Tuesday, July 06, 2010

the farewell

Yesterday ten year-old Iris uber Alles set off for sleepaway camp, for the first time. She has never been away from her family so long. Iris did go on a 3 day, two night field trip at the end of fourth grade, with no homesickness at all, but that time, she was with her entire class and all her teachers.

Iris didn't show any signs of reluctance until it was time to say goodbye to her father (who didn't drive down to San Jose to say goodbye, as he had work obligations). It was very hard for her to part from him for a week.

The camp itself is run by the Girl Scouts, and it's in a scenic, secluded spot half a mile from the road. The girls take a 3 hour bus ride from a gathering point in San Jose and then walk the last half mile. Their duffle bags and sleeping bags were shlepped in for them in a sherpa system, which offended the Sober Husband. "They should have to carry that stuff. Toughen them up."

"Iris can't carry that much for that long."

"There'd be even less of her left if she did," cackled the Sober Husband with odd enjoyment. "They'd all get whittled down."

I had trouble trying to find the bus stop. My computer-generated driving directions were useless. We got lost once, but I finally found some likely looking buses, although in a spot which was, based on the numbers, seven blocks from where it should be. "Wait here", I instructed the children, and I hopped out to investigate. The domineering mother of Iris's off-and-on friend who is attending the same camp charged over, "We finally found you!" I braced myself and turned back to the car. "Everyone out! This is it!"

The take-charge mother kept issuing instructions to me, instructions I didn't need. I did ask "where is the check-in desk?", but this prompted a flow of "That is where you take your health form, and you get your bus pass for Iris", which I found maddening. The other mother even somewhat spoiled a surprise I had for Iris, as I was being very secretive about some bulky envelopes I had managed to successfully hide for days, which I was clandestinely dropping off (mail delivery to this camp-in-the middle-of-nowhere is erratic and so the camp offers the feature that you can deliver all your letters ahead of time to be doled out to your beloved child), but the other mother's loud "You DID drop off your packages, right? Like I told you?" tipped Iris off that there were packages in her future.

Lola and I hugged Iris good-bye (Lola's hugs coming over Iris's protests), and we stood so we could wave to her repeatedly. We did a lot of waving, because the buses left fifteen minutes late, due to an epic case of reluctance. One little girl, who looked to be no more than eight, did not want to go to camp. Her mother had no empathy with her, refused to talk to her, did not get down on her daughter's level, but instead indulged in a physical battle with her (the mother keeping an icy smile in place, no doubt for the benefit of the onlookers). The little girl kept taking off her bus pass and daypack, refusing to submit to the yoke of the oppressor, and trying to make a break for it. The mother was physically dragging and fighting with the girl. At one point the mother tried to enlist a couple of counselors, I think hoping they would be like bouncers or asylum attendants and carry off the little girl, but clearly they weren't comfortable with that. They tried speaking to the little girl (which the mother wasn't doing), but they weren't about to grab her.

I was really close by, since Iris was in the back row of the first bus and this little girl's mother was trying to strong-arm her on to the second bus, and I felt sick watching this. I had told Iris that if she changed her mind, she could stay home. I couldn't imagine why it was so important for such a small child to go away from home for a week. Finally the mother managed to physically deposit the child on the bus steps, and then she actually ran away, without saying goodbye, just sprinting out of there. The little girls' feet protruded from the bus. The counselors spent some time talking to her, and eventually the little girl pulled her feet in and gave up. Then the buses were free to leave.

Lola and I walked alongside Iris's bus, waving and waving, until it was gone. We drove home. I felt terrible for that unknown little girl, who fought so hard not to go to sleepaway camp.


Oldsoul_NotQuite said...

Oh boy. On a more cheery note, is Lola going to have 'National No-Iris Week' again?

Claire M. Johnson said...

You know what, my daughter is a counselor at Girl Scouts this summer (six degrees of separation, what?), and she came home for a wee break in between sessions, and she told me how hard it was to deal with kids who were homesick.

So, on the off-chance she has this kid in her group, you know what, mom-who-shoved-her-child-on-the-bus,, there are MANY people in this equation. Not just you and your kid. Think about the people on the other end dealing with your kid who has massive separation anxiety. Whether this is appropriate at this age is moot. Do not put the burden of your family's dynamics in the laps of other people who should not have to deal with them and who are not trained to handle them. Garden-variety anxiety is one thing. This sounds much greater than that.


NonymousGoatsePants said...

Hopefully you won't be getting any letters home similar to this:


the Drunken Housewife said...

Thankfully Iris doesn't own a p-nus, so hopefully that won't occur. That reminds me of how my brother-in-law once inappropriately sent a large number of relatives an email wherein he made mention of his "penus." The Sober Husband was pissed at me when I pointed out that his brother can't spell "penis." "I knew you were going to pick on him for that," he grumbled. Believe me, that email was sheer gold.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Believe me, Claire, I was thinking that. It felt so wrong for that little girl, for her bunkmates, and for her counselors for her to be physically forced onto that bus. She put up a vigorous physical fight for nearly half an hour that I saw. I was hoping that the staff were going to tell the mother that she needed to take her daughter back home and that she'd get a refund.

Carroll said...

DH, that's exactly what the staff *should* have told that awful awful mother (not that I'm inclined to be judgmental about the parenting choices of complete strangers or anything) Gah, what a memory to be imposing on that child. I'm a firm believer that children bloom when they are ready, and that poor baby was giving *every* indication she just plain wasn't ready. I know this links squarely into the "let them cry it out when you want them to sleep through the night" controversy (I never could handle that) and the "He stopped crying the minute after you walked out the door" babysitter/nursery school controversy. But really, people. Sure, parents are in a bind about making child care plans over the summer, but I bet this was not the very first moment that child sent "I don't want to go/I'm not ready for this" messages to that parent. Surely there were less traumatic alternatives. Smart money says this story turns up on a therapist's couch in about 20 years.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Old Soul, I didn't forget you! We (or rather, peremptively, me) are treating this more positively and declaring it A Celebration Of Lola Week.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Carroll, I can't get that little girl out of my mind. She was so firmly, positively against going to camp, crying so hard, fighting so hard. And for half an hour... that's a long time to fight. I really doubt she perked up and was ready to spend a week away from home after a long, hot bus ride.

The S.H. and I are concerned about our little Iris, who got on that bus willingly but had mixed emotions about going. She said she was going to be homesick, but she knew there were going to be cool things at camp. I wish we could talk to her or email her and hear how it's going. I'm having separation anxiety myself!

Carroll said...

DH, if the counselors do their job right, I'm sure your little Iris will be one of the happy and successful ones. It sounds like you sent her off with a firm foundation of self-confidence and self-awareness. ("Yes, I might be homesick, but it will be OK.") I wonder what her observations about that poor frightened and abandoned (there's no other way to put it) little camp mate will be. With what we know about Iris -- her perceptivity, her compassionate nature -- it won't surprise me at all to hear that she's the one who by now has befriended the sad child and turns out to be the real heroine in this story.

That said, of *course* you are anxious, not knowing for sure how it's all going. I'd worry about you if you were not worried about her!

I tell ya, this parenting gig is definitely not for sissies!

Hang in there. She'll be back tormenting her sister and regaling you with stories in no time :-)

the Drunken Housewife said...

I actually feel a little teary now, fretting about Iris. I'm pretty sure she's fine, but maybe she is suffering a lot from homesickness. Ten is young still, even a headstrong ten year-old like Iris.

I am comforted that she has mail every day. I sent her 2 books (both funny ones in case she needed a laugh) & another letter, her dad made her a little photo book (pix of all the pets & family), and Lola drew her some drawings accompanied by inscrutable sayings.

domspiro said...

I've lurked for ages, but just couldn't any longer after the last post. I went to sleep-away camp at the same age that Iris is now, and my mom also sent letters. Knowing what I now know about the postal system, I'm sure she also wrote ahead of time. I liked camp. I loved the letters. I still have a few, in fact, in their purple clown stamped envelopes. I'll be thinking of you and Iris!

the Drunken Housewife said...

Dear domspiro, thank you for delurking!

I've been really feeling depressed, fretting about Iris, when the truth most likely is that, like you, she's having a fabulous time. I hope she does also treasure her letters from home (and being a bookish mommy, I sent her a comic and a book. I would have sent candy if it hadn't been strictly forbidden).

Missy said...

This breaks my heart (as always, I'm late to the party) to think of an eight year old crying about something that should be fun. We sent oldest DD to camp for one week when she was 12; she was so homesick she wrote multiple letters about it. Youngest DD just confessed that she wasn't ready to go off (at age 14) for three weeks for Joffrey ballet.

That said, I didn't regret sending older DD off, because she a) wanted to go and b) had her best friend at the time, with her. It was not a case of forcing a child to go. She didn't have the best time; her very much indulged best friend loved every minute of it; but she was able to say she'd experienced camp.