending camp, although it wasn't hard for Beth and me to figure out. He didn't know any of the kids. He has a hard time introducing himself to new kids and adults. He likes to be in the safety and comfort of his own home.

Last summer I also signed Owen up for a few one-week camp sessions at the high school. I don't remember what their focus was, but something tech-y that seemed to appeal to him. I brought him in ahead of time to meet the teachers and see the classrooms, but when the time came for him to attend, he was just too overwhelmed with anxiety and doubt to get himself out of the house.

Which brings us to this summer. After struggling at the beginning of the year at his new school, Owen finally settled in nicely. He made friends, came to trust the teachers and enjoyed the class work, the occasional field trips and, of course, hanging out with the staff members' dogs.

He is once again scheduled to attend the camp where he was the last two summers. Given what a great frame of mind he's been in the last several months, I'd say his chances of making it through more than one class are better. I'll take him in next week to meet teachers and get reacquainted with folks he knows.

In August, he's slated to attend a two-week camp with a school friend. Held at a private school for middle and high schoolers that focuses on technology, the camp is likely to be filled with kids like Owen and his friends at school. He and his buddy and a few others will spend two weeks designing and building their own "robo cars." Sounds fun, right? Because he's doing it with a friend, and I've already taken him to the space and met the woman who runs the place, I think there's a good chance he'll stick with that program.

Also helping to convince me is the fact that this week he went willingly to another camp he'd never been to before. Held about 25 minutes away at the Mass. Audubon Society's Drumlin Farm, the camp is called Animal Apprentices. Owen attended camp with a friend from school, which was a big key for both of them. Owen likes animals, so this seemed like a natural fit. But he rarely feels comfortable doing new things, especially on his own.

After two weeks of sleeping late since the end of school, he didn't complain at all about getting up early again and schlepping off to camp. The first two days temps were in the mid- to upper-80's, so I worried about Owen, who does not like the heat. But since most of their work -- tending to rescued wildlife animals including rabbits, mice, a fox, a fisher and a turkey vulture -- was inside, all went well.

The second half of the week they focused on animals that live on the farm, including chickens and sheep. On Thursday they helped move the sheep to a new grazing area. They did the same for the goats. Owen even got to milk a cow!

Friday was Chicken Day, which was made evident when I dropped Owen off by the fact that the head counselor was wearing a chicken hat. Owen and his fellow campers collected eggs and did a few other tasks for the chickens. They also groomed a pony and a few kids had another opportunity to milk the cow.

Needless to say, he feels good about himself for learning new skills, and Beth and I are extremely happy to see him go off to camp without a complaint or outward sign of anxiety. No matter how the rest of the summer goes -- and I think it will go well for everyone in our household -- things are already much better than last year. And that will surely make for a much easier transition into the school year at the end of August.