Although my 5 year-old had been less than enthusiastic about the start of camp, I pumped it up to sound like each day was nothing more than playing with puppies under rainbows while eating ice cream. Hell, a unicorn might just frolic by.
I can’t say he was sold, but by the first day, he was uncertain enough that when the bus pulled up and the doors opened, my child, momentarily flustered, just stepped on. It was only once he went to sit down that he actually realized what was happening. He was on a bus. Going to camp. That’s when the screaming began.
And the kicking.
Before I could even start the bribery, my hysterical, snot covered son ran from the bus and cowered behind a bush on our lawn.
After another failed attempt on the bus, I drove him to camp. Of course the entire way, he expressed how much he didn’t want to go. I told him that he needed to try it, before he could tell me he didn’t like it. Seemed logical to me.
Apparently, he didn’t care a lick for logic because when I tried to leave, he clung to me like a monkey with the claws of lion. I bribed. I reasoned. I begged. I talked nice. I talked mean. I talked in circles for an hour, until finally I told the counselor to just take him.
She tore him from me. My heart ripped as well, as I walked away crying to the sounds of his screams.
At the end of the day, when I picked him up, I asked if he had a good time. He evaded me a bit, finally shrugged and said,“It was okay.” Almost immediately, hope lit his face and he asked, “Did I do good enough to take tomorrow off?”
Repeat of day two.
I try a different tactic. Maybe camp is too long. Maybe he needs a shorter day. Maybe he needs to feel some control. So together, we look at the schedule and decide that he’ll take the morning off and then after lunch I’ll drive him over. If he can walk in without freaking out like a rabid, trapped animal, I’d let him do this any number of days of the week. Seriously, I just wanted to see him separate without trauma for us both. He needed to do it for himself. And for me.
We had a lovely morning, drawing and playing. Then, after lunch at Dunkin Donuts, we drove over. I was feeling optimistic. Even if he went to camp just afternoons and I ditched the bus and drove – even though my middle son was getting on it every day – I was willing to do that for an easy transition. Oh, what I wouldn’t do for an easy transition!
As we pulled up I heard his low mutterings. “I don’t wanna go.”
I grit my teeth and sang. “You’re going baby. And you’re not going to cry. Right?”
By the time we got in, it was clear that any deal that was made beforehand was now null and void. He immediately backed away from the camp director and rooted himself to me with both arms and legs.
I had been duped.
Again we negotiated. Again we talked sternly. Again we bribed. And again my child screamed bloody murder and refused. The director looked at my wild-eyed beast and said, “I’m not going to physically take him again. I don’t think I can do it again.”
My child sensing victory, started slowly scooting on the floor backwards toward the exit door.
The director, obviously over me and my difficult child, dismissed us with, “I really think you need to just put him in the bus in the morning. We’ll take care of him from there.”
My child bolted for the door.
The whole ride home, with my giddy, chatty child, I thought about what the director and camp instructors said. What some of my friends and family said. Had actually been saying since the beginning. Get his little ass on that bus, no matter what.
They say it so strongly and convincingly, as if there’s nothing more normal or acceptable than to strap your child against his will and then wave him off like some Stepford mom for a fun day at camp.
Is it me or does this go against the object of camp, which is for you to pay too much money for your kids to go happily and willingly and spend the day having so much fun they can’t wait to go back. That they actually like it because… they like it.
Going through all this stress to get my kid to camp to have fun seems contrary to the point. I know what people say, they’ve got to get used to it. But really, I don’t completely get that. If they’re having fun, what’s to get used to? Maybe they’re not having so much fun if they’re dying to stay home. I can assure you, accompanying me to the supermarket should not trump swimming and playing sports.
Or maybe, five is not ten, or even seven. It’s five, and at five years-old, some kids are not prepared for a day of activity with strangers away from home. Many kids love it. Many more, just have those personalities that willingly accept their situations and make the most of it. You know, when faced with no choice, most will naturally assimilate. But some, well some, are mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore. Like my son.
I keep wondering if all the people telling me to just get him on that bus, screaming or not, would put their own kid on. Would watch them scream and flail with a look a terror and betrayal in their eyes. I know my old pediatrician would. She’s the one who recommended ferberizing to the point of vomiting. “That was how I did it with my kid.” She almost bragged. “I just stripped the sheet and left him. They have to learn.”
What exactly are they learning? That they’re on their own? That they need to get this independence thing? They tell me, I can’t let him manipulate me. He must go to camp. And while I’m sure there are control issues here as well as separation, I really don’t think of it as manipulation. I think he really doesn’t want to go. That if I force him, eventually he’ll suck it up, and probably in spite of himself, have some fun, because he has no other choice.
But is that really what camp is supposed to be?
Not if you ask me. Because if my kid isn’t happy going to camp, then I’m not happy sending him.