Thursday, August 23, 2012


 The Miracle continues.  Alex had a fantastic time at camp.  His first overnight camp has been accomplished and it was marvelous.  It has all come together so neatly.  I was supposed to work while he was dropped off by his dad, but I was able to get out early and join them on the way to camp.  We got there early, because his dad was in charge, and he was the first kid from his cabin to arrive.  His best friend arrived shortly thereafter, and they were able to pick top bunks next to one another.  What joy!  Lucas had the bunk in the corner on the left, Alex was to his right.  I could imagine from the start these little boys chatting with each other from bunk to bunk, trying to get to sleep at night, waking up in the morning light.  Such adventure.  They could not wait for their families to leave. 

Notice Yoda in on the bunk too.  Lucas forgot any stuffed friends, but said, "I'll be all right."
Birch Cabin.  Bunks and a fireplace.  And boys, boys, boys.

So leave we did.  It was hard.  Kevin had to just about drag me away.  I wanted to stay, and spy, and be part of camp too.  But I left.  Took a deep breath, and left.  You are supposed to let them fly, right? 

And fly they did.  Alex must have, by the smile on his face when we returned three days later.  And dare I say, he stood a bit taller too.  I don't know how easy or hard it was for him.  But from the report from his counselor he did great, and Lucas did too.  I may have to scan Alex's letter from his counselor in some day, it had so much good stuff in it.  He participated in camp.  He did all the activities and loved them all.  He even rode a horse this time, and went on a trail ride through the woods.  At day camp that was the one thing he refused.  He finally did it, for 150 bravery points.  He got up early every day to play field games, cleaned up in the dining room, sang all the songs, and even ate a hot dog.  Somehow he kept track of all his stuff, never even lost his retainer, and got from place to place with out an aide.   He even bought a Camp Miller sweatshirt with his birthday money at the camp store, all on his own.  Let's not forget the swimming too, and kayaking as well.  And most of his time paling around with his best friend.  Activities all day, and big campfires at night with songs and s'mores.  There is so much I don't know, but am taking it on faith that the staff was not just blowing sunshine, and he really did great.  They both did.   Alex did not hit the archery target yet, unlike Lucas, but he did not seem disheartened.  The weather was beautiful.  The bugs were minimal.  He climbed the tower, and won a game of Ga-ga.  And then the "week" was over.  We came to pick him up, and have a closing picnic.  He was whole, and healthy, and not traumatized a bit.  Lucas was smiling, they remain fast friends.

 It was a mini-camp, three nights and days, so the numbers were small and the campers were all young.  The perfect size start.  Lots of counselors in blue, and their T-shirts read "Professional Role Model" across the back.  There was a camp fire to close with, of course, because that is what we do in Camp in America.  Time for skits, songs, and awards.

Preparing for the stage.
Birch Cabin got to do their skit "Pebbles".

Counselors singing a goofy song.
The crowd singing it back.

The Dynamic Duo with their First Year Camper ribbons.

Our happy Camper.

Respect.  Honesty.  Responsibility.  Caring.  Those are the four core values at Camp, and he did well with all of them.  He was sad one night, his first I think. Sad and homesick.  Sad enough to bring in his day camp counselor from another cabin.  I can imagine it.  She was called in for rescue.  She took him outside, and they walked, talked, sat down.  He must have been exhausted, ready to run for home.  But he didn't.  She calmed him, and sent him to bed.  And that was it.  Our one bump in the road, and then back to camp as usual with his best friend.  No special staffing.  No extra support.  One great friend, to whom I will be eternally grateful, and one great program.  Half a week away from home.  Under the big pines.  On the water.  Learning how to adventure, and learn, and laugh on his own.  Having a good friend, being a good friend, and learning to slot in with a whole group of awesome people.  If he can do this, what else might the future hold?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Great Camp Experiment

This is it.  The miracle is happening.  I don't know what kind of conditions and work it will take to make the miracle permanent, but for now I am just riding the miracle wave.

Let me back up.  Nine months ago I was inspired to send Alex to camp this summer.  And not just camp, but Camp.  An ultimate Camp.  Out in the woods, with counselors, kids, and all the traditional activities.  At the time we were attending the Winter Camping Symposium at Camp Miller.  The Symposium is something my husband has been attending and now coordinating for many years.  It has been a venue for die-hard winter campers to get together in the late fall and get pumped for the coming winter season.  It has been held in many locations over the years, and had landed at Camp Miller, a traditional YMCA overnight camp.  The kind with woods, fields, cabins, a dining hall, and a waterfront on a beautiful lake.  It also has canoes, kayaks, a swim platform, and a sailboat or two.  And fire rings for many campfires, big and small.  Plus fun extras like a climbing tower, horses, barn animals, arts and crafts, high and low ropes, archery, and riflery.  And equipment for games, games, games.  It is A Camp.  We were there in the off season,  as a family, and for an alternate purpose, but I got tingly just by walking around the grounds and seeing it all.  I am an old Camp person myself, and Camp to me is the lifeblood of summer and childhood.  I started dreaming about Alex having a real Camp experience.

But I was fully aware of the challenges.  Camp is about adventure, and independence, and friendships.  All of those are very hard for Alex.  How could he ever go to camp if he does not know how to play, and playing with new friends seems impossible?  How can we get him to Camp, if leaving home and routine I painful for him?  How can he go to Camp, if he has always had a parent, or Para, a Buddy, or trained professional to look after him?  Challenging indeed, but once I met the dynamo Camp Director, Bridgit Marushka, I began to think it could be done.

First we brainstormed.  Camp Miller is a traditional overnight Camp, where kids go for a week and stay in cabins with their age group and gender.   Camp is open to kiddos going into second grade all the way through high school.  There is a progression, and by high school they are either Counselors-In-Training or off on wilderness trips.  Since Alex is going into third I figured we would be in the perfect starting age group.  But I knew just dropping him at Camp cold would never work.  That is hard for most kids, and would have lead to paralysis or meltdown for Alex, or both.  Whether or not he could have recovered from the shock and gone on to love camp was not a toss up I was willing to risk.  No, there had to be a way to ease him into it.  Bridgit provided many options.  She promoted the ASD Family Camp, where the whole family gets to participate in activities at their own pace.  It seemed like a great start, but did not end up working with our schedule.  Bridgit said I could come as a parent volunteer for overnight Camp, or even stay in a cabin with Alex at night and he could participate in the daytime.  These seemed like good fallbacks if he was losing it, but the full program at once still seemed like a bit much.  Then I learned about the Mini-Camps and also Day Camp.  The Mini-Camps are Sunday to Wednesday and geared to the younger beginner at Camp.  And the Day Camp sounded like a dream.  Day camp, with all the benefits of the full Camp grounds and activities, but the security of going home at night.  It even turned out to be quite a bit cheaper than the day camp in Duluth.  The only hitch was having to transport him.  An hour.  Each way.  But to me, that seemed like a price to pay that I could manage.  And I began to consider that I might be able to find a friend to go to camp with him, since it is such a beautiful camp and the Day Camp program is actually much less crowded and chaotic that the one in town.  And did I mention it is cheaper?  Like by half.

So a plan began to form.  Find a week for Day Camp, and then follow it up with a Mini-Camp.  Have the option for me to slot into the camp activities if it was just too overwhelming for Alex.  And start working on finding a friend to attend with him, especially for the Day Camp portion which would be an easy sell.  Easy, right?  Well, maybe not, but worth a try.  I knew the friend part might be rough.  Not because Alex has no friends.  He has plenty that would be interested in the experience.  But to find one that would have the same week open, and could get to our house every day at 7am for the one hour ride to camp, well that was a stretch.  And in the back of my mind I wondered if that same friend would want to attend the Mini-Camp too, but that was a bit too much to even hope for.  Especially since we were quite limited on which weeks would work, due to Acting Camp, a two week Swim Intensive, our two week trip out East, and not wanting Day Camp and Mini-Camp to be right on top of each other.  We're busy, and limited, and so is everybody else.  Would there be a chance? This is where part of the miracle resides. 

Fast forward to this week.  Summer itself has been  ticking along just fine.  Many wonderful experiences have been had.  All previous activities counted as successes.  A few ups and downs here and there but an overall great summer with many more ups than down.  I have been feeling calm, and confident.  Relaxed, and excited.  And now, downright ecstatic.  The whole Camp Plan is working out even better than I had dreamed.  Alex's new friend Lucas (and his mom, Jenny) joined the camp plan with smiles and excitement all around.  Jenny is an old camp counselor herself, so she knows all about the magic.  All I had to do was tell her about the opportunity and bam, Lucas was signed up for Day Camp.  Lucas is a wonderful kid, and he and Alex struck up a friendship at school this last year.  Not just an ordinary friendship, but dare I say a best friend?  I don't want to downgrade Alex's other friends, but this is his first solid friendship that they developed themselves.  We did not know his folks, and these boys were not forced in any way to hang out together.  They figured it out themselves, and they are a joy to watch pal around.  Lucas does not care that Alex has limited language usage, flaps his hands when he is excited or nervous, or that he can get worked up over seemingly minor issues.  They play, and laugh, and play some more.  Alex does not bring a lot of social drama with him, he is mostly friendly and kind, and Lucas appreciates this.  And the same can be said of Lucas.  He just wants to play, he not into dominating others, putting anyone down, or friending and un-friending others to see who is king of the hill.  Easy going, smart, verbal, and fun, what a guy.  Super excited about camp, too.  And nervous at times, so he and Alex balance each other out nicely.

With Lucas on board the only other challenge was camp itself.  How would they react?  Would they like it?  What about the other 15 kids at day camp this week?  So many things that could go wrong, and haven't.  The staff is top notch.  The program is perfectly planned.  And the weather has even been cooperative.  I was ready to stay.  I was ready to play background smoother and helper.  I was ready, and I wasn't needed.  Day one, we pulled in, signed in, and met the staff and kids.  Alex looked around, stood next to Lucas, and said, "Pick me up at 4."  I had a quiet meeting aside with the staff and they promised to call if there was any trouble.  I took Jenny on a tour of the camp while the boys trooped off, cell phone in my pocket.  Life under the big pines was beautiful.  After an hour I went home. My phone never rang.

The miracle had begun.  Alex and Lucas had a marvelous first day.  Both were excited and exhausted at the end of the day, driven home by their mom's and wanting to drive together the next day.  I got to drive them in day two, laughing, goofing off, and being a general riot in the back of the car.  Being typical boys.  Typical.  Miracle.  At the end of day two I cornered the day camp director for a specific report on Alex.  How was his behavior?  Did he have trouble spots?  What could I coach him on?  "Nothing" she said.  Nothing to report.  No problems.  "He's just like a typical kid.", "He's totally into all the activities.", "He's chatty with everyone.", "He's one of the best kids we have."   My heart almost stopped.  I think I am still digesting it all.  Rainbow, rainbow, rainbow.  The camp magic is working.

And so, the miracle continues.  Lucas pestered, begged, and gave his folks the big sad eyes, and he is going to overnight camp too.  Both boys have done archery, rock climbing, and tons of swimming.  The bugs and sun have not been too much for the two red headed boys.  They come home exhausted.  Both are earning "bravery points" today for horseback riding.  I am calling them "The Dynamic Duo".  The camp even splits them up from time to time, because they are such close friends.  They are getting to know all the other day campers, and Alex has been leading the playground free time, deciding where the "space ship" or "boat" is going.  I heard a little girl say, "Alex, what are we doing today?"  At the end of the day, I have come close to driving off the road at their antics in the back seat.  I have even gotten them to tell me a few stories about camp.  When the car is empty, it has been very peaceful driving down to camp and back.   I stayed at camp yesterday, all day, to meet with Bridgit about the kids program for this falls Winter Camping Symposium and kick around on my own for a bit.  Today Jenny drove the boys, so I am catching up on the important things.  Like clarifying how this miracle came about, and getting the word out. Rainbow, rainbow, rainbow.

It all came together.  There must be divine providence at work.  I am pleased, and proud.  Pumped, and grateful.  Inspired.  I know that the atmosphere is about perfect.  I know conditions are just right.  But I can't help hoping that the word "typical" is not just a passing phase.

Peace out,


This is a place marker for a post on our revelation on our family trip.

Family Vacation

This is a place marker for a post on our super awesome family trip taken in July.