Saturday, June 29, 2019

An End of an Era? Dean's Camp Years

2019 -- Dean is running a game and the fog machine.
Dean wrapped up three weeks of camp counseling on Friday. This theater and stage combat camp has been a part of Dean's life for eight years now. He has looked forward to it every year. He started as a young camper in 2012 and rose through the ranks to junior counselor last year and full camp counselor this year. This feels like an end of an era to me, as I suspect that this was his last year. He found the camp a bit boring this year and very repetitive from years past. They basically change the theme each year, but the games and activities stay the same. That has never mattered before, but this year he felt bored and like there wasn't enough work to do to keep him busy. The camp was different this year because there were too many junior counselors to the amount of campers. In addition, one counselor whom Dean has had issues with for many years was very controlling and grabbed the lion's share of the jobs. That counselor was very bossy and did not share responsibilities. This person got very emotional if  Dean or other counselors tried to negotiate more jobs for themselves. So Dean felt like he was standing on the sidelines at times.

The camp has a different theme each year, such as pirates, Greek warriors, Mayans, and Vikings. This year the camp's theme was Japanese Samurai. Dean taught/guided campers through woodworking, painting models, and playing many games that involve stealth, patience and teamwork. He also just generally helped the campers with their issues, working on costumes and keeping them safe.
On the Friday of each week of camp, they headed for the camp owner's home, where they put all that they had learned into action. This was by far Dean's favorite day each week. They spent hours out in the woods playing all kinds of games. Then they walked a mile or so back to the owner's house and cooked meat over open fires and had a huge feast. Lastly, they had lots of swimming time in the owner's pool. But this year, Dean did not even take his bathing suit and just sat poolside as a lifeguard or ran other games in the backyard. (It is a small pool that you can see in the pirate photo below.) 
This year was a very emotionally exhausting camp experience for Dean. Due to the tension between counselors, the lack of work and the repetitiveness of the activities, he wanted to quit in the middle of the second week. A pep talk and reminder of the importance of completing what you set out to do did the the trick and he finished that week. By the Tuesday of the third week, however, he was insisting on calling in sick. He said he wouldn't be missed since there were plenty of counselors and a smaller amount of campers then the previous weeks. Again, I reminded him of the importance of completing commitments and how helpful a recommendation letter for future jobs would be. Unfortunately, this camp does not pay its counselors. Even the 20 year old adult wasn't paid for his help. Dean was struggling to see the long-term benefits of a recommendation letter and was frustrated with the lack of pay or reward for his time. I thought about what I could do to propel him on with a positive attitude through the last three days and decided to pay him in a gift for his perseverance once he completed the job. Now, some may see this as a bribe, but I don't. Dean has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), and this population struggles to see into their future and understand the benefits and consequences of current actions on the future. Dean is very high functioning and understands the impact he is having on the world more than many with this diagnosis, but he needed some motivation and a concrete reward for his work. The promise of a $40 gift and lots of compliments about how I was proud of him for pushing on and completing his commitment did the trick, and he finished out the week successfully. I am sure no one else at camp even knew how unhappy he was with how it went this year.
I am so grateful for the experiences this camp has provided through the last eight years. He has learned about acting and stage combat, how to make metal swords, woodworking, teamwork, different art types and cultures, a few other alphabets from different languages, independence, responsibility, rope climbing and so much more. As a counselor, he has learned about putting others before himself, leadership, showing kindness to scared/upset campers, teaching activities and games to new campers in bite-size chunks, encouraging others and working with difficult co-workers. These are all invaluable skills that will serve him well in the future. It will even serve him next week when he goes off to be a camp counselor at a different day camp that is new to him.

Blessings, Dawn


  1. I'm sorry Dean's last year was so tough, but I'm really impressed he made it through. You're truly excellent in knowing what language to speak to help him finish what he started! Rose Red struggles with this very same issue--the inability to see how right now affects later--and when I had more influence over her, I didn't understand how to do what you did in offering the right incentive to keep going. I really hope his next camp experience is joyful, and seeing pictures of when he was so little is really fun. It must be a bittersweet celebration for you. You're just the right mom for your boy!

  2. I'm sorry this year wasn't what he'd expected it to be like. I'm glad you were able to help him see the need to finish, even under adversity.

  3. What a lovely and honest assessment of your son! I love how you handle the difficulties in life. I know how bittersweet it is you see our children grow up.