I believe I understated things. Ryan actually, genuinely is enjoying camp.
Now, an uninformed person might look at the camp setting — a giant, indoor-outdoor arcade and pool complex and think, “Of course he enjoys camp. Who wouldn’t enjoy spending summer in that setting at his age?”
But you, dear reader, by virtue of being on this site, are very much informed. And so I don’t have to tell you that it’s not that simple and that it is a big deal to have Ryan express such positive feelings about camp.
It hasn’t been perfect. There have been a few challenging moments when Ryan has had angry outbursts. He also still tends to keep to himself and do his own thing. We have heard secondhand reports of other campers who have told Ryan they’re sick of hearing about hockey.
But as much as we would like to see Ryan socially integrate more with the other kids, those are issues for us and not for him. He has made it clear that he is happy at this camp, wants to go back next year, wants to go full-time, and wants to go until he ages out in a couple more years.
This was never more clear than Friday night. It was the camp slumber party. Riley was excited to sleep over. Ryan went back and forth, as did we. He wanted to go, he just wasn’t sure he wanted to sleep over. Veronica and I wrestled with what to do. One one hand, we were thrilled that he wanted to take part and would even consider spending the night. On the other, we were worried about what the overnight experience would be like for Ryan, for the other campers, for his counselors.
Ryan likes to go to sleep. He rarely fights to stay up late, and will sometimes put himself to bed even when we allow him to. His sleep ritual is full of carefully crafted routines, involving melatonin, blackout shades, white noise, calming music and a weighted blanket. When Riley excitedly told us how everyone was planning to stay up all night, we worried for Ryan. We could imagine him taking part for a time, before having a meltdown when he was ready to go to sleep in the giant common room while noise and activity raged around him.
When Veronica discussed it with his counselors, they suggested bringing him for a while and then picking up at 10 or 11 p.m. Ryan may have expressed his anxiety about the sleeping arrangements to his counselor. When we offered him this compromise, he jumped at it.
So Friday night saw us drop off both kids, one with all her sleeping gear and one without. Veronica and I headed out to dinner for a few hours — had to take advantage of the free babysitting opportunity — before coming back to pick up Ryan some time after 10.
When we found him, he was having a blast, playing arcade games and air hockey with counselors and other kids. We let him run around a bit longer while we talked to his counselors, all of whom possess maturity beyond their years and had nothing but positive things to say about having Ryan at the camp. They marveled at his hockey knowledge and ability and said he was fitting in well. We said good night to Riley and headed home with Ryan, knowing it was the right decision.
If I had any doubts about bringing Ryan home, they were erased when I collected Riley in the morning and found a bunch of the most exhausted, miserable looking children I had ever seen. Oh, they had a wonderful time. Riley recounted late-night movies, ghost stories, and general chaos. But even she had her limits. She said she had fallen asleep around 3 a.m. but was continually annoyed by the other kids making noise around her. Hearing these stories, I knew we had done the right thing for Ryan. He would not have fared well in that environment. Riley was asleep on the couch about five minutes after getting home and didn’t stir for four hours.
Sometimes the choices we face with our kids are either all-in or all-out. As parents, we have to weigh the fight vs. flight options before us. But other experiences offer room for compromise, to be handled in a way that best suits our unique kids. I am thankful we were able to find an appropriate compromise for Ryan in this situation.
I am even more thankful that we have found a summer camp experience where he feels comfortable and indeed happy. So much of the struggle we saw during the last school year came back to one thing — too often, Ryan seemed unhappy at home. It was that, more than anything, that encouraged us to seek extra help during the past year. It has been a bumpy ride, but I’m happy to report that an honest evaluation of Ryan today, mid-summer, would most definitely not include the word “unhappy.”
And that makes us, well, happy.