Ready for Horseback Riding at Camp
It was a very big deal for us (as parents) to make the decision to send Isabella to sleep-away camp. Last summer, she went for two weeks with a girlfriend from school (read: built-in safety net — that’s good for the child, but mostly the parents).When we went to pick her up to come home to attend a family function, she asked to go back for another two weeks. We obliged. This summer we wanted a camp with more academics. We found one, but the only option was 7 weeks. Yikes! Isabella’s response: “Seven weeks is a long time.” Yes, it is.
It felt like diving into water that you know will be frigid, but it’s a hot, humid day. If you want to cool off, you have to do it. If we wanted Isabella to get a more academic experience (preventing regression), while encouraging independence, we had to go for the 9-week sleep-away camp. It has been three weeks and today is Isabella’s 15th birthday. It’s certainly not were I expected her to be at 15 when she was born or even when she was 5. Here she is nevertheless — loving it, learning, and getting those wings that she (just like every child) needs.
Today marks the fourth time that Isabella has gone off on her own unexpectedly. The first was probably the most serious. She was just four years old and had just learned to use the bathroom. She was with my sister at a street fair. Yes, a street fair — every parent’s nightmare locus for a missing child, perhaps only second to a mall. (Isabella became lost there once several years back while on my watch.) At the street fair, she was looking for a bathrrom. After jumping up onto vendors’ tables and screaming her name, I found Isabella crying in a one of those stinky portable bathrooms. She was wet and very frightened. That was the only time she had any fear when she separated from the adults that accompanied her.
The mall incident was typical. Isabella saw something that she liked in a store, so she went in to check it out. After my panic subsided, I figured which store she would like and found her immediately. She wasn’t gone long enough for me to involve mall cops. The time before today happened while she was scootering. My husband took her out scootering for exercise. They both scootered. Isabella, who once was not able to master the coordination required, has become quite proficient and fast. At some point, she scootered ahead of her father. The police got involved. She was missing for over an hour. She had scootered to the location that was planned. It required no street crossing, but was far from the start point.
Today, was a very different. After occupational therapy each Thursday, Isabella takes the elevator down four floors and meets me in the car. We drive home. This time, her father was picking her up. He wasn’t there after she got outside. She wasn’t there when he arrived. My husband called me. I was out with my older daughter. I called the police and ran home to get my car keys.
Isabella’s school backpack wsa on the kitchen sofa. For a moment, I couldn’t understand how it got there if she was dropped off at occupational theraoy immediately after school. I called her name, she answered and came downstairs. What happened? No one was there to pick her up, so she walked home. Other than walking to the mailbox and grocer around the corner from our home, Isabella has walked no where in our town. This place is really far from our house. I only drive there, espically on very hot days like today.
This means that she had to pass the home of her speech therapist, which is close to our home, requiring her to cross three streets. Today, she crossed many more streets (I do not want to count). We had been considering allowing her to walk home alone from speech. I guess she’s ready.
It has been awhile…hasn’t it? Way too long. A lot has happened in my life (you can check www.essentialmusings.wordpress.com/ for that update if you’re so inclined) and in Isabella’s, too. She’s doing something that I never imagined that I’d allow. She’s at camp…overnight…as in sleep-away. Growing up in Brooklyn, we always knew kids who went to camp — some for the entire summer. I went went to Girl Scout camp once when I was 10, so my BBF Joanne and I could be with the Dilworth sisters who had just moved from Brooklyn to Connecticut. That was an abberation in our lives (Joanne’s too), but I do remember having good time.
The director of Isabella’s school had been mentioning camp for Isabella for the last several years. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. My response was always, “We’re not a camp family” and “We don’t even send our other kids to camp.” Well, those statements are true. Suddenly, things changed or morphed or evoled. Or maybe, I let go. Here’sthe sequence of events. Isabella’s older sister was leaving for 4 weeks and I was worried about Isabella being without her. (Obviously, I know that’s going to happen someday…soon, in fact.) At the same time, we realized that Isabella was not as independent with basic ADLs (aka: activities of daily living) as she needed to be. We were holding her back. She certainly had roots…probably a bit too deep in the ground. Isabella definitely knows about her connection to her family. Wings…not so much. There wasn’t much flying going on. That was for sure. Victoria most definitely has the roots & wings thing happening and so does Isabella’s twin brother Zachary.
The time had come…for me to let go. We had heard about a program at Frost Valley, a YMCA camp in upstate NY, that has a program called MAC, which stands for Mainstreaming at Camp. Two of Isabella’s classmates had attended for several years. And we kept hearing abaout Frost Valley. Some of Victoria’s classmates had attended the non-MAC resisdential portion of the camp. Could I finally send my twins to a place together, but separately? (Sorta like going to different high schools together. Remember that?) This was sounding more and more appealing.
We did it! Or rather, she did it. Isabella is right now, at this very moment, at sleep-away camp and so his her twin brother Zachary. And we have zero communication with them. So, I sent Isabella to camp for 2 weeks and I cannot be in touch with her the entire time. I’d say that I’ve grown up…
A 13-year-old (same age as Isabella) boy with Asperger’s left school and rode the subway — for 11 days. Just writing the sentence makes my heart sink. He was reprimanded in school and did not want to deal with further scolding at home, so he rode the subway until a transit worker spotted him. All parents worry about their children getting abducted, thanks to all the publicized incidents since Ethan Patz in Greenwich Village. I remember seeing his image on milk cartons. Parents of children with development disabilities have much greater worries. We worry that our kids will get distracted and watch something in a store window instead of coming home. We worry that out kids will forget the way home. We worry that our kids will decide that they want to go to the park instead of coming home. So we don’t send them out alone. How long can we do that? At some point, children need to become independent.
My mother had a talent that few possess today. She could find a meal — a delicious meal — in anyone’s kitchen. This included the kitchen’s of owners who proclaimed, “There’s nothing to eat for dinner.” This trait is termed resourcefulness and probably extended to other areas of her life. She certainly used it as a New York City school teacher with limited resources. Sorta like Maria in The Sound of Music without the use of curtain fabric for clothing. Children with special needs do this everyday, all day. Without all the requisite skills for a task, these children figure out how to get the job done. As adults watching them struggle, we need to suppress the urge to reach out and help. Learning by doing. Learning by failing. Learning through experience. Now that’s learning. The end product may not be conventional but we’ve learned something, probably a lot more, along the way. And it’s so much sweeter.
My kids used to love going away with the family. The novelty wears off when you reach the age of teenhood. That makes me sad. I’m still in mothermode and my kids are moving into young adult mode or they seem to think so. You know, the perks of adulthood without the responsibilities. Isn’t that what we all long for? I still have one kid who enjoys the weekend excursions. Good for me, but not so great for her.