Camp, the four-letter word - FamilyEducation

Camp, the four-letter word

May 06,2010
Now, with exams almost behind us, and with only three weeks left in L.'s school year, and six weeks left for T., we're starting to think (worry) about the summer. We're already in the process of registering T. for a week-long day camp--something to keep her busy in August after swim team is over, and L. is back in school. I'm also working on a list of activities/day trips I'd love to do with the kids. Summer is not the easiest time for us--or for L. It's probably not easy for a lot of kids and parents, too. While L. fights structure at home, having a structured day, as he does at school, does wonders for keeping him focused and for giving his day the shape and order and security he needs. But "summer" and "structure" just don't seem to belong together. When I was a child, summers were about long, hot days stretching in front of us kids like a freshly mowed field of grass. We were often bored, and hot, and very tired of each other before September came around, but I still lived for the summer, that time to be just me--to daydream, to read, to be loose in the moment. Yesterday, at L.'s doctor's appointment, I voiced my concerns about the upcoming summer, and we talked about summer plans. Could L. join a camp? his doctor wondered. Maybe take some music or art classes, given his talents and interest in both? No sooner, though, had she uttered the word "camp" when L. shot off the couch in protest. "Camp" is, you see, a four-letter word at our house, as far as L. is concerned. He not only has tremendous social anxiety, but he also doesn't like to be in the position of being told what to do. He hates organized social activities--especially with strangers. He lives in fear of being directed to do this or that, or told how to draw something, or where to put something, or--worse yet--that he has done something wrong. He's been this way from Day 1; I still remember our failed attempts to join Mommy & Me music classes and art groups when L. was a toddler. I thought of him at two in a music class, flopped on the carpet, outside the circle of clapping toddlers; or L. at three, crossing his arms defiantly against the art teacher's coaxing instructions about how to draw with pastels. "I prefer to be BY MYSELF," he said to us in no uncertain terms yesterday at the doctor's office. "I can teach myself everything I need to know." Scott and I have always been baffled by what to do about this attitude. When we finally bribed him to join the swim team last summer he ended up enjoying it. He gained so much socially and physically from the daily activity, the interaction with team mates, and even the swim meets. I can't imagine last summer without the swim team, yet if we hadn't pushed and pushed and been willing to bribe him into giving it a try, that shining, important slice out of our lives--and his life--last summer would never have happened. So we wonder: Do we bribe L. to join a short day camp? Fork out a couple of hundred dollars for one and then have things not work out? Do we drag him, kicking and protesting, to computer day camp, or maybe even a Star Wars-themed camp, or that Diary of a Wimpy Kid camp so many parents are talking about around here? Or do we leave him be, and create our own structure around his summer days. Maybe another round of Summer Science? Do we defer to his need for solitude? How much pushing is too much, I wonder? How little, too little?