Ryan doesn’t do subtle. If he wants to tell you something, he just comes out and says it. This creates its share of awkward moments, but on the whole it’s a good thing. Ryan’s pronouncements don’t often require much interpretation.
They also tend to arrive completely out of the blue, current context be damned.
Last night, we were watching a bit of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game when Ryan told me, “Of all the trips we’ve had at this camp, I don’t think there’s been a bad one yet. I really have to say I’m liking this camp.”
It was music to my ears. The day camp Ryan attended the last few years wasn’t perfect. There were occasional issues and complaints from Ryan. But overall, it was a success. So when that camp ceased operations before this summer, we were concerned about finding a suitable replacement.
We ended up putting both kids in a young teens program that involves lots of outings — amusement parks, sporting events, museums, etc. — mixed with days at the local pool. We liked everything we saw and heard at the camp’s open house and in follow-up correspondence about Ryan with the director.
But on day one, we pretty much crossed our fingers, held our breath and hoped for the best. So it was a huge relief to hear Ryan pronounce it a success halfway through a four-week session. He has taken part in every trip and is gradually integrating himself into the other activities. He still talks about difficulty fitting in and worries about “popular kids” — showing the leftover scars from some of his school-year interactions — but he seems to be finding his comfort zone.
Earlier this week, the camp’s day trip took the kids into New York City, very close to my office. I took a chance that I could intercept them on their lunch break at a nearby park. After wandering around for a bit, I spied the group. I saw Ryan first, but he didn’t see or hear me. I caught up to the group right as Riley was walking by. She gave me a casual hello and then went right back to interacting with her friends. Pretty much exactly how I would have reacted at her age.
I moved ahead to catch Ryan. I got a chance to watch him interact with some of his peers. He was clearly in conversation with a couple of the kids. I saw enough to gain the impression that they were including him and welcoming his presence.
When Ryan saw me, he was thrilled. A huge smile crossed his face. “Dad! You came!” he said, grabbing my arm and guiding me to the group of chairs where he and his acquaintances were sitting for lunch.
It was such a sweet moment, a genuine sentiment, issued without regard or consideration to how his peers might view it. I suppose that has both pros and cons, but the memory of it still makes me smile. I think having a child who says what he thinks without concern for how his peers will react — whether driven by calculated choice or by difficulty interpreting how one is viewed by others — is probably a net positive.
I stayed for a few minutes before heading back to work and leaving both kids to company of their friends, boosted by the knowledge that for all our fears about a change in routine, camp seems to be working out. Sure, there are a few bumps in the road, but my son can’t fake happiness any more than he can hide his displeasure. His mood when he saw me told me all I needed to know.