It seemed like a good idea at the time; We’d all go to family camp to get Deane familiar so that he might be able to go on his own next summer.
Good theory. But not all theories work out in practice.
Deane had been to camp with Dad a couple of years ago and had quite enjoyed himself even though he was by far the youngest kid there. Dad’s role was primarily to stay with Deane at night. He could participate in as many or as few daytime activities as he wanted.
That was the experience I had in mind when planning this year’s adventure.
It didn’t start out well. The day we were heading to camp we spent all afternoon in a hospital emergency room waiting to get a replacement NG tube.
That meant we were very late leaving and as a result missed the opening the opening night instructions, campfire and general scene setting. Missing the opening event was probably a serious mistake as Deane really likes to be eased into new experiences.
The next morning, things did not start well. The first activity I had signed us up for was yoga – something Deane does at school. He was not interested, not happy and intent on letting everyone know it. The next activity was zip lining, which unfortunately Deane couldn’t do because it involved climbing a 40’ pole. After a bit of complaining and a discussion with Dad, he watched the rest of us jump off the pole.
Somewhere along the way, I had bribed Deane into calming down by promising him that while his dad and sister went to archery, we would go back to the cabin so he could watch his iPad before lunch. We did, but it didn’t turn out to be much time to watch the videos he so wanted to lose himself in.
The dining hall was big and loud. Deane did not enjoy it. Not only would he not eat, he screamed his displeasure. Dad took him out and began a new type of dialogue. Instead of just being goofy and making Deane laugh to get through a tough moment, Dad let him know he was being selfish and that this camp was something for all of us to enjoy together. The result: my husband and son in a standoff outside our cabin with Deane crying and Dad not giving in. I brokered a compromise, which involved me reading Deane some of his books on the porch of the cabin while he ate his lunch. At least it wasn’t watching his iPad.
The day generally progressed in a similar pattern. A few times – usually when someone was playing a guitar or Dad played the drums with him – he was OK, but most of the rest of the time, he was clear that he wanted to go back to the cabin to watch his screen.
Sunday morning was better because the activities involved music, although it took another Dad discussion to get him to agree to go into the guitar session. After another rather disastrous lunch, various counsellors went out of their way to arrange for Deane go zip lining. Deane knew we were leaving that day and the sooner the better as far as he was concerned. The zip lining – which Dad and I really thought he would enjoy given that he has a type of zip line at the cottage – involved complaining and crying from beginning pretty much to the end. As soon as it was over and we assured him he was going to the cottage, he perked right up. We went straight from there to the car.
So what’s the take away from this exhausting experience? First, our son is getting good at letting us know his opinion, but we also know, if we put in the effort, he is willing to reason with us. In addition, I had obviously let Deane get into too much of a routine of watching his iPad at the cottage. The timing meant that Deane just kept thinking about going back the cottage. Perhaps one of the biggest factors in his negative reaction to the camp was that unlike his previous camp experience, he didn’t know any of the counsellors before hand so this was completely new – something Deane doesn’t do well.
It is clear that we won’t be sending Deane to camp on his own next year, but maybe, with better preparation, setting clearer expectations and the benefit of familiarity, we could consider doing family camp again.
Then again, maybe we should take Deane’s advice and stay at the cottage. It is supposed to be a vacation after all.