Dear Camp Directors, Counselors and Staff,
I can’t believe my boys are heading off to camp for the first time.
It’s rather surreal because it seems like just yesterday, I was a first time camper myself; anxiously entering this world that would become such a defining part of my Christian upbringing. Orthodox Christian church camp provided some of the most significant memories and teachings in my life and has deeply impacted my lifelong pursuit of the faith.
So now that the time is here for me to encourage my own children to experience the type of love, fellowship, and learning that can only come from being in community with other Orthodox Christian believers, I am overwhelmed with joy for them. But to be honest, more than joy, what I actually feel is fear. I am scared. I’m really, really scared.
Now be clear on the fear of which I speak.
I am not scared that you will show love to my sons. I know the leadership of this camp. I know the training they have been through. And I know how remarkably they have equipped you. I also know you’ve been chosen from a myriad of applicants this year and are among our Church’s best.
I am not scared for their safety. I know you have been drilled on how to put safety first. You know these precious children are our dearest, most prized gifts on this earth. As a mother, I exhale in the realization that you would throw yourselves in front of a bear for these kids, or run into a burning cabin to pull one of them out.
I’m actually not even scared that they’ll be homesick. I’m pretty sure with the balance our camping programs have struck between embracing our kids with familial warmth, and simultaneously calling them to new heights in the pursuit of independence and excellence, they’re going to relish some new found freedoms in the safety of the Church’s embrace.
Here’s why I’m scared.
I’m scared because even though my kiddo looks and pretty much behaves ‘normally’ (if there is such a thing), he’s got a disability that makes so many things hard for him.
I’m scared he won’t be able to keep up physically with the group. He walks a little slower, shuffles his feet a little more, and may even kick up dirt in the process.
I’m scared he’ll fall in the shower because even though you’ll never notice until he actually does fall, his balance is pretty awful and those floors are slick.
I’m scared he’ll feel stupid trying to engage in a game with the other kids because his motor skills are weak and his motor planning is all but non-existent. I wonder if he’ll repeatedly “opt-out” because the thought of trying to do a lanyard, or the noise of the dining hall has the potential to cause the highest levels of anxiety. Or worse, I worry he’ll be humiliated as someone outs him as ‘the kid with the problem’ if he holds his ears or struggles to talk about something other than Minecraft.
I’m scared that he’ll overload- on verbal directions, sensory information, chants and yells and games and little unexpected naughtiness that make camp so uniquely special and fun.
I’m really scared you’ll get impatient with him. I’m scared you’ll max out and find him exhausting or simply, too much work.
See, here’s the thing: my kid, just like 1 in 4 others that will make up your cabins this year has (pick a disability: Sensory processing issues, Autism, Asperger’s, PDD-NOS, OCD, ODD, ADHD, etc. etc. etc.).
It doesn’t really matter what the actual ‘diagnosis’ or even lack thereof might be. My kid is different. He doesn’t really look different. And heck, you may never even notice it. But he is.
And I’m scared.
I’m scared that his little brother, who has self-determined his role as protector, will be consumed with trying to provide for his brothers’ comfort and anonymity. That just like at school, he’ll feel the pressure to take his brother and hide him in a bathroom stall so that he can help him and protect him from the shame of not being able to tie his shoes. This second son of mine deserves to enjoy and embrace his time as a camper as well, free from the responsibility of caregiver that he refuses to relinquish unless my husband and I are around to force him.
I guess most of all, I’m scared that the first place my son may feel rejection, or embarrassment, or simply like he doesn’t fit in, is at Church camp…the one place that made me feel safer and more extraordinary than any other place on the planet.
I hope when you read this; you realize I’m not asking you to spend the week babysitting or coddling my son. I don’t want you to go to extremes to make him feel special or different.
I just want you to be aware that I’m scared. A lot of us moms and dads are. And maybe, when you do feel a bit exasperated, or annoyed, or simply exhausted by having to provide for him yet again, you’ll remember that I am praying for you. And I have been for months.
I’ve been praying for you to have one more moment of patience at the end of each long day. I’ve been praying for you to see this precious boy with my eyes; discerning where he can do it himself, where he can push a bit harder, and where he might need just an extra millisecond of support. I’m praying for you to be the example to the whole crew of boys in your care, teaching them to see each other as a band of brothers, all precious in the sight of God.
If they had let me come as a group one boy’s counselor, I’d have done it in a heartbeat. But since they said no (hey, a girl’s got to try), I’m trusting you. With the most precious things in my life.
Thank you in advance for all those things you’ll do for them and all the love you’ll show to them that I’ll never even get to know about.
I can’t wait for you to love them (almost) as much as I do.