Monday, July 6, 2015

A Happy Camper or Not?

The blog is mostly about my two youngest with special needs but this particular post is a little different. Don’t click out when you see the word “bible.” I’m not going to preach to you here. Although my religious beliefs and convictions are extremely important to me and I’d love to share those with you, I am not going to do that here. I’ll get around to my autism related thoughts on this post eventually but you’ll have to take a walk down memory lane with me first. And by the way, if you do want to know more about my religious beliefs then private message me. I only have one topic I like to discuss more than autism. It’s the bible.

I just spent a week in Texas at a bible camp for young people. I was a part of something great there. This particular week at this particular camp was focused on leadership. There were classes on how to lead a song, study the bible, and how to outline, write, and present a lesson. At the end of the week many of the campers presented their first devotional or led a song or public prayer for the first time. Their enthusiasm was so encouraging.

Bible camp has been a huge part of my life as long as I can remember. I loved going as a child. There were bonfires, hayrides, and late night devotionals, crafts, pranks, and silly songs, old friends reunited, and new friends made. We had ping pong tournaments, played card games, and even had watermelon seed-spitting contests. I fell asleep in a rustic cabin with the sounds of girls giggling and crickets and frogs singing. The perfume of the week was always bug spray and sweat. Going to camp was as exciting to me as Christmas. I would pack a week ahead, unpack, and repack. Before I was old enough to go to Little Blue Bible Camp in Missouri, at age nine, I jealously watched my older siblings gather their swimsuits, flashlights, bug spray, ball gloves, and Bibles every year. I’d follow them to their cabins and watch them choose their bed for the week, anticipating the day I would be able to do the same. I remember the first year I was old enough to stay. I got a top bunk and was ecstatic. The abundance of spiders was hard on me but even those spiders could not deter my enthusiasm for camp. As I got older I also went to camp in Kansas and in Nebraska. I loved every one of them. 

When I aged out of going to these camps as a camper, I began going as a counselor. Between my sophomore and junior year of college I spent a whole summer working at a camp in Arkansas near Harding University where I attended college. That was an amazing summer. Three of my kids have chosen to spend their summers working at a camp after they were too old to go as campers. Currently, two of my children are working at Green Valley Bible Camp in Rogers, Arkansas all summer. They are the lifeguards and kitchen help there. They love their jobs.

The camp I attended this week was near Maud, Texas. It is called Camp Ida. I was in charge of crafts. I also worked in the kitchen and it was exhausting work. It was hot and I am covered in mosquito bites, but I am so glad I went. I made some wonderful new friends and heard some great lessons. The bug bites will fade but the friendships and wonderful memories will last.

I was asked the same question many times this week: “Why didn’t you bring your kids?” It is a fair question. Tate is 13 and Sydney is 11. They should be going off to bible camp each summer just as their older siblings have, right? Oh how I wish I could have taken them with me. Most of my readers “know” Tate and Sydney well enough to understand why I did not take them to camp. Sydney actually would have loved camp. Once we got past that first hour in the morning and her medications took control of her hyperactivity she would have been able to sit for most of the daytime activities. But in order to really participate in things she would have needed adult support. She may actually be able to go to camp one day.

It makes me sad but Tate will most likely never go to camp. Tate’s autism and the anxiety that comes with it keep him from doing so many of the things his older siblings have loved. Tate is miserable even visiting the campgrounds his older siblings have attended. He’s grown up watching his older siblings happily ready themselves for a week of camp but instead of anticipating the day he can go, he lives in fear of us sending him to camp too. Recently a friend asked him if he was old enough to go to camp this year. Tate immediately said, “No. I am home-camped.” It cracked me up. He knows what homeschooling is and extended that to camp. I celebrate when he is creative or original because there was a time when he was not able to communicate that way.

As I looked around me this past week at the beauty of the campground and I heard the children playing, singing, and participating in bible classes, I tried to picture Tate there. He would have been using stims to cope and he would have appeared very odd to the other campers. Being the great kids they are, they would have tried to include Tate but he would only have wanted to talk about how many days and hours there were left until he could leave. He would not have been able to sleep at camp and he would have not eaten most of the food available to him there. He would not have enjoyed the pool because he only swims at home when it is quiet and there is no splashing. He would have hated the smells, the sounds, and the heat at camp, but more than any of that he would have hated not being able to have a dvd player in one hand and an ipad or ipad in the other. His movies are as important to him as the food he eats.

I got several texts from Tate this week and a few phone messages. Although he was being very well cared for, he was anxious because I was not home. He went into crisis mode when one of his favorite movies stopped playing due to a scratch on the disc. Of course the scratched disc is one that is not commonly sold at stores so it had to be ordered. Thus he has worried, paced, rung his hands, missed out on sleep, and talked of little else for the past few days. Tate will check the mail each day until it arrives, insisting the date of arrival we were given is probably a mistake and it will actually come earlier. This is our life. This is autism. Autism has robbed Tate of so many precious things, bible camp included.

Want to read more about autism? Try this one: Unpredictability

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