We are here at camp for our third summer. It’s been a wonderful first week and a half. S is delighted to be reunited with her camp friends. G has had a great time in the staff kids program (the Gan), rediscovering his favorite routines and activities at camp. I’m enjoying re
turning to the same role for a third time, and discovering that my work becomes more rewarding and enjoyable each summer.
This Sunday, I will say good-bye to my first group of campers, and begin preparing for the next group to arrive on Tuesday.
It’s all part of the routine of camp, except for one major difference. The next group of campers will include my son, G.
Every time I think about G leaving the safety and comfort of the Gan, and becoming a “real camper”, I get emotional. I feel a deep urge to take a moment, and appreciate the significance of this moment.
I find myself thinking back to when G was first diagnosed with autism. He was two and a half. At that time, we had no idea what G’s life was going to be like. We thought of all the things that are part of a typically developing kid’s childhood– baseball games and play dates, sleepovers and swim classes, piano recitals and bike rides, and on and on and on. We thought of all these things, and we worried that all of them would be out of G’s reach. That because of his challenges, that he would live life on the sidelines.
Over the years, we began to see that our worries about life on the sidelines were unfounded. Slowly but surely, we became connected to wonderful people and amazing programs that suited G’s needs and interests. Challenger League has provided an opportunity to play baseball. iCanBike Camp has provided an opportunity to learn to ride a bike. The Academy of Physical and Social Development has provided an opportunity for G to practice the social skills he needs to interact successfully with his peers.
But of all the wonderful and amazing supports in our lives, the one that rises to the top is Camp Ramah.
Shortly after we signed S up for her first summer of camp, we learned about the Tikvah Family Shabbaton. This weekend for parents, siblings and children with a disability has been our lifeline for the last four years. Twice a year during the off-season, we come to Camp Ramah to reconnect with our Tikvah family. For 72 hours, we eat, pray and play together. We celebrate one another’s successes, and help each other through hard times. At Tikvah, both our children are known and loved for who they are.
Then summer rolls around. We come back to camp for the “on-season”. We get to see many of our friends from Tikvah (both kids and staff) at camp during the summer, and deepen those relationships during our time here. S has her buddies in her bunk, and those friendships become closer and more significant each year. For the last two summers, G has been part of the Gan. As far as I know, he is the first child with a disability who has been part of this program. From day one, he has been given the support he needs to succeed, all the while building his confidence and independence.
For the past ten days, G has spent the majority of his waking hours with the Gan. However, he’s also spent a good chunk of time with me and my campers. Morning prayers, evening activity, and most of Shabbat, G has been with my group. I can’t express how deeply it’s touched my heart to see G welcomed into the group by the kids and the staff. When we walk into prayers in the morning, the kids scoot over to make room for G on the bench. At evening activity, a counselor notices G on the edge of the group, and gently guides him into the thick of the activity. Yesterday, I asked the boys in the group to give G a tour of their cabin. They walked him around the bunk, pointing out where they put their toothbrushes, where they hang their jackets, and what they do with their towels after they shower. I could see on G’s face the excitement he’s feeling about moving on to this next level of independence. More importantly, I could see on the boys’ faces that they felt proud and important to be called on as helpers.
I’ve spent the last few days on the phone with parents of my future campers who will be dropped off at camp for the first time on Tuesday. They’ve expressed to me how they are going to drop off quickly, and hope to get out of sight before they start crying over this exciting but heart-wrenching milestone of dropping their baby off at camp. For me, I think I’ll be able to hold it together for the day. But I know the tears will come when I return to my cabin at night- the cabin I’ve shared with G for the past two and a half summers. I’ll be by myself here for the first time. I know I will mourn the passing of time, and how quickly G’s childhood is flying by. However, I will also be celebrating this enormous moment in his life. G will be a real camper, in a real bunk. He’s going to have an experience that we never, ever thought would be possible back when he was first diagnosed with autism. He’s going to share this experience with friends we’ve made through Tikvah over the years, and he’s going to be supported by staff who’ve grown up in Ramah understanding the value of inclusion.
Of all the wonderful and amazing supports in our lives, the one that rises to the top is Camp Ramah. Thank you, Camp Ramah. We are so very, very grateful.