Archive for August, 2013

Going to Camp

I went to church camp this year. Kids camp. I went to support Chloe so she could experience church camp for the first time.

the whole camp crew

It was no simple undertaking. It had to have the approval, blessing, and commitment of our children’s pastor. (She was gung-ho and actually encouraged/talked me into taking Chloe this year.) It meant Chloe and me having our own motel-type room to make caring for her possible and to protect her privacy/dignity. It meant packing lots of food and supplies – including her bed. It meant putting Chloe on a team with the right mix of kids and leaders who would do a good job at including her. It meant being prepared with knowing which games she could participate in and want to participate in.

Camp is a lot of work. (and I don’t mean for just me)

I went to church camp to support Chloe. That was my role for the whole week of camp – just to be Chloe’s support person. Our children’s pastor instructed me to go rest in our room any time Chloe needed it, to participate as much as we wanted to/were able to, to just enjoy and experience camp.

But if our children’s pastor was so excited about our going to camp, why in the world was I dreading it as much as I was? Why was I nearly hoping that something would happen to make us not be able to attend camp? Why was I nearing total shut-down as the day approached to leave for camp?

I was dreading it because I was afraid that I knew the feeling. And I wanted to avoid it. I had supported Chloe very similarly at Vacation Bible School for several years so I thought I knew the pain that was ahead for me – pain physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Sounds so weird to say that supporting my child at VBS would be so painful. But it was. At VBS, there is much crazy dancing to loud music. My child who uses a wheelchair and has limited strength in her body needed help with the dance moves and to stay upright. When the motions to the song required jumping, it was me with my hands under her arms, grabbing her trunk and lifting her up in the air. The schedule is fast-moving from one room to the next to the next to the next, and the able-bodied kids always beat us to the next station since Chloe and I had to take the way-out-of-the-way accessible route every time. We were always the last ones to the next room. The night always includes a snack bar that served food Chloe couldn’t eat most nights. VBS was also notorious for bringing in visitors to our church – kids who didn’t know/understand Chloe, which meant my having to intervene and explain and answer questions and educate kids constantly for a week. And the whole activity of the night was just a glaring reminder of the things my girl couldn’t do. And then at the end of the evening, I was left with 2 kids (because Zippy was attending, too) who had had an overload of sensory input, and it was beyond their ability to handle it in the most peaceful way — 2 kids who were up way past their bedtimes and who were exhausted beyond reason. THAT’s what supporting Chloe at VBS was like. It was brutal.

Being Chloe’s support person at VBS, I wasn’t a counselor…but I wasn’t a kid either…I was just Chloe’s support person, and it was weird. I felt alone and weird. VBS week has annually been probably the hardest, most isolating week of my life.

(As is sometimes the case, I feel like I need to add something here. My church has been amazing. The people have always included and valued Chloe – it has been a work in progress. But I need to say here that it wasn’t anyone’s doing or wrong doing that made the week hard for me; in fact, I’m guessing my church friends who read this will be shocked that I felt that way. I tried to hide my hurt and suck it up so my kid could enjoy VBS, and quite honestly it wasn’t until recently that I was able to put into words some of the reasons why VBS is such a difficult experience for me. And a side note: Over the years, Chloe has progressed to the point that she was able to enjoy the snack 3 of the 5 nights this year! And also this year I requested that someone else support Chloe so I could volunteer elsewhere. It wasn’t as painful a week for me this time….)

And that’s why I was dreading camp. I figured it was like VBS –only worse since camp is 24 hours a day!

But I was pleasantly surprised.

We ended up having a really good time, and it was much easier physically and emotionally than I was expecting.

the orange team!

First, camp has some downtime built into it. While VBS is nonstop fun and activity for 3 hours a day, the week of camp has some downtime, making it way more doable physically than 24 hour VBS would. Second, I was recognized and treated more as a leader at camp. (I think because there was time to do it!) When leaders were sitting around talking, I was one of them. When the leaders went first at one of the meals, someone grabbed me and included me. Third, Chloe could do as much of the camp activity as she wanted to. Free time was exactly that – she got to choose what we did. And fourth, it was very obvious to me that Chloe’s participation at camp had been thought out – from lining up the golf cart to take her back and forth … to her small group leader having their meeting over on the couches which made it easier for Chloe when she was tired at that time of the day … and many others.

Chloe had a ball. She loved the dancing and worship. She loved the mud pit and the giant slip n slide. She loved the water balloons and the swimming pool.

Chloe inching into the mud pit

The two of us having a motel-style room worked out perfectly for us. She had her bed, her privacy, a place to relax when she needed it, a private shower/bath, a little fridge to store her food and drinks, etc.

She made new friends and hung out with old ones. She had kids praying for her, greeting her, and hugging her. People were genuinely glad she was there. And I think she was, too. And, again, I think part of it was that there was time for that to happen.

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The camp itself was glad to have Chloe there, I think. The camp director was a paramedic and was interested in Chloe and welcomed her. Most of the campus of this particular church camp was accessible for Chloe’s wheelchair. (Although they could certainly stand to do some work on their thresholds as most of them were difficult to maneuver over – one time I even sent Chloe flying out of her chair when she forgot to buckle up. Oops!!)

Overall, camp was a great experience for Chloe, and I’m glad that both Chloe and I got to experience it. I think we would both be open to going to church camp again in the future!

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