You know how, before you had kids, you would think about what it would be like to be a mother? You know, like how your children would look and act. How you would play with them and do certain things with them. How you would NEVER say "that" but ALWAYS do "this." Perhaps you, like me, thought about those things you loved and hated from your childhood, and imagined how your children would do those things--or not! You probably remembered those important lessons you learned, and how you learned them, and wished for the same opportunities for your yet-unborn children.
And then, your children came along. And nothing went quite according to plan. And then the diagnosis came, and plans went up in smoke. Or maybe just changed.
I grew up going to church camp every summer. I loved it! Loved feeling grown-up staying away from home for a week. Loved the friends I made every year there. Loved the worship, the lessons, the campfires, the games, the swimming, the canoes. Still value so many memories from those days at Camp LRCA. Loved learning so much about God, and competing with other teams to memorize the most scripture during the week, and opening up to men and women of God who knew so much more than I did about the Bible.
Camp made "church" fun and exciting to a child. And I always knew that I wanted my kids to go to camp someday too.
So when it turned out that those imaginary children who were born eventually had very real problems, I was sad about a lot of things they might miss out on. Like camp.
How could I send Squirrel off to spend five nights away from home in a cabin filled with eight girls laughing and giggling through the nights? She needs her full nine hours of sleep, and struggles so hard to get it even at home! How could I expect her to deal with the many sensory issues that camp brings with it, like bug bites and sticky, sweaty days and food that isn't prepared like she would want it and overwhelming noise and activities? Who would she turn to when she needed help dealing with all the stimulation? Who would understand that she wasn't being defiant, but was overwhelmed? Who would deal with the inevitable meltdown that would leave her in a puddle of embarrassed tears and shame?
And Munchkin--how could I ever send him away overnight with a bunch of typical kids? He needs too much one-on-one to deal with the stimulation and the frustrations and the demands of a camp setting. This may never be possible for him!
It was a hard pill to swallow, especially as other kids went off to camp each summer and I realized fresh every year that my kids might not ever do this.
But this spring, my friend from college contacted me. She's now the manager of good old Camp LRCA, and wanted to know if I would come out for the week she was Dean. I got pretty excited as I realized that my children actually fell into the age range for this week of camp, and that it was a short week (3 days), and that they could potentially come with me. Surely they could handle camp with me right there to support them! I told my friend I'd be happy to come, as long as a few accommodations could be made for us. I worried this wouldn't be possible, but she gladly agreed to make whatever accommodations we needed!
So off we went to camp. Squirrel stayed in a cabin with some of the other girls; Munchkin and I had a cabin of our own. Squirrel had an amazing time! She made several friends right away, and loved the whole experience. She had trouble sleeping the first night, but dropped off from sheer exhaustion the second. Because I was right there, she was able to come to me for hugs and support when she needed to, while still enjoying the freedom of being on her own for the most part.
And Munchkin did amazingly well. He needed a lot of breaks from the constant activity. He needed to sit out of a few activities when the heat or noise level got to him, or his anxieties started to build. He wore his headphones in the main sessions, and sat off by himself for lesson times, and really bonded with one of the adult leaders who allowed him to use her phone to unwind with games when he needed space and time alone. His smaller-than-average build and social delays may have worked to his advantage in helping the other children to accept him--they all assumed he was much younger than they were, and put up with some of his more "annoying" behaviors because of his "age."
Both of them felt so proud and grown-up being at camp, and can't wait to go next year.
And I am so proud of them. Squirrel's Cabin Mom told me how mature and confident she is, and was so impressed with her ability to memorize scripture quickly. I never really told anyone except the Dean that my kids have special needs, but on the last day of camp one of the other leaders asked me about Munchkin's headphones. I told her he had Autism and explained how the headphones helped him, and she told me he was so well-behaved all week and such a smart, sweet boy! Of course, I beamed at that.
I'm looking at some of the other dreams I once had for my imagined children now. Maybe I've set my sights too low for my real-life blessings. Are there other dreams I've given up on because of their needs? There's obviously nothing my kids cannot do if they set their minds to it and are given the support they need! And I will gladly go to camp with them every year if that's what it takes to help them succeed. Or do anything else I need to do to help them realize their dreams, as well as those I've dreamed for them.
Oh, and also? Thanks so very much to my dear friend for giving us this opportunity. I'm sure you had no idea that simply asking me to help you out would in turn help us in such an amazing way. Thanks for loving and supporting my kids the way you, and all your leaders that week, did! We are so very grateful to you!