Difficult conversations, part 1 – Stranger Danger

So… I didn’t make up the stranger danger line, M-ito’s fourth grade teacher did and I just copied it. It has a certain zing though.

Anyway. This is the conversation we all need to have with our kids about adult strangers, private parts, and how the two should never meet. Of course Mom-ita and I realized we hadn’t had this conversation with M-ito about camp just about one hour into the trip… to camp. I know. I know. I’m a bad Dad-dito. Mom-ita and I realized this just about the same time (not that I’m a bad Dad-dito, but that we hadn’t had the stranger danger talk – work with me here). So we attempted to have this conversation as our son was just about holding on to his nerves knowing that he was going away for two weeks on his own to camp where he’d never been before.

What not to do:

  • Don’t bring this up on the car trip up to your son’s first sleep away camp. Otherwise… your son will drop his jaw and get a deer caught in the headlights expression on his face, followed by anger that’s expressed as, “You’re bringing this up NOW?”
  • See bullet one above. That’s really the only thing not to do.
  • Don’t bring up in detail the whole Penn State thing. It’s too complex. Don’t ask me how I know. I’ve done enough damage for one afternoon.

What to do:

  • Bring it up any time before the day of the trip to camp. A few days is probably better as a cushion.
  • Do tell him it’s not okay for anyone else to touch his private parts and make sure he knows (he’ll tell you, I know what you mean) what you mean.
  • Do tell him to get help from another adult at the camp immediately, if he can.
  • Do tell him to make noise and get away if he can.
  • Try not to make it seem like anything will be his fault.
  • Have these conversations with your child when he’s much younger so by the time he gets to the age of 10 and is going away to camp and rolls his eyes at you for bringing this up you know it’s okay because he’s been stranger danger talked to enough already. Then you can sleep well at night.
  • Prevention is protection.

A side note. When I brought this up with M-ito yesterday we talked about it a little more and it was okay. As long as I didn’t go on for more than 30 seconds, like I usually do. I actually stopped before my son said, “Dad-dito, that’s enough.”

Friggin’ Zombie Apocalypse

M-ito is home.

Ahhh. The dogs are happy. Mom-ita and I are happy. There is a giant sigh of relief in Jackson Heights.

After listening to a host of stories on the 3-hour (shopping at outlet mall, lunch at pizza place, Carvel at rest stop) drive home here are  Zendad-dito’s top three things my son has learned from his two weeks away at camp. This list is of course, totally subjective.

  1. Friggin’ may not be in the dictionary, nor is it a 4-letter word, but it can be useful when around other 10-11 year old boys for two weeks straight. My son had a lot of practice using it – so he sheepishly says. This made me smile. Experimenting with the English language is a good thing.
  2. “I learned that I can make a lot of decisions by myself.” M-ito said this with an authentic look of honesty and pride – a look that said, “I made a lot of decisions, some good, some bad, but I learned from them how to do better for myself.” This really made me proud.
  3.  Zombies are scary (especially as played by camp counselors) and can scare the crap out of you, but also make for highly entertaining and engaging large-scale roleplays – at the Zombie Apocalypse day at camp. “They had us barricaded in the rec room and said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t touch the doors!'” Zombies never lose their cool.

And finally… at the rest stop (see picture below) M-ito doing what he likes the most, eating Carvel ice cream and reading a book.

Dodgeball and Songs about God

And the answers to yesterdays quiz are 1 and 4:

1. made to play dodgeball for 2 hours
2. force-marched for five miles up mount Baldy and back without food or water
3. tortured with roasting marshmallows without chocolate or graham crackers for an hour before bed
4. made to sing songs about God
5. made to eat cocoa pebbles until their stomachs were ready to burst
6. made to watch Yellow Submarine three times in a row because of heavy rain in “the big house” which is like a prison

 We received another letter late yesterday. M-ito is doing better but still misses us. He received lots of our letters and has been overwhelmed by them. I can’t tell what that means in 10-year old speak. I’ll have to ask him tomorrow. Ah. We miss him too. What an amazing two weeks it has been. I just finished watching the last two seasons of Entourage – excellent. Mom-ita and I are going to dinner this evening after we clean the apartment. Dust bunnies are scampering.
Tomorrow morning we go pick up our son. Our home will be full again.
Oh yeah.

Trust the Process and other Such Jabber-Wockey

We’re picking up M-ito on Saturday, two days and counting.

The apartment has been strangely silent. Mom-ita and I have adjusted. We’ve had some wonderful time to ourselves while missing our son, sometimes alternately and sometimes at the same time. How strange that is – parental guilt laced with joy.

We’ve seen pictures of him since day five almost every day. He is smiling but then they wouldn’t take pictures of a disheartened and unhappy child, would they? Still, we have been trusting the process developed by the camp over its 125 years of service in helping children to be away from home for the first time.

We received a letter from M-ito on day nine of his adventure. It is the only letter we’ve received so far. He wrote the letter on his first full day of camp and let’s just say… he was not happy. According to his letter they were (you guess and I’ll tell you the answers tomorrow) on his first full day at camp:
1. made to play dodgeball for 2 hours
2. force-marched for five miles up mount Baldy and back without food or water
3. tortured with roasting marshmallows without chocolate or graham crackers for an hour before bed
4. made to sing songs about God
5. made to eat cocoa pebbles until their stomachs were ready to burst
6. made to watch Yellow Submarine three times in a row because of heavy rain in “the big house” which is like a prison

Seriously. If you read his letter it would break your heart. He actually said, “I miss you very much.”

Ouch.

I’m glad we didn’t get this until day nine. At the same time if we had known how upset he was on day one would we have gone up and taken him home? Did he expect that? Have we failed as parents and will he feel like we abandoned him? Do I foresee skyrocketing therapy costs in our future? Did we do the right things by trusting the process and the pictures and the words of his counselor? These are the things that keep Mom-ita and me up at night staring at the ceiling.

It’s almost 9pm Thursday evening.

Less than 2-days to go.

It’s Alive!

Young Frankenstein PosterSo picture the movie, Young Frankenstein, with Gene Wilder (who used to be the fencing teacher at HB Studio, where I taught under Joe Daly’s supervision) as the monster comes alive and he shouts, “It’s alive!”

We finally saw pictures of M-ito on the camp website. The first two arrived on day four. Four days of combing the photo gallery waiting to see a picture with his mug on it. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.

The first two pictures were blurry but I swear he was smiling in one. Either that or it was gas. He was swimming in the lake in either case. I called the camp on day five and said I wanted to speak to his counselor and find out what was going on. Was he okay? Is he having a hard time? Was that really a picture of him I saw or a blurry image of someone else? The staff were very nice and said they would talk to his unit leader and call us back with a report later that day.

At four they hadn’t called me back yet and I called from AMTRAK on my way back from DC. The unit leader was right there so I got to speak to him on the phone.

M-ito is doing fine. He had  a rough first night, but nowhere near as rough a night as some others had had (just what does that mean?). They roasted marshmallows together at the campfire that night as a way to bond and cope with first night loneliness. Since then he’s been active, seems happy, is making friends, and has settled in.

Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.

Twelve pictures of him on Friday. Clear images at arts and crafts. Two with big smiles.

I’m doing okay. Mom-ita is fine. M-ito has settled in. Today is day seven. Half way home. We pick him up from his adventure on Saturday, next week.

Inga: “Put… ze candle… back!”

 

Hollow Space – Part II

BUNK BED $198

Drop off was hard, but we did it. We met two families for lunch earlier in a town near the camp and the boys had a chance to talk, fool around, and settle their nerves. Us adults sat, smiled at each other, and made small-talk. Some of the adults were veterans and a few of us were newbies.

At the camp we were too late to get a bottom bunk. We’d been early but not early enough. This doesn’t seem like a big deal at first glance but M-ito was a little freaked out by the closeness of the tent roof to the bed and the challenge of getting up into the bunk without a ladder. He’s never been in a bunk bed before.

Mom-ita came to the rescue. M-ito said it was okay, but I could tell it wasn’t. He was holding himself together the best he could but this was unravelling him. Mom-ita set to work. M-ito and I went to get the mosquito netting while Mom-ita wrangled with the counselors to see how our son could end up on a bottom bunk. His tent was the only one with all four bottom bunks taken. He was the fifth one to arrive.

This kind of thing always happens to me when I travel. I get a room with a brick wall outside my window, or a dumpster, or soiled carpet of a suspicious nature, or my reservation is missing, or it was for the following week. Sometimes these things happen to M-ito too.

On the way to get the netting. M-ito said, “Why do these things always happen to me?”

I didn’t know what to answer. “Mom-ita will take care of it. Have faith,” I said.

Two weeks of build-up was showing on his face. We sprinted a few times on the way to the store as if he needed to burn off something and leave it behind.

“I don’t think I can get up onto that top bunk,” he said softly, his head down, his hands in his pockets. “There’s a pin on the ceiling of one that will probably poke me in the head or take my eye out. And did you see the graffiti above the other beds? It’s creepy.”

“Let’s see what Mom-ita can do to fix things,” I said. “Have faith.”

We got the netting and slogged back up the path to the tents of the 10-11 year olds. Mom-ita was at another tent talking to a new counselor. M-ito’s things had been moved. “You’re over here now,” she said, “Bottom bunk.” His friend had switched with him, bottom for top, tent for tent. This was his second year at the camp so he was a veteran and didn’t mind.

M-ito’s face lit up.

We said goodbye and he ran off, leading a new boy who had the bunk above him whom he’d just met, to the camp store. I wanted to hold him a while, tell him I loved him again, but he needed to go.

I have a hollow space in the center of my chest. It’s amazing how I could find a true smile as he left and feel such sadness at the same time.

Now it’s time to look for his picture in the daily photo gallery. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.

Hollow Space

M-ito left yesterday for sleep away camp. We dropped him off in CT with two friends, a trunk, a day pack (mine and a personal favorite), some bedding, a mosquito net, and a sleeping bag. Right now I’m on my way to DC for the International AIDS Conference – the first time in my life that I’ve been able to go. Mom-ita is home with the dogs and the peace and quiet. That’s one way to look at it.

I have a hollow space in my chest. For the first time ever I don’t know what my son is doing for an extended period of time. I enjoy travelling but I am an anxious traveller. This afternoon I’m a bit worse for wear. All morning we kept asking each other, “I wonder what he’s doing now?”

I can hear my colleague from work saying, her voice a cigarette scarred growl, “That’s pathetic. When I sent my two girls off to camp they were 7. I told them at the camp to just keep walking. Don’t turn around. You’re not coming back with us so don’t even think about it.” This makes me smile. She is tough as nails and she loves her girls, but she is not me. I’ve got my own issues. I worry.

M-ito is ten. He’s also our only child. Maybe I do need to toughen up, just a little.

“I wonder what he’s doing now?