Tag Archives: camp

Unexpected

I can usually get a good read on my kids. I mean, I am their Dad and I’m around them quite a bit. I’ve been blessed to get to spend some ‘extra’ time with them the past couple of years during a few rounds of job-seeking so I think I can label myself a qualified expert in terms of interpreting their thoughts. I think most parents fall into this “expert” category when it comes to their children. You know when they’re not telling you the truth (mine both have a certain expression that they use during the act of fibbing). You know when something it bothering them, even if they don’t tell you and put up the front of everything being ok. It’s an expertise that comes with raising them and having them under your roof 24/7. So, when we picked Cam up from camp this past weekend, I thought that I had a good idea as to what his reaction to being there was going to be. What he shared with us shattered my parental assumption. (Yes, this is another camp story. I know, they have dominated the CTD blog here the past few weeks but it was the big thing in Cam’s life and it had a gluten-free relation so it’s been a popular topic. And, yes, there is going to be one more “interview” type of blog with Cam answering questions about his experience so you’ve been warned).

Mother Nature joined us for pick up much as she did for our drop off a week earlier. It wasn’t raining too much, just enough to be annoying. The camp had invited all of the parents, siblings, etc. who were there to pick up the campers, to join them in one last Chapel get-together down by the lake. They let us in at 9:00 and directed us to the amphitheater where this would take place. To get there, we had to walk past the dining hall where all the campers were finishing up breakfast and their morning routine. And, wow, was it loud in there. You could hear chants, cheers, singing, etc. as if you were right in the dining hall with them. After about 15 minutes, the campers came down to the amphitheater where the parents were all seated and waiting. As they settled in, each camper found their loved ones and gave them hugs. Cam found us and said “hi” (he even hugged his sister). I had a chance to ask him how his week was and he gave me a quick nod, a smile and said “good”. That was the reaction I expected. He’s never been one to share his emotions too much or to ramble on about something that has happened. He’s much more an observer than one to speak his mind (much like his mother and nothing like his old man). He then left to join his cabin at their assigned Chapel spot. Chapel consisted of prayers and songs and even a skit to share a life lesson. The agenda was cut short due to the rain picking up a bit more but at the end, all the campers linked arms, swayed back and forth, and sang a song about “until my friends are together again”. The singing was subdued, completely the opposite from the ruckus at breakfast. Some of the kids were emotional but Cam’s cabin (the 13-year old boys) looked as if they were having a competition of who could squeeze each other’s arms the hardest. Again, the expected reaction from him.

But then it changed. As they were dismissed, the campers stood up and were released to go and get their belongings. It was then that Cam turned and hugged one of his cabin mates. This was repeated three or four more times with other members of Cabin 13. I was taken aback. Now, I have no problem with hugging. I hug my friends all of the time. With my male friends, it’s more of a handshake that falls into a hug. It’s a natural thing for me but it’s always been hard to get my son to hug me in public and, like I said, he’s under my roof almost 24/7. Here, with kids he only met a week ago, he was openly sharing his feelings. These unexpected events continued as we got closer to our time to leave. As we were picking up his things from in front of his cabin, I reminded him to thank his main counselor. He went up to the counselor (the same one that told me that he would be with Cam should any gluten-attack occur) to say his good-bye. Again, to my surprise, Cam reached out and hugged him. The counselor said something to him, which I did not try to interpret or listen to because it wasn’t a conversation for me to hear. After this brief interaction, I could see the tears in the counselor’s eyes and though he tried to keep them diverted from me, Cam’s eyes had tears in them as well. Again, I was stunned.

As we pulled out the camp driveway and started on our journey down the road, Cam told us about his week. All of his stories involved the boys in his cabin. It sounded as if every activity that he did had at least one of the other members of Cabin 13 there with him. I casually slipped in a question about his emotional goodbye to his friends and counselor and he opened up even more. He said that on both Thursday and Friday nights, during their nightly Devotion, they did activities where everyone in the cabin was overwhelmed with emotion. During those evening meetings, it was shared by some of the boys who had been to camp before, that this was the best cabin group that they had ever had. The realization that their time together was rapidly approaching an end was too much for all of them and Cam said that all ten of them were in tears. He had found that group of guys and created a bond that we had hoped he would find during his time away. We didn’t realize how strong that bond would be and how hard it would be for him to leave it behind. It wasn’t long after this story that Cam went to sleep, his exhausted body finally winning the battle.

As I watched my son in the rear view mirror catch up on his sleep, I tried to put myself into his shoes. During his school years, he has always been on the fringe of various friend circles. He gets along with the “popular” kids but he’s not on the ‘A’ list for hanging-out or parties. He got along with the members of his baseball team but they were not people that he hung out with outside of game activities. He’s “known” but his quiet demeanor has left him as an “unknown”. This week, all of the conceptions and barriers that have been made by his peer groups at home, were no longer there. This week, his gluten-free lifestyle was celebrated and not seen as different. This week, he was part of the core group; not a fringe acquaintance. And now, this week was done. Later that night, I could tell that lack of sleep and his emotions were still weighing on him. As we talked, he told me that he wanted to go back. I asked if he meant now or next year. He replied, “Both”. My heart hurt for him.

These days the world is a small place, but not small enough sometimes. Most of these boys live more than eight hours from us, not just a bike ride away. They all have already communicated through social media, sharing camp cheers via Instagram just 12 hours after leaving each other, but sadly I know that this will probably fade away as school starts and they each get back to their day to day routines. But who knows? Maybe the pact and bond that they shared at camp will overcome the odds. For Cam’s sake, I hope I’ll be surprised again.

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Finding Joy

Christmas specials in July annoy me. In my small corner of the world, the gray skies and the chill in the air hang around for a duration of at least six months. There are only a couple of months out of the year when it gets “hot”, with the definition of “hot” being above 85 degrees with an elevated level of humidity. These are my favorite times. This is my summer. So, when I’m flipping the channels and for the entire month of July one station is showing Christmas specials, I tend to feel that someone is encroaching on my turf. Isn’t it bad enough that the stores are going to start putting up decorations in two months? Yes, I can (and do) choose to not watch these specials but even seeing the show names on my channel guide gives me anything but joy.

Now, I’m not a Scrooge. I believe in joy but I find my joy in different things (especially during the summer). Joy can be a noun meaning a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. Joy can also be a verb synonymous with the word “rejoice”. People cry tears of joy. You can find joy in the little things of life. Some people even find joy in July Christmas specials. In short, joy is everywhere. So a week ago, when joy presented itself in a surprising and unexpected fashion, it truly was something that I couldn’t wait to share with everyone.

Cam’s trip to gluten-free camp is coming up this weekend (four days and counting from when I type this). Things such as a rolling duffle bag, portable fan, sunscreen and bug spray have now taken residence on the floor of my dining room in preparation for his journey to North Carolina. For the past month, you could see his excitement building as his time to stay at Camp Kanata drew closer. But behind the exuberance, there was something else. I attributed it to a bit of fear and rightfully so. He’s going to be nine hours from home and is, initially,  not going to know anyone there. He’ll have no “real-time” contact with his family or his friends. He has every right to feel a little nervous. That wasn’t it though. Through conversation and based, unfortunately, on past experiences, we found out that Cam was worried about eating. It’s become ingrained in his mind that “eating out” carries much more risk of cross-contamination and elevates his chances of being “glutened”. And with this trip, he is facing six days of eating outside of the comfort zone of his home. Three meals a day. 17 meals in all.  He is going to be taking part in day-long activities which will cause his body to demand sustenance. And it worries him. We have taught him how to be so cautious when it comes to his celiac disease and now that caution was filling the space where anticipation should be.

As a parent, seeing this and knowing of this is heartbreaking. But we also knew that, as his parents, it was our role to provide him with confidence any way that we could. It was our mission to remove his doubt. So, we did just that. And again, all it took was an e-mail (isn’t it funny how so many of these stories come from a simple form of communication). I had been in contact with the wonderful people at Camp Kanata when I arranged for his camp journey three months ago. I decided to send them another e-mail, asking about the menu for the gluten-free week and what Cam was to expect. The plan was to remove some mystery from the week to allow him to again think about the fun experiences that he was going to have. The results were so much more. Three days later, Cam received a letter through the good, old-fashioned United States Postal Service. We opened it together and inside was a menu showing the entire week’s worth of items that he would be eating at camp. Every meal, every day. Under each meal, it was specifically designated which portion would be substituted using gluten-free items and ingredients. And the menu couldn’t be more perfect for a 13 year old boy. It was as if we asked him what his favorite foods were and we wrote his responses down In the form of a menu. North Carolina BBQ, hamburgers, McBreakfast (sausage patties and English muffins), pizza, tacos, doughnuts, hot dogs, chicken tenders. If he liked it, it was on there. And then we got to Friday evening; a full Thanksgiving style meal with turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry and pumpkin pie. It was when he read this, and a few seconds after his mind had put everything together, that an expression of pure, unrelenting joy came to his face. The guard that so many teenagers put up to hide their true emotions was dropped and a childlike happiness, that isn’t “cool” to express any more, returned for a command performance. HIs weight had been lifted. He could again see the fun in what was to come. HIs every day worry just took a back seat for the week.

They say that joy is many things. It is love and it is family. It is found in strength and it is something that you can choose. For me, joy is best defined as contagious and, on that day, it spread through all of us. Presenting itself in forms as simple as that menu and as awesome as that beaming smile on my child’s face, joy settled in to our home for the night and the rest of life’s worries were set aside and temporarily forgotten.

 

 

Why Am I Special?

As many of my frequent readers know, I have been advocating the Celiac lifestyle for the past five months; bringing it to the attention of those that I am lucky enough to have listen to me. For this post, though, I felt that it was time for me to jump off of the gluten-free soap box. A time for me to step back from being a voice in the battle against cross-contamination in restaurants. Yes, it is time for me to do what the majority of people use social media for; to brag about my kids. I looked at my Facebook page last weekend and, if you remove all of the advertisements that are being forced upon us, I would take a guess that at least half of the posts from my friends involved their children. From kids playing softball to kids making travel teams to kids having first communion, our society is putting out a lot of propaganda concerning our offspring. And rightfully so. We’re proud of what our kids do and want to provide them everything that we can to help them succeed later in their lives when we’re not going to be there for them on a daily basis. Thinking of Cam’s future is one of the reasons that I have become passionate about advocating and spreading the word about his condition. But there’s another time for that. As I stated, I’m writing today as a proud parent.

Cam is our “quiet” kid. He’s very meticulous in thinking things through before taking action. Sometimes he requires a little push to get things going but once he gets that momentum, he can take on just about any challenge that we present to him. So, when I read a post on Twitter that Rudi’s Gluten Free bakery was sponsoring a “Happy Camper” contest, I gave Cam a nudge. At various summer camp sites throughout the country, there are gluten-free weeks where chefs bring in the food on a daily basis and ensure that the meals are safe for the campers with this dietary need. Rudi’s was giving away 10 scholarships in the United States for gluten free and Celiac kids to attend one of these camps. The only rule of entry was for the camper to compose an essay no longer than 100 words on the topic “Why Am I Special?” When I first read about these gluten-free camps, I immediately thought about what a great opportunity this would be for Cam to meet other kids who are going through the same thing that he is. He loves to go camping and here would be a place where he could do something that he enjoys and not have to worry about his food for an entire week. My wife and I had looked into these camps before we knew about the Rudi’s contest so the opportunity to try for a scholarship was too good to pass up. But, the decision to enter was not up to us. It was up to Cam. He would be the one who would have to feel comfortable in an environment away from the “safe foods” at home. He would be the one going to a place where he would need to interact and “live with” unknown kids for an entire week. I had my reservations about whether or not he would pursue this chance. Much to our delight, our meticulous kid didn’t even think twice about it.

But then there was the essay. Could you address yourself and describe “Why Am I Special” in 100 words or less? Readers of my 1,000+ word blogs know that I couldn’t do it. How do you make yourself stand out in a space limited to a paragraph? I sat down with Cam and asked him to throw out some ideas on what he could write about. What he came up with was what made him unique; his Celiac Disease. Being the only person in his school with Celiac made him special among his peer group; the one who could make his friends (and his teachers) more aware of this auto-immune response that affects 3 million people in the United States. He used this position of a role model as the template for his essay. After submitting the essay through the Rudi’s Facebook page, I let Cam know how proud I was of him. He was putting himself out there, wanting to share his story and embracing what has become such a major part of his every day life. He’s always been special to my wife and I and now he was showing others why we feel that way. In hindsight, when we received an e-mail from Rudi’s four weeks later, I shouldn’t have been as surprised.

Just yesterday, I finished submitting all of the forms for Cam’s week long trip to Camp Kanata in Wake, North Carolina. When he won, we had a choice of five camps that he could attend. When he saw that the Gluten Intolerance Group’s sponsored week at Camp Kanata was located in North Carolina, the choices were narrowed to one. We often vacation in Carolina and we have family there so him wanting to go to Kanata was almost a given.  He’ll be there at the end of the summer and he’s already counting down the days. If his experience is as wonderful as my conversations have been with the Rudi’s representatives and the staff at Camp Kanata, he is in for what will be a special life memory. Basketball courts, fishing, swimming, canoeing…you name it and it’s there. No electronics, no worries about the food he is going to eat, no more wondering where all of the other “special” kids are. They’ll be there with him, each of them sharing an unseen bond. Each of them able to share their experiences with other kids just like them.

My only regret through this whole process has been that we did not keep a copy of Cam’s essay (where can I pick up my Father of the Year award?). We know the generalities of what he wrote and, when thinking about it, that’s good enough. Anyone who has met Cam doesn’t need 100 words to remind them of why he is a special kid. His proud parents included.

Kanata