Camp WhoseACrazyMamma

My babies

I felt sick sending my kids to camp today. That pit of the stomach sick, gnawing and ripping at my heart as I wondered if this was the right time to give my children new challenges.

My children are used to a certain level of sheltering. A protection that can’t last forever, nor will it hold at all times for all things. With my sensitive son and his Tourette’s and OCD, and my daughter’s strength and wit and silliness, enrolling them in a non-traditional school was a no-brainer. My quirky family fits in well and our little oddities are welcomed with open arms.

Toss in my illness, and never-ending doctor’s visits, hospital stays, and treatments which cause stress on them both, and their social interaction ends up more limited than I would like. But it’s hard to host playdates when I’m hooked to an iv and I hate relying too much on the kindness of other parents as they offer to shuttle my kids back and forth from their homes and nearby parks.

All of this adds to the social awkwardness that gives our family an extra dose of that quirk we’ve carved into our community where we have no need to acknowledge or hide.

And then came summer camp. A wonderful opportunity presented to us with swimming and archery and drama and crafts and everything you’d expect, except it is outside of our hometown and very traditional. Things I never really gave a thought to when excitedly signing them up, until my son came home after his first day relaying a story to me about how he was called names and made fun of.

My heart sank, my gut hurt, and I realized I had not prepared them for ‘traditional’ camps or schools. For what passes these days as ‘normal’ out there in the world. We had so carefully carved out a community that fits us, fits them, that I feel I have failed in showing them the ‘other’ side of things and trotted them off to camp where we’re the only minivan in the valet line and very probably one of the only families attending a casual, progressive, and accommodating non-traditional school.

I felt like I threw them to the wolves.

Of course my son was steadfast and strong and brave. He had stood up for himself to the boys, and he had told his counselor. He even made other friends within his group so as to avoid the kids who immediately labeled him as different. But he was also hesitant to return. After talking to me he felt better about giving it another try, and left this morning happy and somewhat excited to attend.

My husband had a talk with his counselor, and we have no doubt the camp will keep an eye out, but the bigger issue was my failure as a parent to see this coming. I should have known better. I should have realized I couldn’t just plunk my kids into that atmosphere and expect them to conform and blend.

I’m proud that my kids are unique. That they are quirky and odd and brilliant and creative with hearts of gold. And I know I can’t shelter them forever from cruel comments and bullies and jerks and all the things that go bump in the night.

There was a large part of me that wanted to immediately yank my kids from camp and keep them with me all summer, and a small part that knew sending them back this morning was the right thing. Letting them learn, supervised, that sometimes people are assholes but those assholes shouldn’t ruin your good time. I would never let it get to the point where my child was sick over attending or anything more than typical kids being kids…but that didn’t make hearing what went on any easier. And this was just very tame kid social circle stuff.

I am, however, thankful my son knew enough to handle his own issues at camp and then talk with me about it all. He wasn’t afraid to confide in me, talk to his counselor, or go back and have fun. Clearly he’s taking it all much better than his mother.

And of course it didn’t stop me from telling him I would stand at the ready to string-up anyone who dared mess with my kids. My plan is to let meanies dangle from the camp flagpole by their underwear, which elicited many giggles and astonished looks from my children, shocked Mom would say (or do) such a thing.

But then we talked about how that would make ME the bully, and tactics they can use to fend off any kids at camp who seem to want to cause trouble.

There are so many things we want for our children. We all want them to get a good education, learn right from wrong, become good people, etc. etc. etc. But there is so much more we don’t want for them. I don’t want them to feel heart-break, or to be picked on. I don’t want them to dread school or a certain clique of classmates, or even new experiences like summer camp in another town. But all of those things means never falling in love, never finding new friends, and never venturing outside our comfort zones.

Which is why I dutifully packed up lunches and swimsuits and towels and sunscreen this morning and sent the kids off to camp. Everything in me wanted to just forget it, and keep them home. Because it was safer. Because it was easier. Because we have all just had enough lately. But I sucked it up, hid my tears, and watched them go.

They deserve to have fun, they deserve to find new friends, and they deserve a normal childhood with all its trappings and rewards.

And I can only hope I won’t fail them again.


  1. I cried when I read your blog today. Don’t feel you have failed them. You did quite the opposite. You enrolled them in a school that praises their uniqueness and creativity. I’m sure they also learn how to take that uniqueness into “main stream”. I’m always so impressed ability to express your feelings so well. I’m sure you children think so too. Stay strong and keep going. Much blessings, Shelley

  2. Summer camp is hell, no matter what. I was a nontraditional kid at camp too. I participated in the activities I liked, read a book through the ones I didn’t, and made friends with the staff. My mom always encouraged me to be my quirky, nerdy self and I just kept to that, even when I got picked on. Your kids are going to be the same. I’m just waiting for them to have a witty comeback that leaves all those bullies confused. (Example: call them a ‘pearlfish’ and ask how it feels to live in another fish’s butt!) Maybe you shouldn’t tell them that one. 😉
    My point is that you could not possibly prepare them for the cruelties of camp. No parent can, no matter how much they want to. You didn’t fail them by sending them to camp; you’d have failed them if you tried to shelter them too much and they didn’t learn how to rebound from hurting. That your kids realize that retaliation is bullying means that you are teaching them better than a lot of other parents. You have the only kids guaranteed not to grow up to be sociopaths.

  3. I’ve been reading/following the blog a while now. Don’t think I’ve commented before (or in a very long time). But today my heart aches for you, and I needed to let you know that I get that you feel like you failed. But puhleeze. With everything else you have going on? Stop it. We all go through the couldawouldashouldas. But your kids? Your boy? He handled himself well and showed what you’ve taught him, how awesome he is. You’re right; they deserve the experience and as long as you’re communicating with them about camp goings on…breathe. Kids can be cruel, but parents can be assholes (meaning it’s the parents’ fault for either teaching or not unteaching their kids’ meanness). I’m glad he was willing to go back and I hope they both come home smiling today.

  4. You did not fail your kids. You let them experience life. Yes, your illness diverted your attentions from preparing them (and the staff) the way you would have liked, but your son went into the experience with an eager heart, hit a bump, used the skills you and Aaron taught him to cope and resolve the situation, and came out, not only okay, but a little smarter as well.

    If you ask me, you all did just fine. It sucks that something is holding you back from doing things the way you may have envisioned, but it it wasn’t Lupus, it may be something else…work…other commitments…another crisis.

    Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re a great mom and an awesome woman.

  5. I see a family movie night in your future: MEATBALLS! Summer camp at it’s finest.

  6. If you had tried to prepare him for it, it might have caused him anxiety. Don’t feel badly about this. You’re really doing great and I wish I could require you to let yourself off the hook for this. It’s okay to feel bad that he got bullied but to feel GUILTY on top of it? You’re already getting eaten up inside by lupus. Don’t do lupus any favors. #suckitLupus

  7. Just an update: He had a great day and says they are ‘all my friends now’ … whatever that means. He’s going to make me gray prematurely.

  8. Yes Meatballs. I agree. I almost forgot about that movie. We will have to add it to our collection immediately.

  9. They’ll gonna be fine. It’s part of their growing up to bully with other
    children.. it is to train them how to handle the situation.. That’s life!

  10. You definitely did the right thing by sending them back… sounds like you’re raising two great kids. I work at a smaller summer camp (overnight) where at the beginning of each session we have the campers (girls first, then boys) gather in a respect circle. We talk about respecting ourselves, respecting each other and respecting all living things. Then each camper goes around and says, “I will.” It is powerful. Would love to see this done in more places…

  11. I think everyone should be called nasty names once as a child. So they know what it feels like. It’s far, far too easy to do it to someone else if you don’t know what it feels like.

    This doesn’t mean I haven’t had to restrain myself from hanging other people’s children up by their underwear after they were cruel to my son, though.

  12. You know what Erin, public school or private school, you can’t prepare your kids for assholes. It’s something they have to experience and deal with based on instinct. At our public school bullying is a huge deal. Assemblies, programs, books, the teachers talk about it constantly and everyone is aware of what it is, how it starts and what to do about it. But that didn’t matter one bit the first time my son came home in tears like Jack did. So don’t feel that you didn’t prepare them, because these are the lessons that you can’t prep for. They just happen and you hope your kids quirky personality and good spirit will help them (and you) navigate the treacherous waters of childhood. And I’m guessing you guys will navigate them just fine. So please, don’t think there was something more you could have done to prepare them for this. 🙂 You did all the preparing you could by raising good kids.

  13. This post elicited fierce anger, pride, and empathy in me. I have an older son on the autistic spectrum, but he is just high-functioning enough that he gets bullied and has often felt lonely and different. My DD is younger and shy, and my illness has reached a point where I often feel like I am letting her down. Thank you for sharing your experiences, doubts, failures, and successes. It means a great deal to me.

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