Back in January, I sat down with a number of program brochures, summer calendar and school schedules to figure out how to keep both boys amused and out of trouble during the summer. Since Jeff has loved his previous one-week overnight camp experiences, I foolishly assumed that it was a sure thing: All I had to do was send the check. Wrong.
Jeff was suddenly coy when I mentioned it. "I don't want to go this year. It was too long away from home." That was such a transparent lie that I wondered what was really behind this pronouncement. "Six days is not very long," I offered. "You classmate Amy's camp is four weeks, but I think there is a two-week session." "Two weeks is fine." Pause. "Four weeks is fine, too." A few days later, I ventured my hypothesis on Jeff's change of heart. "I know a lot of the campers there use wheelchairs or don't speak or run very well. Is that it? Would you rather go to a camp with 'regular' kids?" Bingo.
So I looked at web sites and talked to other parents. It turns out Amy's experience last summer was not great--it's hard enough being a teenager, much less one with special issues--so her mother was camp shopping, too.
All four of us trekked to the outer 'burbs on snowy Sunday to attend a Camp and Summer Adventure Fair. Was that an eye-opener! The Fair was set up like any other trade fair and the presenters were just as subtle. I have had more success fending off perfume-wielding women in shopping malls. Girls-Only camps! "No, just boys here!" I announced without breaking my stride. Christian camp? Get thee behind me. Summer programs with computers, chess, foreign languages. Don't make me laugh.
Jeff was completely sold on a Wisconsin YMCA camp whose representative brought along a live rabbit. Amy was quite taken at a booth whose camp program includes a field trip to BUILD-A-BEAR Workshop. But her mother and I were listening skeptically. We were waiting for the code words, "diversity," "inclusion," "accommodation." While there are many camps for disabled kids only, it appears that regular camps who are proactive in providing staff and welcoming kids like ours . . . well, not so much.
We mothers had a visit to the twilight zone at one booth. I had phoned ahead of time to describe Jeff and the director had offered to meet with us at the Fair. Amy got the full treatment of the delights of this particular camp, her mom got the sales pitch, while I, simultaneously was told that they would not take Jeff. Yes, I think that was what the director said. It was hard to tell, because every time I tried to extricate myself with a polite, "I won't take up any more of your time then," he wouldn't release me since he had Amy, a live one, on the line.
Strolling down the last aisle, I stopped at another YMCA camp booth. While Amy admired the photo display, I asked directly, "Do you accommodate children with special needs?" The rep’s eyes lit up. "Yes, we do. We have a behavioral specialist on staff and we provide a one-on-one if the camper requires it. Our camp is committed to integrating these kids and making their camp experience successful." Oh, really? I tried to sound interested, yet non-committal. "May I have your card, your address, your email and an application? Would you like a check now?
Jeff left today. He joined a cabin of 'regular' teenaged boys somewhere in the wilderness of Michigan. I want this week to be a success, but there isn't anything I can do. I was under strict orders from Jeff to "just drop him off." That's normal, right?