For a week Katie and I practiced showering and using a sleeping bag. We talked about camp. We practiced greeting strangers. We labeled and packed clothes. We assembled the required gear. I read her social stories.
The night before camp, Katie was almost too excited to sleep. She fidgeted in her sleeping bag and chattered about her new hiking shoes and the red flashlight. In the morning, she dressed herself and helped me carry her things downstairs. She looked at the single suitcase and ran upstairs. I found her in my room shoving a pair of my jeans into a duffle bag. She thrust a small case at me. “Mommy, pack makeup.”
“Katie, I’m not going to camp. Last time Mommy went to San Diego and you stayed home with the sitter. Now you are going to camp and Mommy is staying home.”
She looked at me doubtfully.
“It’ll be okay, Katie. I’ll be here when you get back.”
We put her suitcase and sleeping bag in the car and drove to school. Her face remained creased with concern. As we neared the school, we saw three huge buses decorated with stars pull into the parking lot. Katie broke into a grin. “I want to go on the star bus. Ride the bus to outdoor ed camp.”
We hauled her stuff through throngs of parents and kids. We found Ms. Maria and Ms. Kobra, the two aides who would be attending camp with Katie, along with Josh, the other child from her class who was going. Josh looked a bit disoriented, but Katie couldn’t wait to get on the bus. She tolerated a quick hug and we said goodbye. I stood in front of the school with Josh’s mom and we waited. “I had no idea,” she said. “How much I still do for him. The more I thought about camp, the more things I realized he needed to know how to do.”
I nodded, grateful that I had worked on basic self-help skills with Katie for several years. But it was also true that new situations such as camp uncovered things I had overlooked or forgotten.
The buses roared to life, and we waved as they departed for Camp Loma Mar. Josh’s mother left, and I stood there for a minute, wondering how the next few days would play out. The principal walked by and asked how I was feeling.
“Pretty good, considering. This is a big step for Katie.”
“I’m glad you sent her,” the principal said. “Based on what I’ve seen at recess, Katie’s going to rock camp.”
Bolstered by her words, I went home, wondering if I’d get a call from camp. I never did. Instead I went out with friends and had several great dates.
When I went to school to pick her up after four days at camp, Ms. Maria prompted Katie to say something that they had clearly practiced. Katie looked at me and got a little teary-eyed. “I love you, Mom.”
The teacher looked surprised and asked if that was what they had practiced. Maria shook her head. I said, “I love you too, Katie. I really missed you. Can I hug you?” She nodded and I hugged her hard. “I am so proud of you. You totally earned your Shrek DVDs.”
The aides both nodded. “She did great,” Ms. Kobra said.
“Better than great,” said Ms. Maria. “Fantastic.”
Katie pulled away and said, “Camp was FUN!” Then she began to obsessively talk about going to the fair and riding the strawberry ride, which I would later realize was code for I need some vestibular input ASAP.
We bought ice cream sandwiches at CREAM to celebrate and then went to the park to swing for a long time. Afterward she insisted we go to Target to buy the much coveted Shrek four-pack. Then we went home and she crashed ten minutes into the first Shrek movie.
Later she would tell me that camp was “super awesome” and “Jane (or June?) was nice.” Everything in her suitcase was damp, but nothing got lost and she appears to have changed her clothes, including socks and underwear, every day and brushed her teeth at least once—which is better than some typically functioning kids manage. Plus she picked up new phrases such as “are you kidding me?” and “oh man.”
Once again my beautiful, talented daughter met my expectations—and then exceeded them beyond my wildest hopes. I’m so glad I took the risk and sent her to Camp Loma Mar. We both gained more than we bargained for.
Until next time,